Blu-ray Review: The Coward (Kapursh)

Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Producer: R.D. Bansal
Starring: R.D. Bansal
MPAA Rating: NR
Country: India
Running time: 74 min.


I write this review about Satyajit Ray’s The Coward (Kapurush) amidst the news that Ben Affleck has signed to take up the mantle as Batman in the 2015Superman vs Batman movie. I had to chuckle to myself with a small amount of arrogance at the vast amount of net nerd rage. If a person’s cinematic sphere is narrowed only on such blockbuster features then there’s a strong chance they’re going to get burned. I on the other hand; grinned at the announcement, posted some pictures of Affleck in Extract and Phantoms and left it at that. Affleck could be the world’s greatest choice or the worst. Either way, when you have the whole world of cinema to observe and enjoy. Such things are a tear drop in a cinematic sea.

The Coward is a notably short, yet rich film of a young script writer whose car breaks down and has him inadvertently staying overnight at the house of his ex girlfriend; who is now married to an obnoxious older man. As he awaits news of how he will continue his travel, his mind is fraught with memories of the relationship and why it ended.

Once again with Ray, the filmmaker manages to weave a small contained story which reveals compelling insight on his country at the time. This is an India with the shadow of England looming large over it. It affects not only the language, but the philosophies as well. It was hard not to be stuck by how the boisterous husband can so easily forgo his conscience and let it drown in liquor to numb his feelings over the rigid caste structure he holds over his tea business. And his reasoning behind it? Well if the English have used it for so long, why not use it? It appears glossed over as a throwaway comment, but is key to unlocking the underlying layers of the story.

What’s attracting me to Ray’s films is how politics are in the forefront, not as a soapbox, but as an integral part of the characters and their values. Their feelings towards their society (parental disapproval, economic insecurity) are important to the choices that they make. It’s an aspect that reminded me of the works of The Dardennes. Something important to remember, the next time I watch yet another western romance, in which characters involved can gallivant and gripe about love all day, due to their cosy and seemingly laid back career choices.

Ray’s cinematography is at times sublime, with a simple shot late on in the film capturing Amitabha’s despair, Karuna’s indifference and Bimal’s obliviousness all at once. The dialogue of the piece is equally as succulent. I don’t recall Amitabha being called by his first name during his stay. He is considered by his surname Mr Roy, even by Kaurna. As his decisions have made him a stranger even to those who may have known him.

But it’s these things, I’m beginning to find so insightful about Ray’s work. The Coward reminds us of just how deep our decisions may touch us not only during the present but in the future. I do wonder if the same people chiding the choice of Ben Affleck as Batman are the same ones that had issues with Ledger…