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Code of the East

[whitespace] Sandip Ray, son of director Satyajit Ray, screens Eastern Western 'Target'

By Richard von Busack

THE WORD "SARIRA" means "body" in India, but it is more loaded than that. Among its meanings is the sense of the physical manifestation of spirit. The "Sarira" event scheduled at UCSC's Performing Arts facility May 14-16 combines the efforts of dancers, musicians, filmmakers and scholars. Guests at the conference include Naresh Chandra, the ambassador from India, who will be honored at a banquet Saturday. Another guest is Sandip Ray, the son of Satyajit Ray, India's best-known filmmaker in the West. On Sunday, the younger Ray, a director in his own right, will screen his 1995 film, Target, based on the last screenplay written by his father.

Target is an unusual topic for Ray. It's an Eastern Western about a town that needs protection from a land baron and about a gunslinger who fights his wounds to bring justice to the threatened village. The landlord Singh (Mohan Agashe) is an arrogant, pampered devil corroded by Scotch. At the beginning, Singh shows that his trembling hands have made him useless with a rifle, and so he hires a ringer to hunt for him--a "gangato" ("untouchable") named Rambharosa (Om Puri). Singh can still boast of his hunting prowess to his flunkies by posing for photographs with Rambharosa's game. The hunter stays in an untouchable village owned by the decadent Singh. In the village, the hostile Bijari (Champa Islam), thrice married, slowly becomes his friend. But Singh's lechery threatens Bijari, just as his greed threatens Rambharosa, who is beaten up to remind him of his place. Injured, the hunter must prepare himself for a battle.

The complex acting by the three leads contrasts with the simple plot. Islam's transformation doesn't seem sudden; old scars are tangible underneath her gradual friendliness. Rambharosa's fear isn't masked under the weight of the old Western movie imperative that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Target is a compelling story, but this film is a reminder that the tremendous compositional skills of a Satyajit Ray come along once in a long while. Director Sandip Ray's use of zoom lenses, action-movie musical cues and tight close-ups, a la Sergio Leone, sometimes makes the material too simple, melodramatic. This screening is only one of the cultural offerings at the Sarira; for a full schedule of events call 831/459-2696 for the conference and 831/459-2159 for more information on the film screening.

Target (Unrated; 100 min.), directed by Sandip Ray, written by Satyajit and Sandip Ray, photographed by Barun Raha and starring Mohan Agashe, Champa Islam and Om Puri, plays Sunday, May 16, at 4pm at UCSC's Media Theater.

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From the May 12-19, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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