Review: Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy

Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy (Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha and Jana Aranya)

Pratidwandi (The Adversary) is the earliest part of Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy, the other two being Seemabaddha and Jana Aranya.

Pratidwandi’s plot is derived from a Sunil Gangopadhyay novel. The film portrays the trials and tribulations of a young man in Kolkata (then Calcutta) in the 1970s, a phase of trials for the city and its youth. Seemabaddha (Company Limited) is about a phase in the life of a young executive employed with a private firm, his family, career and the choices he makes which impact his personal and professional life. Jana Aranya (The Middleman) chronicles the years in the life of yet another young man, played by Pradip Mukherjee, in the city in the period succeeding his graduation as he similarly tries to find his way in life.

Dhritiman Chatterjee stars in the role of the young protagonist, Siddhartha in Pratidwandi. The film begins with the demise of his father, his ensuing search for a job and his life in general. He lives with his mother and sister. His sister is employed. However, her employment conditions are not to his liking which he considers to be undignified, hence complicating matters further. The film traces the mental upheavals of a typical youth in the situation and how he is tempted to make compromises, some blatant and others passive. The theme of making compromises (and choices) and living with the consequences is a common thread that runs through the trilogy.

In Seemabaddha, the central character, played by Barun Chanda, makes the transition from a fine student to the corporate life. As he climbs the stairs of a successful career, he too is forced to make complex decisions, which determine the course of his life. The road for Somnath in Jana Aranya is even less smooth and he needs to swerve around/ face head-on devils of his own. Dealt a raw deal as he winds up his studies, he is forced on a path of mediocrity. A relationship is the first casualty (and one cannot but contrast this with the calm waters of the corporate executive’s domestic bliss in Seemabaddha). Somnath’s path is a crude one, infested with battle-hardened and “wiser” characters, Utpal Dutt masterfully doing justice to one such.

Siddhartha’s adversary lies in his own home – in the form of a rival breadwinner who beats him hands down, and outside – where the winner is decided as much by fate as worldliness. Whereas, for Shyamal, the protagonist in Seemabaddha, his rivals are his very colleagues in his own office.

As for the performances, it is easy to be carried away by the characters and declare Dhritiman to be the runaway best. However, this is actually a testimony to the fine work by each of the three leads, who play their parts to perfection. Explaining why would spoil it for those yet to watch the films. Other notable performances are from Sharmila Tagore (in Seemabaddha) and Utpal Dutt (in Jana Aranya).

6 Responses to “Review: Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy

  • Finally I know what order to watch the films in! I watched them out of order, gotta do it again now.

    • Hello Bezdomny
      Do let me know how you found the films once you have watched again !

      • Do you mean how I found them online, or how I found them in terms of review?
        For me everything Ray made was a masterpiece.

        • Hello Bezdomny! I meant to ask about your experience of watching the three films of the Trilogy in order. Did you enjoy watching the gradual shift of the protagonists across the moral continuum?
          I am really glad you adore Ray’s works so much! You might also consider reading his writings. He has written some great crime thrillers and sci-fi pieces.

  • You forgot to mention Rabi Ghosh of “Jana Aranya”. Probably the best performance by the veteran actor after “Golpo Holeo Sotyi” ..

    • Thanks Souhitya!
      While it is difficult for me to actually rank Rabi Ghosh’s performances (e.g I don’t know where exactly to put his portrayals of Bagha!), his performances in both the films you have mentioned were truly exceptional

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