Sometimes it becomes difficult to select a movie to spend next two or three hours of your life. You can sense the helplessness. In this kind of situation I always select Satyajit Ray, any film and today I was lucky to watch Aranyer Din Ratri again. Starting casually, it gives the impression that this one is among one of the lighter films made by Ray. The film’s setup seems to be inspired by European casual drama films. But the exact moment at which the casual watch turns into looking for deeper insights you will not be able to find. This happens automatically and unknowingly. This one is, no doubt, intense.
Four friends Asim (Saumitra Chatterjee), Sanjay (Shubhendu Chatterjee), Hari (Samit Bhanja) and Shekhar (Robi Ghosh) decide to go hippie and not to follow any rules for a few days and their resolution also includes not to shave for the days they are on this holiday. Asim has a car and he takes the rest of them from Calcutta to the forests of Palamu. These friends have nothing in common, they are from different backgrounds, their works are different and even their age, size, and shapes are different. Only one thing is common; they all want complete isolation from the outer world. But their resolution is broken on the very first morning when Shekhar spots two non-tribal women outside their guest house and expresses a wish to shave. All four follow the two beautiful ladies Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) and Jaya (Kaveri Bose) to find that they live nearby with their father. Later it becomes clear that Jaya is Aparna’s sister in law whose husband committed suicide few years ago, so she is a widow with a kid. All of them become very friendly and go for picnics and melas together. In the meanwhile, Hari, who is a cricketer, falls in love with poor tribal women Dulli (Simi Garewal).
The story is without any turns. The proceedings are smooth and that makes it special. Every single character is unique and their demands from life are also unique. In a picnic scene, where all the four friends with the women play a certain kind of memory game, Satyajit Ray has provided the character sketch of each one of them with ease. The mastery speaks for itself when you sense an underlying sexual tension through this simple memory game.
The thing I like most about Satyajit Ray is that he never becomes judgmental or indulges himself in the business of tagging characters. Here too, he shows the tribal people and their living conditions along with these Calcutta boys’ lifestyle but he doesn’t pass judgments. He shows the tribals as they are and don’t tag them as poor or something to sympathize with. They are just tribals. And these City boys, they are just some guys from the City, nothing good or bad about them. It is not an easy task and requires full control over every department of filmmaking and most importantly over the writing. Satyajit Ray has himself written the screenplay from a Sunil Gangopadhyay novel and he has taken utmost care because he knows it better that one wrong line and the film becomes something else.
Performance wise, it’s a treat for the viewers. Saumitra is unbelievably natural (as usual) and Sharmila is supernaturally beautiful. She gives the film a mysterious touch. Whenever Sharmila is on the screen the undertone becomes tensed. Kaveri Bose is brilliant as the widow Jaya. Simi Garewal is good as the innocent tribal women but frankly does not act well. Her innocence feels like insanity to me. Robi Ghosh as Shekhar is the funny one here and does a great job because making real life funny is tough I think. The other two male characters provide the required diversification. The film is as close to reality that sometimes you also become one of the dwellers of that forest guest house. The setup is real and so are the characters and their dialogues. Background score is kept at a minimum.
Aranyer Din Ratri is Ray’s most recognized and celebrated film internationally after the Apu Trilogy. It has been hailed as great cinema from one of the world’s greatest filmmakers by many of the world’s renowned film critics. For me, this is always fun to watch.