COMPANY LIMITED (Satyajit Ray, 1971)

The middle part of Satyajit Ray’s “Calcutta trilogy,” based on Manisankar “Sankar” Mukherjee’s novel, Seemabaddha begins brilliantly, in a pre-credit passage with a documentary air, as protagonist Shyamalendu Chatterjee’s voiceover introduces both himself, a student of the humanities who once worked as an English teacher, and the company for which he now works as marketing manager. This firm, which is British, manufactures electric fans (a luxury item primarily aimed at a global market); ambitious, Shyamal aims for a room at the top. His devolution, presumably in pursuit of money and power, is elusively suggested by the self-objectification inherent in this “packaged” introduction. Thereafter, Shyamal sinks deeper and deeper into a competitive and manipulative corporate mentality. In order to cover up a faulty export order and hold onto his executive position, and advance from there, Shyamal does something which disgusts Ray’s social conscience: conspiring with a corrupt labor official, he manipulates a workers’ strike, lockout and riot, which makes him look good when he quells it.
     At the same time, Shyamal’s growing inhumanity is conveyed by the state of his marriage. Shyamal keeps wife Dolan in the dark as to his increasingly depraved nature, which he reveals instead—it is a form of infidelity—to his wife’s sister, Tutul (Sharmila Tagore, Apu’s bride in Ray’s Apu Sansar, 1959—and wonderful again), whose once envy of her sister’s marriage now stands corrected.
     For me, this is among Ray’s least interesting films, but his distancing strategies are perfectly correlative to the wider and wider distance that Shyamal sets between his “new” self and his former humanity. Score this as a bull’s-eye: in a black-and-white movie, the artificial colors of a filmed commercial advertisement—for Ray, a degenerate use of film.
     Winner of the International Critics’ Prize at Venice.

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