Cannes 2022 Screening Notes: Pratidwandi Is A Haunting Study Of A Troubled Time

Ray captures the alienation and urgency of unemployment in 70s Calcutta
Cannes 2022 Screening Notes: Pratidwandi Is A Haunting Study Of A Troubled Time

Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Cast: Dhritiman Chatterjee, Asgar Ali, Arabinda Banerjee, Soumitra Bannerjee
Cinematographer: Purnendu Bose, Soumendu Roy
Editor: Dulal Dutta

The first thing that pops from the screen in Pratidwandi is Dhritiman Chatterjee's angular handsomeness. The actor, making his debut, plays Siddhartha, an intelligent, educated, twenty-five-year-old who, each day, sets out to find a job and somehow survive his beloved city, Calcutta. It is a Sisyphean quest. 

Pratidwandi means the adversary. Here, it is the city itself, suffocating with unemployment, social unrest, apathy and corruption. The heat is relentless. And despite having a family, Siddhartha is lonely and deeply frustrated. This anger simmers and finally explodes.

Pratidwandi was released in 1970, three years before Prakash Mehra and Salim-Javed's Zanjeer unleashed the archetype of the Angry Young Man with Amitabh Bachchan. I wonder if Siddhartha's simmering rage was an inspiration for Vijay, the cop who famously tells the local don, 'Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaye sharafat se khade raho, yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi.'

Pratidwandi is based on the novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay and is the first part of Satyajit Ray's Calcutta Trilogy. The film, restored in 4K by ace cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee for the National Film Archive of India, is playing as part of Cannes Classics.

In Pratidwandi, Ray experiments with photo-negative flashbacks. There is also a spectacular scene in which Siddhartha and his girlfriend are on the terrace of the tallest building in Calcutta at the time and we get an aerial view of the city bustling with people and sound. Ray establishes the frenzy of the city, which heightens Siddhartha's alienation. He doesn't find comfort even in his own home, where he can't relate either to his younger brother who is an activist or to his sister, an attractive woman who is the sole earning member of the family. She is practical and determined to make her way through the urban jungle.

In an interview, Sudeep said that since the film's negatives were damaged, the restored film has a 70 per cent high-resolution scan from negatives and 30 per cent from the film's print. There are scenes in the film within which the quality of the image alters. But this does not impact the urgency of Ray's concerns or the tension that slowly builds as Siddhartha continues to hit walls. 

In Muzaffar Ali's Gaman, a song, written by Shahryar, asks 'Seene mein jalan, aankhon mein toofan sa kyun hai? Iss sheher mein har shaks pareshan sa kyun hai?' Like the protagonist of that film, Siddhartha is agitated and alone in the maddening crowd. The one source of joy is his memory of a bird's call from his childhood. This is what he seeks to return to.

Pratidwandi is a haunting study of a troubled time. Eventually, the city wins, as it must.

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