Life Elusive Captured in Frames!
Film: Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest), 1970
Story: Sunil Gangopadhyay, Direction: Satyajit Ray
Cinematographer: Purnendu Bose
Music: Satyajit Ray
Editor: Dulal Dutta
Art director: Ashoke Bose, Bansi Chandragupta
Cast: Sharmila Tagore, Kaberi Bose, Simi Garewal, Soumitra Chatterjee, Subhendu Chatterjee, Robi Ghosh, Samit Bhanja, Aparna Sen, Pahadi Sanyal and others
Adapted form Sunil Ganguly’s story, the film zooms in on the vagaries and vicissitudes of the then bourgeoisie and their disillusionment with their state of affairs. A motley quartet ventures into the woods of Palamau to spend some days in order to extricate themselves from the trammels of their ordered social and city life. Culled from the various strata in the middle class the four characters reflect completely different attitudes bound by a thread of friendship. ‘Breaking the rules’, they drop anchor at a government forest bungalow without the required permission, consequently browbeating, and finally bribing the chowkidar, putting his job at stake. They remain unshaven, exchange diatribes at a local arrack shop and indulge in a drunken twist causing problem to vehicles. Their behaviour with and indifference (frequently found among the bourgeois people) of the lower orders of the society and their suffering, quite often verging on brutality, may make them, for the time being, unlikeable; but their innocent and ignorant self-esteem doing them in at last draws back our sympathy once again. Ashim (as Soumitra Chatterji) loses his self-confidence finally after the memory game; Sanjoy (as Subhendu Chatterji) finds himself hollow as a man in front of a seductive Jaya; Hari himself mislays his wallet but beats the local boy Lakhai which rebounds on him at last; Shekhar (as Rabi Ghosh) is only the man who escapes much of the humiliation because of his hilarious nature.
Their unexpected spotting, one morning, of two ladies of their social stratum within the tribal village brings them back, somewhat, to their superficial selves and they try to meet them in person and try their own hands at flirting. Though a forging of relationships is on the way under the hammer-blows of a set of consecutive meetings between the opposite sexes, yet each of the conceited quartet is blown to bits as the women come up trumps. Each of the quartet is chastened in their own way near the end of the film, and the women, winners in the beginning, appear to be pale, gloomy and their voices plangent beneath their jocund exterior and mellifluous chatter and pithy elicitation.
Like in most of Ray’s films, here also, the characters smile, but they find it rather painful to laugh. Though it is a matter of pity that a film of this momentousness received a lukewarm response form the native audience and critics when it was screened, yet it, then, was, and still is, a surefire narration of epic dimensions and the film’s aura doesn’t seem to dim even though it is watched over and over again. Unfortunately, they, who search for a single and simple theme in a film like this, will not be able to comprehend herein the interplay of various themes. Ray once said regretfully in a Sight & Sound interview, “The film is about so many things, that’s the trouble. People want just one theme, which they can hold in their hands.” He likened the structure of the film to a fugue, where disparate elements appear, develop interwoven, transformed pitted in a balanced way against each other.
Lastly, the memory game sequence in the forest is as much psychological as it is appealing. Ray’s astute handling of the mise-en-scene surpasses every character study heretofore attempted. Aparna pulls out when only Aparna and Ashim are left in the fray. Sexual undercurrents and each one’s mental preferences are reflected during the game. With the forest as the setting the visitors engage in a primitive game of dethroning the other with one’s mental might. The mysterious forest exudes revelations of the highest order at once perceivable and profound to be taken into, absorbed and preserved for perennial use by the unfortunate and innocent souls, who often get consumed with the fire of self-esteem and self-satisfaction thereby closing doors to experience and knowledge that’s omniscience in it’s vastness and immanence.