Satyajit Ray series #2: Pratidwandi (aka The Adversary) (1970)

Siddhartha is a young man in his 20s who is forced to discontinue his medical studies after the untimely death of his father. Thereafter, he applies for a job interview at a certain company. On being asked what the most significant event of the last few years was, he replies: “The war in Vietnam”. His reason for giving that answer makes them wonder if he is a Communist, despite him giving an explanation that pointed to the contrary. Regardless, he is rejected. He lives in an apartment with his mother, younger brother and a sister. Siddhartha disapproves of both his brother and sister.

His brother is involved with the Naxalites and his sister flirts with her boss to get ahead in her career. Siddhartha drifts along having no clear idea on what to do next. His disillusioned state of mind takes him to various situations which only serve to confuse him further. He comes across a woman named Keya, who appears to have the same thought processes as him and begins a friendship with her. But this is another one of those situations that confuses him and after another devastating job interview, he leaves Calcutta to work in a different part of India.

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Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi  is the first of three films that form his Calcutta Trilogy (the other two being Seemabaddha and Jana Aranya). Ray’s inspiration for this film came from the turbulent period experienced by India in the 70s. This is another one of his films that had him adopting a style that was significantly different from his earlier films (with the exception of Nayak). Just like Nayak , Pratidwandi too has a European touch. There are flashbacks, dream sequences and certain scenes have a sense of ambiguity to them.

You can see the influences of the French New Wave as well, what with the use of jump cuts and documentary-style camera work. Some of the dream sequences are striking, for e.g. a long line of people waiting to be interviewed and Siddhartha imagines them as a long line of skeletons. The film has some striking similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Perhaps it was one of Scorsese’s influences (Pratidwandi came out six years before Taxi Driver).

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Renowned Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterjee plays Siddhartha, one of those characters that I strongly identify with. I, too was a former medical student who had to quit midway due to some unpleasant circumstances. I, too had gone through a phase where I was really confused about whether to rebel or surrender myself to conformity. There were certain scenes in the film that made me say, “I’ve gone through that exact situation myself.” This may not be an easy film for some but from what I’ve heard so far, this is where the appeal of the film lies.

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