9. Agnishwar (1975); Dir: Arabinda Mukherjee
Uttam Kumar is sublime as the irascible, idealistic doctor in this adaptation of well-known author Banaphool’s (incidentally, the director’s brother) novel Agni, based on the life of his teacher Dr Agnishwar Mukherjee. As the egoistical, no-nonsense doctor who never hesitates to speak his mind and who learns a lesson in humility after the death of his wife and in his interactions with the poorest of the poor, Uttam Kumar is a towering presence. Two scenes stand out for me. In one, he berates a patient who suggests making do with one dose instead of three: ‘Apnaar gaale jodi thaas thaas kore teenti chawr marar dorkar hoy, tahole ekta chawr marle kaaj hobey ki?’ (If you need to be slapped three times, will it do if I slap you just once?)
In the second, after the death of his wife – whose piety and faith in rituals he often dismissed, even going to the extent of stepping on an alpona at the entrance to their home, with a disregard for her feelings – he approaches the threshold and stops just as he is about to step on it again. As one hears the strains of Tagore’s ‘Tobu mone rekho’ in the background, he looks around the room, his spectacles perched low on his nose, then steps over the alpona in a silent homage to her memory.