Monday, December 20, 2010

The Middleman (Jana Aranya)

Satyajit Ray, 130m, 1975

This film is unique among Ray's films in that it concludes on a note of undulated despair. It shows us society at a stage beyond redemption, where people are helplessly sucked into a life without honor, hope or human dignity, and are beyond caring, having accepted rotteness as a way of life. The human spirit is extinguished.

The film opens on a note of utter cynicism as we see a sight that most of us are familiar with--flagrant cheating going on in an examination. The invigilators close their eyes making routine hollow noises of "silence! silence!" perhaps for the gods or passers to hear. We have heard of students who go to the examination hall armed with a knives  A man comes from outside and passes a sheet of paper with all the answers. The invigilators shrug indifferently as they pace up and down the aisle.

Somnath Banerjee is a bright boy, the hope and pride of his idealist father. However the examination results are far below his deserts, a result of clear mis-checking. But there is no remedy and he joins the sea of job-seekers where there are a lakh of applicants for ten jobs. His girl friend is forced to marry someone else because he has no means of support. His friend Sukumar languishes in destitution with his ailing family, depending on the earnings of a sister who, we are soon to learn, makes a living from the ancient profession. The two friends call on an MP with their predicament, to be turned back with platitudes, tinged with sarcasm and even loating.

He is drawn to business by an old friend of his. He starts buying and selling commodities on a commission basis and is soon earning decently, much to his family's satisfaction. Finally, to clinch a crucial deal he must arrange a woman for an important client. We are introduced to a series of brothels. Finally the girl he manages to arrange is none other than the sister of his best friend Sukumar, who meanwhile has become a taxi driver.

The film would be melodramatic in lesser hands or if it was not so searingly close to realities. In the hands of Ray, it turns into a brilliant X Ray picture of a society which is hollow with canker.

The last of the Calcutta Trilogy.

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