Posted: November 26, 2010 in 100 remarkable Bengali films, Bengali films, Mrinal Sen

Mrinal Sen is a pioneer of political cinema in India. He is the first Indian filmmaker to have given respectability to the genre. His Calcutta trilogy ( Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik) and later satire with politics in CHORUS reflected the prevalent mood of those days and times, particularly of Kolkata. Though some pundits, nay film critics, accuse him of blatanism and pamphleteering in these films, yet in the words of the Director, such an approach was essential to capture the unrest and turmoil of those turbulent times.

PADATIK was released in 1973. Sen embarked on an introspective, narrative style of filmmaking with this work, a style seen in some of his later films like ‘Kharij’ and ‘Ek Din Pratidin.’ PADATIK featured Dhritiman Chaterji, Simi Garewal, Bijon Bhattacharyya, Provas Shankar, the late Jochan Dastidar, Dhruba Mitra and others. It had the Mumbai actress Simi Garewal playing a westernised divorcee who shelters a naxalite ( Dhritiman).

PADATIK opens with a sequence where the main protagonist (Dhritiman), an allegedly Naxal activist, is being hunted by the Govt. machinery. His party members finds a safe hideout for him. The place is the flat of one divorced lady (Simi). Simi is a woman working in an advertising firm, and generally has to make ad-films as part of her job. Fugitive Dhritiman spends his first two days in the flat alone. Simi returns after two days from Mumbai. Biman(Dhruba Mitra) is another character who works for the same party and cause as Dhritiman. He is the only link betwen Dhritiman and the party. He conveys messages from Dhritiman to the party and vice-versa, as well as information relating to Dhritiman’s family to him. Dhritiman’s father, an honest man who looked after the whole family, had taken part in the 1942 movement which rocked Bengal. Yet he differed with his son’s revolutionary stance, and dismissed the present movement as lacking proper vision and direction.

The entire unfolding of events relating to Dhritiman’s family is told in flashback style to the viewer. Dhritiman’s mother is seriously ill and on her death-bed. Meanwhile Dhritiman and Simi gets acquainted to each other. Simi is a shy woman, who often have to succumb to the wishes of her office colleagues, and throw lavish parties at her residence, much against her own wishes. Simi also reveals facts relating to her family and her younger brother, who was very dear to her. Simi’s family were from Punjab, but because they are now settled in Calcutta since ages, Simi has learnt to speak Bengali. Her family had set up a flourishing business in Calcutta and the flat etc. is the fruit of that business. Her brother had leftist leanings, and because of his revolutionary streak had to leave Calcutta for Chandigarh. In the letters he wrote to his sister from there, he always talked about the hardship and woes of the common innocent people worldwide. This brought Simi and Dhritiman closer, and in one such moment of emotional weakness, Biman catches both of them together and mistook it otherwise. He reports this to the party, and Dhritiman gets a directive to be cautious from his party and handle the relationship with Simi without getting entangled in mushy sentimentality.

Dhritiman decides he will move elsewhere. Just when he makes his feeling known to Simi, Biman arrives and conveys the sad message that Dhritiman’s mother is seriously ill and counting her last moments. Simi helps Dhritiman to reach his house safely by dropping him in her car. When Dhritiman reaches his house, he finds he is a bit too late. His mother had passed away just a few minutes earlier. Though his father was happy to see his son, yet he advised Dhritiman to quickly move away from there as because Dhritiman is still being hunted. The father, before bidding his son farewell, showed his solidarity towards his son’s cause by saying that he refused to sign some official documents ( which was against the common workers interest) even after pressure from his higher-ups.

The poignant last scene is memorable, where the son(Dhritiman) and his father are shown shaking hands, and Dhritiman’s hand slowly slipping out of the hold and moving away, signifying the support of many more persons ( like his father) towards their cause, as Dhritiman embarks on his mission anew. Camerawork of PADATIK was handled by K. K. Mahajan. The film made abundant usage of newspaper clippings, which effectively brought out the troubled times of those days, and the fear psychosis which gripped people. The usage of Simi Garewal, a Mumbai based actress, had raised eyebrows but she did a perfect job. Suchitra Mitra, the noted exponent of Rabindrasangeet played a small character in this film, that of a feminist.

In films like Padatik, Sen appears to be a chronicler of his times. Here he refuses to sit on judgement, an ambivalent style he adopted since and seen in most of his later films like Ek Din Pratidin, Kharij, Ek Din Achanak and others. Sen’s quartet of films viz INTERVIEW, PADATIK, CALCUTTA 71 & CHORUS revolved around the city of Calcutta. In most of these films the protagonist is an outsider in society. The unemployed youth of INTERVIEW becomes the political activist in PADATIK. If Jean Luc Godard ( Vivre sa Vie, Le Chinoise ) was using his films to depict political reality, Sen was using his films to depict the reality in politics. The film was a generalisation of political bias. Later in CHORUS the focus was shifted from the individual to the collective. Utpalendu Chakravorty, who made the highly acclaimed film CHOKH perhaps owes a debt to Mrinal Sen because he benefitted a lot from the experiments of Mrinal Sen with political cinema. Though it really didn’t set off a big trend in political filmmaking, yet the honesty and sincerity with which this compelling film was made still makes it a favourite with serious cinebuffs even to this day.

Writing in the book “Arts of Transitional India Twentieth Century, Volume 1, Pg 1147”, Vinayak Purohit says “Within the context of contemporary sentient existence, Padatik explores four human relationships: that between the fugitive rank and filer and his junior comrade, that between the rank-and-filer and the sophisticated flat owner and executive where he is forced to seek refuge and where she is engaged in her own running away from reality, that between the rank-and-filer son and his ex-terrorist-nationalist father since petty bourgoeisfied and returning to the movement at the close of the film. All the four relationship are sensitively revealed, without sentimentalities, and leaving minor ambiguities unresolved.

I have only one dissatisfaction. The tension between the refugee and the householder are made too platonic and idealistic. He does not lust for her, although he is young, they are alone in the flat for hours on end, though she is separated from her husband with a son in a distant school hostel in Darjeeling and though her husband is a cad not above blackmailing his own ex-wife, and though the camera caresses her in almost every scene. This makes both players bloodless, passionless and mechanical. ”

Rating: 4.4 out of 5


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