(director/writer: Satyajit Ray; screenwriter: from the novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay; cinematographers: Soumendu Roy/Purnendu Bose; editor: Dulal Dutta; music: Satyajit Ray; cast: Dhritiman Chatterjee(Siddhartha Chaudhuri), Jayshree Roy(Keya), Debraj Roy(Tunu), Krishna Bose (Sutapa),Kalyan Chowdhury(Shiben), Soven Lahiri (Sanyal), Mamata Chatterjee (Sanyal’s wife), Pisu Majumdar(Keya’s father), Dhara Roy (Keya’s Auntie), Shefali(Lotika); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Asim Dutta/Nepal Dutta; Mr. Bongo Films; 1971-India-in English and Bengali with English subtitles)

“Beautifully observed political film of disenfranchisement.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Satyajit Ray (“Pather Panchali”/”The Chess Players”/”The World of Apu“)is one of the outstanding filmmakers of the last century. This beautifully observed political film of disenfranchisement is based on the novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It opens and closes with the Calcutta unemployed medical school drop-out, Siddhartha Chaudhuri (Dhritiman Chatterjee), going for job interviewswhere the bosses hold all the cards and he doesn’t know how to play their games even though he’s smart and would make a good hire.

We learn that Siddhartha was forced to quit school upon the death of his father, but has been unable since to get a meaningful job. He lives in a cramped apartment with his younger immature revolutionary-minded brother Tunu (Debraj Roy) and, the youngest member of his family, his sister Tapa (Krishna Bose). She holds a job that she likes and the liberated woman is able to deal with her lascivious married boss’s sexual advances even though neighbors gossip about her behavior and she upsets big brother by acting so scandalously brazen.

The stress caused by Siddhartha’s unemployment, unhappy life in the big city and strained living conditions at home, cause him to hallucinate, become depressive and increasingly more radical or Marxist. While taking long walks around Calcutta, Siddharta shows a strong distaste for the superficial rich Western hippies, a deepening concern for all the poverty he sees in the streets, alarm over witnessing a terrorist bomb in a movie theater, and a realization he’s not cut-out to deal with the rat race. The lethargic Siddhartha, a young man with many hang-ups, including a puritanical sexual attitude, can’t seem to cope with life in the big city, as the only good thing that happens to him is that he meets college student Keya (Jayshree Roy). She’s the daughter of a conservative tax man (Pisu Majumdar) for an industrial firm, that relocated to Calcutta from New Delhi only a year ago. Keya is stressed-out because dad is about to marry his wife’s younger sister (Dhara Roy), a revolting dispirited person whom it would shame her to call mother. The student’s innocent love for Siddhartha gives the frustrated lad some hope he can navigate his way around his problems, as the vulnerable coed seems to be the only person who understands him and is someone he can talk freely to without regretting it.

It concludes with an embittered Siddhartha made to feel worthless waiting for hours, with over seventy other applicants who are sweltering from the heat in a narrow corridor with only one fan and not enough chairs for all those waiting to be interviewed. Siddhartha has a melt-down after one of the applicants faints, which seems out of character and more like a plot device, as he goes ballistic and wrecks the interview room and physically attacks the heartless reactionary panel of three bosses because they are unresponsive. Giving up on Calcutta as a progressive economic city that will give his generation a more rewarding life without dehumanizing them, Siddhartha goes into self-imposed exile as he accepts a second-rate job in the poor rural territory of Balurghat, far from Calcutta, and writes to Keya hoping they can meet again some day under better circumstances.

Satyajit Ray gives his nod of approval to world-wide counter-culture revolution, the revolt of youth against the stagnant older generation, and the social upheaval taking place in his beloved Calcutta. But he also points out that India is a different animal than the Western countries in upheaval. He says it’s because India has a different temperament after being oppressed so long by being colonized by the British and therefore the youth has to re-establish their own true identities before they can change things for the better. Ray, also through filming bodies being X-rayed, warns us against blindly giving in to modernization trends as a cure-all for our needs. The X-ray scenes are filmed a number of times, including in the opening sequence of the pall bearers showing their skeletons at Siddhartha’s father’s funeral procession. It gives Ray a chance to warn us, like doctor’s warn sick patients, that all people have the same anatomy and only the bones of humans and animals last long after death because they are the hardest parts. It show us what remains hidden in the human struggle for freedom, dignity and economic independence can only be seen by those who look within for answers and are not swayed by superficial observations where they can only see the all too obvious external facts of life. We are reassured by Ray that despite Siddhartha’s setbacks and humiliations, he has developed a strong backbone and is now willing to fight for his individuality and beliefs. Ray’s sincere, good-hearted, intelligent and flawed protagonist has learned invaluable life-lessons that will help him in the long-run get through these challenging times by not compromising his integrity or artistic instincts. The message seemed accessible but, perhaps, what was most inaccessible in this political drama, was Ray’s wickedly droll sense of humor (like those timely placed X-rays to let us see the stark truth of reality).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”