A Throw of Dice (1929)

Vicarious exploration is easy to take for granted when the entire world is visible at the touch of a button. For many years, and especially in 1929 when this picture was released, cinema held the distinction beyond static photographs and restricted phonographs of transporting audiences to alien landscapes through living images. Franz Osten was one of the few directors to seize the autonomous eye and explore, time and again throughout his career, the magical Orient.

In this return, Osten becomes a modern Scheherazade to tell the tale of King Ranjit, a benevolent ruler, who falls for the beautiful Sunita. As happiness blossoms, the jealous Sohan devises a plan to attack his rival’s Achille’s Heel for gambling.

If one thing is clear about A Throw Of Dice, it is Osten’s romanticism for Indian culture. His fascination exudes vibrantly through every facet of his filmmaking, as does his confidence in the inspiration it will instil in audiences. The camerawork does not attempt to engage attention through extreme angles or grand expressionism, but instead creates space for magical India to unfold as thousands on elephant back storm wondrous temples, or royal hunters navigate luscious tiger stalked jungles.

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After 80 years, the BFI has restored and released these sequences to perfection and each image sings with clarity. In many ways, it is a great shame A Throw of Dice fell short of the widespread implementation of sound. The images are so sumptuous and immersive, it often feels a missed opportunity not to punctuate scenes with idiosyncratic calls of exotic birds or the deep roar of tigers.

However, the silence retains a mythic and magical air, and BFI’s new score by Nitin Sawhney is one of the most enchanting and hypnotic. Sawhney is currently composing the upcoming Jungle Book feature and it is hardly surprising why. His score does not rely on heavy orchestral work, but instead uses certain traditional Indian instruments to construct a romantic and idealised vision of the far off realm.

It has been rare to find a silent piece in which the score infuses itself with the images so intricately as to become inseparable. Each note deepens emotion and our connection with characters otherwise very basic. That is not to say the chemistry is lacking between Ranjit (Charu Roy) and Sunita (Seeta Devi), but merely Sawhney’s score harmonises tentative glances and unspoken looks between the lovers to create something tangible.

A Throw of Dice is a simple story told simply. Osten’s passion, through his masterful direction, becomes our passion, and his exploration beyond our horizon has returned with a world that may not exist as he presents physically across oceans, but does so imaginatively on the silver screen.

Classic Moment… 

After surviving an hunting accident, King Ranjit recovers from the care of a wise man and his beautiful daughter Sunita. As Ranjit regains strength, he spends time with Sunita. One day. he helps her gather water before stealing a kiss. He proudly proclaims that she will become his Queen. Sunita runs away in shock, but Ranjit remains smiling, knowing the truth in his words.

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