The great Indian director Satyajit Ray chose this charming, small-scale human drama (with decided comedic overtones) as his swan song, and a more fitting end to his career could hardly be imagined. Working from a very simple concept — a great uncle (Utpal Dutt) missing for 35 years returns to visit a niece (Mamata Shankar), who, along with her husband (Depankar De), can’t be sure if the man really is her uncle or some impostor with ulterior motives — Ray crafted a warm and winning meditation on life, culture, love, faith and reality.
There’s no doubt that the uncle, Manomohan Mitra, is little more than the onscreen alter ego of Ray himself. Mitra expresses many of the thoughts inherent in Ray’s work overall, giving the film the sense of a summing up, of providing the viewer and Ray with a sense of closure. That may sound rather dull and possibly even pedantic. In the hands of Dutt, working with the material handed to him by Ray, it becomes something else again. The film has the magic of listening to a spellbinding raconteur.
More, it raises a number of questions well worth considering. It’s a film in which very little is wasted, very little is arbitrary. Just consider the casual westernization of the family — the Agatha Christie mystery, the Virgin Mary statue on the bedstead, etc. — or the way in which faith (doesn’t matter in what) actually pays off. The work can be taken strictly as a charming drama or as something much deeper — and that’s perhaps the key to any great work.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke