Pratidwandi meaning the adversary is a 1970 Bengali film directed by Satyajit Ray based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It is termed as the first in his Calcutta Trilogy, the other two being Seemabaddha (1971) and Jana Aranya (1975). It is the 1970s, the decade of great political turmoil in India. Naxal movement is gaining momentum and more and more Bengali youth are joining this armed movement referred to as the revolution in the film. Siddharth is a bright young student who was forced to leave the medical college after his second year when his father dies untimely. He has a younger sister who works in an office and a mysterious younger brother who barely speaks and is hard to comprehend. He is supposedly going to become a revolutionary. Siddharth is jobless and so he has to appear in those interviews where they ask history and geography for the appointment of clerks. When in an interview he is asked the most significant world event of the past decade, he says the courage shown by Vietnamese in the war with America, the pure human courage against mighty America, he is tagged as a communist and asked to leave. His sister is allegedly having an affair with her boss and his younger brother is inclined towards the revolution. He has a widowed mother to look after but he does not have a job.
The story doesn’t end here. There is a part somewhere within Siddharth that is revolutionary and wants to change the things and there is a continuous battle going on between these two facets of the same man. But every time except once the mild, practical, scared Siddharth wins. This film is complex, very complex. The inner battle is intense and realistic. There is nothing heroic about it. The best thing about Ray is that he never exaggerates things to create false tension. Here too, the problems are real and our protagonist’s reactions are also real. He never goes overboard. He knows the situation very well and reacts accordingly, although, the other person living in him tells him to act otherwise.
Ray’s Black n White Calcutta gives better colors to the emotions. Siddharth also has a love interest in the form of Keya. Keya is the only thing that is good about him. Keya also has a story of a dead mother and a rich father going to marry her mother’s sister. The film has a plain simple story without any shocks or twists. And here enters Satyajit Ray and his brilliance. This film is like a poem, you go on reading it line after line and you get time to think only when the lines end. After the film ends the question comes to my mind, “who were the adversaries here?” the film has just one central character that doesn’t seem to have problems with anyone in particular. In my opinion, there may be two theories in this regard. One is that the world is the adversary of Siddharth, the individual. He appears to have problems with the entire world but has never expressed it directly anywhere except maybe the penultimate scene where he creates a scene in an interview.
Every individual has aspirations and when aspirations don’t match with what we get, frustration overwhelms. There is surely a silent frustration living within Siddharth and this frustration is inherently Indian. This frustration becomes the representation of the Indian youth. All those who tag Ray as the most un-Indian Indian filmmaker should watch Pratidwandi. In Siddharth, he has shown India without making any political or moral statement. Siddharth is purely a representation of Indian youth. Jan Aranya too has the story of an unemployed educated youth but the difference lies in the central question that the two films raise. Jana Aranya raises a question on moral choices whereas morality doesn’t come into the picture in Pratidwandi. Here the central question is about aspirations. These are Indian aspirations. And the film has not lost its relevance even after 45 years of its release. But as I always say ‘The Apu Trilogy’ has eclipsed all other great works of Satyajit Ray.
The other theory gives evidence that here the adversary of Siddharth is Siddharth himself. In various scenes, Ray has suggested that Siddharth wants to do things differently but ends up doing them as expected from him. His personality or maybe his circumstances has created a wall for that Siddharth to come out, who wants to make changes to the existing world. And in my opinion, the dead body and the chanting of ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’ in the climax scene signifies that the Siddharth who wants to make changes is completely dead now and will never come out. Ray uses a bird as the metaphor for the lost peaceful life Siddharth and his siblings used to have during their childhood. Siddharth searches for the bird in Calcutta but finds it in the village where he is finally posted. The bird is singing in synchronization with the chanting of ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai.” Does that signify anything? Yes, it says, by killing his adversary Siddharth is finally able to find a life that he always searched for but the problem is that Siddharth wanted to kill this Siddharth who has survived.
This again is an under marketed film of Satyajit Ray. Dhritiman Chatterjee nails it as Siddharth. He acts brilliantly, he looks brilliant, and he has a charisma, I must say. Showing the inner conflicts without dialogues is something not every actor is capable of, it doesn’t matter how good otherwise he is. After watching this I want to see him more to confirm whether he is real or just a creation of Satyajit Ray. Every other actor is brilliant. The cinematography gives me a feeling that I am roaming in the streets of Calcutta with black n white walls. This kind of camerawork can be said to be alive. It breathes and you can feel it.
I want to remind the critics who tag Ray as un-Indian that no one has captured and presented the lives of the Indian lower middle-class as authentically as Ray. In the Indian films, we are habitual of watching the super rich and with them the super poor and we ignore the vast majority of the middle-class people. Ray reminds us that this majority may seem uninteresting but they have interesting stories to tell.