ABHIJAAN (Satyajit Ray, 1962)

Abhijaan (The Expedition) is beautiful—another great work by India’s Satyajit Ray. It is about a boy’s struggle to retain dignity and even effect a rise in status after he loses, first, his wife and, next, his job as a cab driver. Taking his quarter-century-old Chrysler with him, the boy attempts to establish a taxi service in a remote, rural part of India. The film is also about his relations with two women: one, an English teacher, the sister of a friend, whom he loves but who loves someone else; the other, a prostitute who is owned by a businessman who is willing to help him in order to use him and his taxi service for smuggling activities. In some ways this 1962 film anticipates the even greater Ray film The Middleman (1976).
     Oh, this is the only Indian film I can recall in which I’ve seen cacti growing!
     Soumitra Chatterjee, 27 at the time, is yet again tremendous in the lead role. Chatterjee, of course, is Apu in The World of Apu, Umaprasad in Devi (for which I named him best actor of 1960), Amal in Charulata (for which I named him best supporting actor of 1964), and Sandip in The Home and the World (for which I named him best supporting actor of 1984)—all of these, Ray films as well. (Chatterjee, like Ray, is Bengal.) Still at it, still prolific in his seventies, Chatterjee can justifiably lay claim to being the world’s greatest living film actor.

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