Adversary, The (1972)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Stars: Dhritiman Chatterjee, Jayshree Roy, Krishna Bose, Debraj Roy

Release Company: New York Film Annex

MPAA Rating: NR

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Satyajit Ray: The Adversary


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Opening with negative black and white photography to signal a dreamlike sequence, Satyajit Ray signals that Pratidwandi (The Adversary) will differ from his previous work. Better known for his films about rural India (The Apu Trilogy) and for period pieces (The Music Room and Charulata), he tackles Calcutta's contemporary 1970's social and political issues directly with this film. Despite the subject matter and snippets of Buńuel-like surrealism, you can still identify Ray's signature temperament and style as the film reaches its final reel.

Protagonist Siddhartha Chadhuri (Dhritiman Chatterjee) faces a situation very commonly found in India and other Third World countries striving to enter western style commercialism. After completing two years of medical school, Siddhartha drops out after the death of his father and seeks employment in the city. Early on we see the youth in a bizarre job interview, which not only checks his credentials and asks about his goals, but quizzes him on trivia to test his general knowledge and then gets into his political views after he maintains that the Vietnam War was more significant than the moon landing. They certainly don't want any potential labor disputes, so Siddhartha blows the interview by indicating a sympathetic ear for Marxist philosophy. We get the feeling that Siddhartha has experienced numerous other interviews like this—it's an employer's market with many desperate applicants for each position.

The young idealist lives in crowded conditions with his widowed mother, his sister Sutapa (Krishna Bose), and brother Tunu (Debraj Roy). Perpetually the man in the middle who sees both sides to every issue, he contrasts with his siblings. While strongly feels he should be supporting his family by working, he's not willing to do whatever it takes like his beautiful sister. She may be sleeping with her boss to get ahead, so Siddhartha goes to him to stand up for her only to find that he's incapable of confrontation—he fantasizes about killing him, but discovers that he becomes tongue-tied when coming face to face with him. Ray emphasizes this aspect of his conflicted character immediately afterwards when a Mercedes driver injures a pedestrian to draw the wrath of a mob--initially inspired to join the fracas, Siddhartha freezes when observing the terrified look of a female passenger in the car.

Tunu doesn't get stressed over such matters. A committed revolutionary, he fanatically makes bombs and belittled Siddhartha for not doing anything. Tunu knows that his brother shares many of the same ideals and returns a biography of Che Guevara that Siddhartha had given him (a cue for some commendable cinematic blending of Siddhartha's face with Guevara's in another brief fantasy). A parallel contrast is drawn with classmate Adinath (Kalyan Chowdhury), who sees himself as a "doer" while Siddhartha is a "thinker." Adinath attempts to corrupt his friend by treating Siddhartha to an expensive meal, followed by a visit to a prostitute, but the protagonist runs out before anything happens, and sets up the conclusion.

Frustrated by his inability to find work in Calcutta, Siddhartha is tempted to leave the city behind for more peaceful rural life, but now he finds motivation to remain in Calcutta. He runs into another classmate, who calls for him to help with a blown fuse. This is Keya (Jayshree Roy), and the two begin a very friendly, chaste relationship that appears destined for love. Siddhartha has another interview coming on Tuesday; there are four positions open with some 72 candidates crammed in the sweatshop style waiting area. Perhaps this will be Siddhartha's answer—an interview that the keenly intelligent youth won't blow since he now has strong motivation to find work in the big city. Humorous touches accompany this extended scene with tense job candidates worrying about that sharp looking confident guy in the business suit that must be 6 feet tall (never mind that he is perpetually pacing the floor) or surrounding exiting interviewees to find out what kind of questions are being asked. Ray again experiments with more dream sequences that effectively illustrate the contrasts between the privileged and the underclass.

This scene ends with a surprising climax that clearly delineates Siddhartha's destiny, and it fits Satyajit Ray's own temperament perfectly. India's finest director clearly relates to his protagonist—a thinking man well aware of his political surroundings, but never to the point of sacrificing his artistic vision or humanity to transient causes. We can all be thankful for that since we have Ray's vast body of work to offer glimpses into Indian life. With some diligent searching, you can find The Adversary available on DVD—something that is sadly lacking with most of Ray's films.

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