The film is about an upper class Bengali family on vacation in Darjeeling, a popular hill station and resort, near Kanchenjunga.
Playing with time and characters' personal history, plot twists, interwoven storylines between multiple characters, jumping between the beginning and end (flashback and flashforward), this movie has every element that characterizes it as a "hyperlink film", although the term only got prominence in the 21st century with movies like Syriana (2005) and Babel (2006).
A wealthy family from Calcutta is on the last day of their vacation in Darjeeling, a hill station at the foot of Mount Kanchenjungha, the second highest peak of the Himalayas. Until now, they have been unable to catch a glimpse of the peak Kanchenjungha. The family members are dominated by the father, Indranath (Chhabi Biswas), an industrialist. He wants his daughter to marry a man of his choice and hopes that the man will propose if they are left together alone for some time.
Several long walks and long conversations form the main body of the film. The real-time drama unfolds the daughter's feelings about her father's idea, and the negative reactions to this by her mother and others. By accident, she meets an outsider, Ashoke, a young student who has refused a job offer from Indranath. Though nothing develops between them, his presence coupled with the setting of mountains and the failure of her sister's marriage prompts her to reject the proposed suitor.
At the end of his walk, the industrialist arrives at a rendezvous point, expecting to meet his family and the successful suitor. None of them is present to greet him. As the mist clears, the peak of Kanchenjungha is revealed in its full glory. But Indranath is too pre-occupied to admire it.
Kanchenjungha was Ray's first original screenplay and for the first time, he was shooting in color. The film shows about 100 minutes (in real time) in the life of a group of rich Bengalis on vacation. Unlike the usual Ray films, it has a fragmented narrative with no central characters, and no straight narrative in the classical sense.
It is a very structured and composed film that uses color and nature to heighten the drama. Ray told his biographer Andrew Robinson: "The idea was to have the film starting with sunlight. Then clouds coming, then mist rising, and then mist disappearing, the cloud disappearing, and then the sun shining on the snow-peaks. There is an independent progression to Nature itself, and the story reflects this."
As the weather becomes misty - the young daughter and the suitor part at that point, Indranath meets Ashoke, and the elder daughter, Amina and her husband have a bitter moment between them. And then when the sun appears again - Amina's daughter comes back to her parents and they accept her, the misunderstanding is cleared up, and the younger daughter and Ashoke develop a tentative relationship with a hint of future prospects.Chhabi Biswas: Indranath Roy
Karuna Banerjee: Labanya, wife
Anil Chatterjee: Anil, son
Alaknanda Roy: Monisha, unmarried daughter
Anubha Gupta: Anima, elder daughter
Arun Mukherjee: Ashoke, young man from Calcutta
Subrata Sen: Sankar
Sibani Singh: Tuklu
Vidya Singh: Anil's girlfriend
Pahari Sanyal: Jagadish
N. Viswanathan: Bannerjee