Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths has spread its influence greatly within the world of film
There is seldom a text whose characters and locations have the ability to exist for over 100 years. The Lower Depths is a play written by Maxim Gorky around 1902. It was a depiction of the lower classes of Russia, and it is supposed to be inspired by real people and events that happened during Gorky’s life.
Anton Chekhov — a famous playwright himself — wrote in a letter to Gorky “I have read your play. It is new and unmistakably fine.The second act is very good; it is the best, the strongest, and when I was reading it, especially the end, I almost danced with joy. The tone is gloomy, oppressive; the audience, unaccustomed to such subjects, will walk out of the theatre, and you may well say good bye to your reputation as an optimist, in any case”.
Moreover three eminently distinct and adroit film makers, Jean Renoir (French), Chetan Anand (Indian) and Akira Kurosawa (Japanese) also presented their own version of such societies in their respective times and culture. Renoir made Les Bas-fonds in 1936, it was a satirical take on the lives of different people living in slums. The central idea of the film like that of the play is that, despite the immense pessimism and inhumane environment of the characters, there is a presence of the rudimentary presence of emotions. The film won the prestigious Prix Louis-Delluc in 1937.
Chetan Anand made Neecha Nagar in 1946, this film was similar only in the idea of the presence of upper and lower class societies. The screenplay of the film is different as in this film there is a confrontation of the two societies, and also the uprising of the lower society to fight the evil of the rich and privileged. Neecha Nagar can also be seen as a film of protest as 1946 was the time when India was fighting British empire for the freedom and self rule. Neecha Nagar won Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the 1946 Cannes film festival.
Finally comes the film of Akira Kurosawa, Donzoko, made in 1956 and was based on the Edo period, this was the period when Tokyo was becoming a large urban setting which gave rise to the distribution of people into different classes. Donzoko was not changed much from the original play and was adapted the same way play was written.
The reason that this play and these three films need to be discussed is because even after 100 years many would argue that the ghettoisation of people is still taking place, and it is happening in places like New York, London, Tokyo, Beijing, Delhi. Be it the Calais jungles, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, we have left a huge number of people behind. We think that we have created a civilised society but we have only created a situation where on one side we have a secure society and on the other hand a society where everyday new rebellion is happening and being crushed everyday.
It is a sad fact that even today we have more than a billion people who do not have adequate housing facilities. We live in times where The Lower Depths still exist, it is just we have come high up and become myopic enough to not acknowledge the existence of such depths.