Abhijan (The Expedition)
|Directed by||Satyajit Ray|
|Written by||Satyajit Ray, adapted from the novel Abhijan by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay|
Ruma Guha Thakurta
|Release dates||28 September 1962|
|Running time||150 min.|
The filming of Abhijan began by the first half of 1961 when Bijoy Chatterjee asked Satyajit Ray to write a script on a popular Bengali novel of the same name by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay. Ray took up the job happily as he wrote scripts (or directed music) for various Bengali film for money. At the time his one of the most intriguing film Kanchenjungha was being shot at Darjiling. After the heartbreaking box office failure (both in home and away ) Ray found himself "anxious to reach out to a wider audience." Even at this point it was for Bijoy Chatterjee the script was being written, Ray had no idea of making the film himself, much like the other notable film not wholeheartedly made by Ray, Chiriyakhana.
Ray got involved into the film when they went to the famous hill-spot Dubrajpur in Birbhum not far from bolpur shantiniketan. It was then that the looming (almost as a recurring motif ) Mama Bhagne pahar was assimilated into the films backbone. As a result we see the motif of human being with their baggage of sin and adultery being symbolised into the stone pillar. When Ray further went into shooting the fist few sequences it was obvious that the script would be too much for the ability of Mr. Chatterjee, and as a consequence Ray was to direct his one of the most box office successful film in Bengal.
The protagonist Narasingh is an uprooted man, who with a long heritage and social dignity packed into his simple world view, finds himself betrayed frequently in a faraway land. He takes up a journey with Rama and his beloved car. The set up immediately reminds us of the Ritwik Ghatak masterpiece Ajantrik (1958), the relationship of a cab driver with his car which transcends the basic nature of relationship in between a driver and his vehicle. The hero Soumitra Chatterjee fails to impersonify a rowdy taxi driver who is very fond of his machine, much due to the fact that Ray himself had no experience of driving and mechanical instruments. Yet the film is very important for Ray enthusiasts for innumerable reasons. For instance, it is the first film in his career which comes out as a reperesentation of the social class of old Bengali families. And his boldness to describe physical relations should also be noted.
The film gives the famous Ray flavour in its composition, flow and dialogues, and use of symbols. The protagonist Narasingh (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) is seen as a prototype for the character of the cynical cab driver Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976). Scorsese himself has credited Satyajit Ray as a major influence on his work.
Soumitra Chatterjee plays Narsingh, a taxi driver. Narsingh is a proud and hot-tempered Rajput with a passion for his car, a vintage 1930 Chrysler and his Rajput heritage. Being a descendent of a royal Rajput family, his self-esteem is reflected through his inability to accept insult and defeat, as a result of which he even takes part in a small race with his car. He does not want to be the one who falls behind and develops a strong hatred for women and mankind in general. As a result of reckless driving, while overtaking the car which carried the district inspector, his licence is taken from him. He is utterly destroyed by it, since the cab was his life after his wife had left him for good. Deeply affected by the insult and a feeling of rootlessness, he decides to go back to the land of rajput where his true rajput lineage will be respected. While on an aimless journey, Narasingh is picked up by Sukharam who is a local Marwari businessman with a record of smuggling and human trafficking. Sukharam (Charuprakash Ghosh) offers him a handsome fee to transport some goods which actually is opium. The realisation of the immoral trade puts Narshing in a compromising position, but he decides to join hands with Sukharam anyways. After all no one he saw was truly following the path of law and morality, not even his ideal and beloved Neeli (Ruma Guha Thakurta).
Neeli runs away with the crippled lover of hers and Narasingh's deep distrust of women deepens. As a result, even after knowing that Gulabi is a victim of Sukharams trafficking he forces her to sleep with him without any emotional involvement. At this point he is almost on the verge of becoming the one he used to hate, the lawless ones who also fail to face the world.
Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman), on the other hand is a melancholy, demonstrative and beautiful village widow. Gulabi is instinctively drawn to Narsingh. In spite of losing her dignity, she still looks at the bright side of life and has trust that Narshing is not immoral. She is attracted to him from the beginning and ready for a physical relationship, though not as a prostitute which Sukharam intended her to be at that time, but as a village girl.
After he decides to join the gang of smugglers consisting of a legal deal and selling his car, he finds that all his friends that had been with him for so long, including Rama, and Neeli's brother, have abandoned him. He gets the money and social status he wanted but reduces himself to Mama Bhagne, a symbol of someone carrying the baggage of his own sin on his head, until he topples and is reduced to mere pebbles with no dignity. He changes, and rescues Gulabi just in time, before she was to be sold to the same lawyer who was a member of the smuggling racket he had thought of joining.
The tension of the good and evil collapses and the old car makes another journey into nothingness but with a halo of light ahead of it, the light of love.
- Shubhajit Lahiri (5 June 2009). "Satyajit Ray – Auteur Extraordinaire (Part 2)". Culturazzi. Archived from the original on 29 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-19.[dead link]
- Chris Ingui. "Martin Scorsese hits DC, hangs with the Hachet". Hatchet. Retrieved 2009-06-06.
- Jay Antani (2004). "Raging Bull: A film review". Filmcritic.com. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- "10th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
- Abhijan at satyajitray.org
- UCSC on the film
- Abhijan - UK DVD special edition release with book that includes Ray's production sketches etc
Abhijan (The Expedition) at the Internet Movie Database
Abhijan (The Expedition) at allmovie