Satyajit Ray has till date taken us on many wonderful adventures, at times beguiling and out-worldly even to ourselves. Though a work of fiction, the premise of ‘Pratidwandi‘ deeply roots itself in our culture and is relevant even to the current times. We can further establish that in a way the movie is far ahead of its time. The same stands true for other Satyajit Ray classics like Gupi Gayne Bagha Bayne, or Sonar Kella. The genius of Pratidwandi lies in the fact that it does not employ metaphysical elements, magic boons, and quintessential adventures to make us relate to its protagonist.
The story instead characterizes itself by filial routine and the mundane challenges that dominate an individual’s life at the peak of their youth. Yet, the storytelling isn’t bleak at the slightest; and keeps us glued to the edge of our seats, without being a so-called “blockbuster”. Based on the Novel by Sunil Bandyopadhyay, the movie invokes both rage and empathy through its discourse.
The Anatomy of Corporate Interviews (Pratidwandi)
One of the most prominent aspects of the movie is its setting of Corporate Interviews in the 1970s. With lots of people standing in long queues, the hour clock moving at the pace of a turtle, the nervous anticipation in each applicant is primal to this story. Moreover, the applicants in waiting, worry about much of the Interview being conducted in English and their ability to deliver on the same. It shows the tendency of giant corporations to focus on the English Speaking skills of an individual; rather than their potential to carry out the required job. It is quite hilarious yet sad how Indians, in general, try desperately to adapt to the ways of the West, while stepping on their own authenticity.
The Interview further characterizes itself by a heated exchange between Siddhartha (the protagonist) and the panelists conducting the Interview. On considering the Vietnam War, a more significant achievement of mankind than the landing of man on the Moon, the panelists ask Siddhartha if he is a Communist. Our admiration and belief systems might not have anything to do with our Political ideologies. The movie captures perfectly how people have the tendency to generalize others, or worse; shun those who express opinions differently.
Shifting paradigms of Relevance
The interview takes a morbid turn when one of the applicants faints; on account of poor organizational setup and lack of electricity or any seating accommodation. This enrages Siddhartha and he barges into the Interview room and speaks politely of the scene outside. Other candidates hesitate to follow him. The Panelists defend themselves by saying that candidates have to be strong and durable as the job might entail more adverse conditions. They have zero sense of remorse or empathy and only care about executing their daily proceedings. Moreover, they seem to have the same sluggish and derogatory attitude towards Siddhartha, as relatives in Indian families often demonstrate towards the younger.
Although the movie is set during the period of the Naxalite Movement in Bengal, much of the occurrences find relevance even today. The period is characterized by social unrest, where corruption and unemployment are rampant. 50 years forward, we still find ourselves stuck in the same cycle of draining Corporate Interviews, only with higher applicants. The conditions of Interviews today are equally tiring. The processes now include multiple rounds of the same turmoil, until recently when it saw a change.
With the onset of a Global Pandemic, much of the Corporate landscape has undergone a stark shift. Daily office procedures being conducted over third-party apps like Zoom and Google meet have brought forth the futility of a highly proctored Corporate environment. Gone are the days of waiting in long queues for no other than ordinary Interview sessions. The largest business associations can be finalized and transactions exchanged at the nip of a few clicks. However, it took a Pandemic to finally escape the cycle of unnecessary Corporate tantrums like: “wear boots, shirt and tie to work”, “travel however many hours necessary to get to Office at a set time” or even “don’t listen to music(even in headphones) at work”.
The Corporate establishment is a perfect example of how power and hierarchy constitute an embryo for prolonged corruption and injustice. People in power demonstrate a tendency to assert dominance through whatever means possible, lest none take them seriously. They forget that the truly powerful is an individual who does more for others, and wins their trust and admiration in the process.
Classic Surrealistic Ray elements in Pratidwandi 1970
Throughout the course of Pratidwandi, Siddhartha experiences numerous flashbacks as he undergoes various circumstances. These include memories of his childhood, as well as practical lessons from his medical college. One such notable instance is right into 20 minutes of the movie; when Siddhartha sees a young woman crossing the street. He is immediately taken down the memory lane of his University’s lesson on “lymphatics of the female breast”. The extreme of one such flashback is at the near end of the movie during the last Interview. Siddhartha views the applicants in line as mere skeletons and remembers his College lesson on the human Skeletal system. This denotes how he and the viewer perceive job applicants as mere lifeless beings; devoid of skin and flesh, walking mindlessly through the vicious cycle of life. To him, such individuals are as good as dead.
The movie establishes an unconscious parallel with Nayak starring Uttam Kumar (by the same director). Both movies incorporate various flashbacks experienced by the respective protagonists. This demonstrates the Director’s tendency to frequently employ the elements of classic Impressionism. Spiraling down one’s own conscious to unfold the morbid reality of dreams are the defining traits of such an act. Be it Uttam Kumar drowning down a pile of money while being laughed at by Spiritual Gurus. Or Siddhartha watching a chicken being beheaded as a child, and consequently himself being beheaded by a guillotine as an adult. Both movies demonstrate how the frustrations and the paradoxes surrounding our realities manifest themselves in our dreams.
Elements of Hypocrisy in Pratidwandi
Pratidwandi, in portraying Sidhhartha as the common man’s hero, does not however let him off the hook of human setbacks. In a way, a movie is a tool through which the viewer experiences Siddhartha’s pessimism towards the job market. The character comes with his own set of flaws, of which the bigger is the constant turmoil inside of his own self. He experiences a sense of attack on his masculinity on account of his sister being the sole bread-earner of the family. A precise example of the definition of masculinity prevalent to the times begone.
Our protagonist is easy to go down on a spiral and comment that it’s easier for the weaker sex to be successful. The movie often shows Siddhartha as stressed out for his sister staying out till longer hours for Office work. At times, he even questions her motives and does so undoubtedly from a point of insecurity.
As the movie advances towards its conclusion, Siddhartha watches his sister dancing her heart out on the roof. He realizes that she is a grown woman and the realization is much too difficult for him. He imagines visuals of her smoking with her peers or enjoying herself in public parties. It pushes him to get angry and interrupt his sister. The irony is that Sidhhartha himself engages in the aforementioned activities on a frequent basis, but judges his sister for the same. Maybe the stereotypes of that era still caught him in, or maybe it was difficult for him to adapt to modern times.
A progressive Sidhhartha who understands and upholds the nuances of the Vietnam War turns into a regressive brother who hinders the liberties of his sister. We are all free-minded individuals as long as it fits our own beliefs, and ideals and Siddhartha is no exception. He is more the common man, than the hero who goes above and beyond what is expected of him/her.
The wheel of life
Pratidwandi 1970 ends on the same note on which it begins. The movie is a whole transition from one death to another. The death of Siddhaarth’s father starts the story leading to the death of another’s father. This is significant of the most primal earthly qualities; like the cycle of day and night, happy and sad, life and death. It all happens on the same planetary axis, which takes the movie to more trans-dimensional themes. Whatever the interpretation be, the mundane occurring in an individual’s life are of negligible importance in the grand scale of things. Yet, we live, and we go on striving for better, making ourselves significant in our own little worlds through our own little ways. In this little space lies the triumph of the human spirit.