Mrinal Sen has a sharp perception of the bitter realities experienced by the lower middle class, presumably born of personal experience. This one is pretty despairing.
We have a large family comprising three generations living in a tenement comprising a room or two. Many other family's are crowded into this congested bee-hive of a building, with people all but peering into each other's quarters and lives. There is a single tap which serves all tenants. Neighbors can be civil, helpful, interfering or judgmental. As the title implies, life is a continuous, repetitive and bitter struggle to make ends meet and to retain dignity and decencies in a rigid and unforgiving society. His Kharij is set in a similar if not the same group housing building.
Chinu (Mamata Shankar), the eldest of four siblings, is the sole earning member in the family. One day she fails to return home. What could have happened-was she held up at work, or involved in an accident, or, hard to imagine, is she seeing someone? The alarm mounts as the day deepens into night and soon the whole neighborhood are observers and participants, each with their own theories and surmises, mostly derogatory. Why do they have to send a daughter for work and depend on her earnings? Police are not helpful and there is a tense sequence where the youger brother visits the morgue to identify the dead bodies found by the authorities. Finally the family bonds explode in mutual recrimination and accusations.
This is certainly depressing material, perhaps unnecessarily so, but it should hit us in a vulnerable spot. If Ray soars in hope and optimism even as he portrays extremities of suffering, Sen's world is an insider's dreary and claustrophobic vision. He sees no glamor in the curse of poverty.
Mercifully, India has been changing dramatically since the film was made.