Satyajit Ray’s haunting portrayal of the Calcutta of the 70s, of the period of unemployment, naxalite movement, frustration of the youth, family expectations beautifully set out in Pratidwandi, the first of his Calcutta trilogy.

Siddhartha Choudhary (Dhritiman Chatterjee) is an unemployed youth having to abruptly terminate his medical studies due to the untimely death of his father. Being the eldest son, there are family expectations on him to step into his father’s shoes and provide for the family.

He has a sister who is employed and quite ambitious as well. She knows what it takes to get ahead in her career and is quite determined. His younger brother is into the political movement of that time and is quite sure of where his path lays. He even asks Siddhartha to join him so that he might get some job in the party office. Siddhartha declines.

Siddhartha is the idealistic son who smokes, has his first drink with a friend well past the legal drinking age and repulses when his friend takes him to a sex place. He gives interviews after interviews but at every interview there are hundreds of candidates waiting for that one job.

He accidently meets up with a girl Keya whom he has known fleetingly when she calls him home to fix up the light fuse which had broken. They develop a platonic relationship from there on. She is a single child of her father, her mother had died when she was young, but she does not like her aunt, whom her dad is proposing to marry soon. She has an adversary there.

He is offered a job as a medical representative but for that he has to leave Calcutta and go to a small town far away. He is averse to leaving his beloved city, though it has nothing to offer him. Siddhartha goes to a job interview that drags on and on in sultry conditions in a room packed with people with no fan whatsoever. He rebels against the indifference shown by employers in not providing even basic human facilities to people.

The film title’s English meaning is adversary. Siddhartha’s adversary is everything that Calcutta throws up to him – the unemployment, the frustration, angst at having to terminate his medical studies, the burden of shouldering the family responsibility, the idiotic employers who keep asking him stupid questions and not giving him a job. All characters in the movie have an adversary in some form or another. The sister at the boss’s wife who keeps doubting her integrity and for the younger brother of course, the entire egalitarian society is his adversary.

Ray opens the scene with a funeral shot in photo negative flashback and ends the movie with another funeral scene but in a normal shot. Siddhartha settles down in his rented room at the new town and starts reading the letter written by Keya when he hears the sound of the bird which he had heard in his youth with his siblings and was looking for it all along, but could not find in the busy noisy city of Calcutta. Is Calcutta his adversary, that’s the question that Ray ponders.

Dhritiman Chatterjee has done a brilliant job as the single most important protagonist in the movie. Camera work, lighting and photography are excellent and of course the masterful screenplay and direction of Ray. Timeless classic this from the master director. Proud to have watched it on his 100th birth anniversary today, 2nd May, 2021.

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