A very personal labour and a densely informative account of its subject. Though the film opens with the avowed intention of 'not making up one's mind...of just following the camera', Malle's own commentary continually betrays a need to interpret what he sees, to tease out symbols from his visual impressions (a blinkered horse endlessly circling a mill as an image of a society unchanging and blind to the necessity of change, for instance). This compulsion seems limiting, but is always counteracted by a deliberate sense of irony at Malle's own expense, and the reminder that in India there are always at least two ways of looking at things. Seen together, the seven episodes provide an excellent picture of a very complicated society in its several aspects: the religion, predominantly Hindu but accommodating 50 million Muslims, as well as minority sects; the caste system, officially abolished in 1947 but still all-pervasive; the rival cultures of the North and South, Aryan and Dravidian; and political differences, ranging from xenophobic and racist minority groups preaching persecution of the Muslims to Communist parties operating in societies without trade union consciousness even in industrialised communities. Well worth seeing if you've any interest in India at all.
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