THE ADVERSARY (Satyajit Ray, 1970)

Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi, from Sunil Gangopadhyay’s novel, captures a time of political unrest in Calcutta, when one worries about going to the movies because the theater might be bombed. American tourists, into the India-thing, are oblivious to the surrounding turmoil and poverty; they symbolize neocolonialism’s fresh assault on India. A boy’s upheaved life—his father’s death meant dropping out of medical school; he searches for a job, like Apu in Ray’s Apu Sansur (1959)—represents countless upheaved lives, young and old. With whatever traditional authority their father embodied gone from the household, Siddhartha’s sister is having an affair with her married boss. One of his friends, who has rifled a Red Cross collection can, notes, “The whole country’s going down.”
     The opening is brilliant. A pre-credit sequence, in photographic negative, is a grotesque anxiety dream that resolves itself into an image of the dreamer: young Siddhartha. The camera remains agitated as the film proper begins and the boy is off by tram to a job interview. (The botanical job has drawn a slew of nervous applicants.) The interview itself, painfully funny, is a waking nightmare! Almost immediately Siddhartha’s pertinent knowledgeableness is established. He is asked other questions, however. What is the most important event of the past decade? Siddhartha responds honestly rather than judiciously: the Vietnam War, for revealing the unexpected resistance of ordinary people. The hint of Marxism that the triumvirate of interviewers glean from this comment leads them to send the boy packing.
     Siddhartha eventually lands a job; but it is one, as the representative of a pharmaceutical company, that will defeat his desire to make a positive contribution to society. Moreover, he will have to leave Calcutta and his girlfriend behind for this degrading employment. His life no longer will be his own.

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