Friday, December 17, 2010

The Adversary (Pratidwandi)

Satyajit Ray, 1971, 115m, Bengali

There are as many Rays as there are movies made by him, for he seldom repeats himself. Having seen a good number, I find the present one different from any of the others. This is not the gentle poet of Pather Panchali nor the romantic chronicler of India's past of Charulata. This is the first of the so called Calcutta Trilogy. The film depicts the agony of youth stranded at the dawn of adulthood, in the specific context of Calcutta in the late sixties.

This was the age of hippies and budding Naxalism, of Woodstock and the Vietnam war.The film reflects the bitterness and anger of an intelligent, sensitive and impecunious young man engaged in the near impossible task of finding a job.

Siddharth has recently interrupted his medical studies after losing his father. His sister is earning, but that is more because of her youth and femininity, and although nothing specific is imputed, her activities are perceived to be dishonorable. The younger brother is drifting towards shady political activity. Siddhartha's own encounters with women are sensitively portrayed. One charge that can never be made against Ray is lack of realism or anything less than utter honesty. He tells it exactly like it was.

Ray seems to have indulged in some cinematic innovation. There are a number of eery dream sequences which reminded one of the opening sequence in Wild Strawberries. At some points the surrealism definitely seems artificial and overdone as when a whole crowds of job seekers waiting to be interviewed turns into skeletons in his imagination. There are some sequences in "negative" like an X-ray. Like Siddharth, Ray is in love with Calcutta, city of revolt and history and squalor, a third world intellectual hub. (Laden bookshelves are a constant feature of most urban dwellings in his films, even the humblest.)

He has an unusual ablity to condense everything into a short statement of a minute or so. These inspired climactic moments of dense compression punctuate Ray's work. In the present movie this comes towards the end when the seething dammed emotions of the young man explode in a demonstration of rage, as the long wait of the job seekers waiting to be interviewed is prolonged by another hour.

Not his best but his worst is ahead of other's best.

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