Note: This film is known in English as A Throw of Dice or Throw of the Dice. It is available on Netflix Instant with intertitles in English.
Sunita (Seeta Devi) is a lovely young woman who lives with her father Kanwa (Sarada Gupta), a hermit who has separated himself from the rest of society.
King Ranjit (Charu Roy) and King Sohan (Himansu Rai) both fall for Sunita after Ranjit is injured during a hunting expedition and brought to Kanwa’s hut for treatment. Both avid gamblers, the kings decide to play a game of craps, the results of which will determine who wins Sunita’s hand in marriage.
But Sunita’s heart has already been won. The results of a craps game can’t decide who she gives her heart to: she’s ready to marry Ranjit. Who will win the game, and what will the consequences be if Ranjit is not able to stop Sohan from marrying Sunita?
Prapancha Pash was directed by German filmmaker Franz Osten. Shot on location in Rajasthan, the film was a collaboration between Osten and actor/producer Himansu Rai.
Osten directed nearly 20 films in India throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Hidden in the British Film Institute archives for many decades and rarely viewed, Prapancha Pash has received a second life since being given a proper restoration and a re-release in 2007.
Both American and European film have been guilty of casting European actors (or American actors of European ancestry) in “exotic” roles. To the modern viewer, these films can be difficult to watch, sometimes even highly offensive. Prapancha Pash first struck me as unique because it doesn’t follow the tradition of reliance on European talent and heavy make-up.
Instead, the film uses Indian or Anglo-Indian actors for all of the roles. The performances are quite good and only get better as the story progresses. Devi and Roy make a very nice pair, and Rai is appropriately menacing as Sohan.
There’s still a fair bit of exoticism present in the film, but it’s definitely a step forward compared to many films (of the silent era, or after) that feature portrayals of Indian culture.
The story begins as a fairly standard love triangle. The two kings meet a beautiful woman, and they both instantly take a liking to her, fighting over who will win her affection.
This isn’t the light, “Who should I wed?” variety of love triangle where a woman struggles to choose between two suitors. The events that follow the craps game are, at times, surprising. There are a few unexpected and dramatic turns to the plot, and elements of tragedy incorporated which hook the viewer instead of taking a fully predictable route.
Prapancha Pash works toward two of my resolutions for the year of 2015: to discover more new-to-me silents, and to watch more world cinema. I was glad to watch the film for these reasons, but resolutions aside, I just plain enjoyed watching it! The film is very beautiful visually, and its emotional power is bolstered by a well-selected cast. Best of all is the story, which consistently leaves the viewer guessing how all of complexities of the scenario will turn out for Sunita. The score: 4/5