Ek Din Achanak (1989)

Posted: September 7, 2015 in 100 remarkable Indian films, Anil Chaterjee, anjan dutt, Aparna Sen, Hindi films, Mrinal Sen, Shabana Azmi

Day before yesterday was Teacher’s day. My respect to all teachers – they’re indispensable and the real architects in building great societies and nations.

How has teacher been depicted in the arts? Well, we have had many films with the professor as the protagonist, but I can’t think of any film that captures so brilliantly the misplaced expectations from a teacher…

Ek Din Achanak (1989) 

“Ek Din Achanak” (1989) (Suddenly One Day) is an intriguing film by Mrinal Sen, an emotional drama about relationships in the narrative style of a mystery film. I can’t think of too many Indian films that portray the agony of changing values and times on an individual so effectively (Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane may be another).

ek din

Ek Din Achanak” was based on a story by Ramapada Choudhury (Beej). It dealt with the pangs of a sensitive man in a cruel, insensitive and materialistic world. The protagonist of this film is an academically inclined Professor (Sreeram Lagoo). One rainy day, the Professor goes out of his house,and doesn’t return at night. His wife (Uttara Baonkar) and his two daughters(Shabana Azmi and Roopa Ganguly) are expectedly nervous at this. The film focuses on the year following the disappearance on the family.

Using flashback and oscillatory techniques throughout, the Director unfolds the family of the Professor before us. The wife (Uttara Baonkar) is a typical housewife, and somewhat unhappy with her present status. In one sequence, she accuses her husband of being selfish, and of being immune to the family’s needs. The wife said the husband never spared a thought for the family, and never tried to find a job for her. The Professor is also peeved with his only son (Arjun Chakravorty). He had high aspirations for his son and wanted him to follow in his footsteps. The son, however, was inclined towards business. The professor considered his son of being a wastrel, and in one sequence when the son asks him for some money, the professor chided his son for being so materialistically inclined. When he embarked to sign the cheque, out of anger the son leaves the house, without taking the money from his father.

The eldest daughter,Shabana Azmi, comes across as the strongest character. She is the bread-winner of the family, besides the amount of pension drawn by the Professor. She is also the one who was possibly closest to the professor. Through some sequences of poignancy, the Director delves into this beautiful father-daughter relationship. Even when the daughter re-examines her father’s capabilities and concludes that he was an average man, not an extraordinary person, she immediately feels guilty about it and confides to her sister that she has done a grave injustice to her father’s memory by belittling him.

The younger daughter, Roopa Ganguly, is a college going girl, and has some of the lighter sequences, like when she comes running to break the news that she has secured first class in her exams to her mother and sister. Even she considered her father of being a very proud man.

A few days after the disappearance, the family reconciles themselves with the incident. Shabana starts going to her office. Everyone seemed to have overcome the tragedy, the only exception being the wife of the professor.

The director employs shock sequences during the unfolding of the narrative. Early in the film a death is shown in a Calcutta street when a man is run over by a mini-bus and the incident occurring right next to Shabana’s office. At the time of the incident, Shabana jumps from her seat and runs towards the window fearing that it may be her father, and returns relieved when it turns out to be someone else.

Aparna Sen is a student of the Professor. The Professor develops a soft corner for her, revealed to us through a sketch drawn of her by the Professor, discovered much after the disappearance act. It was found quite accidentally by the wife while browsing through the books of the Professor after the incident. The wife informs the eldest daughter (Shabana) of her findings. Both re-examines the relationship between the two individuals (the Professor and his good-looking student Aparna).During the visit of Aparna to the house of the Professor the discussion were usually on academic topics, in which the wife couldn’t participate.

In a particular sequence, the vulnerability of the Professor’s character is revealed to us when Aparna reads out certain literary criticism of the Professor’s work by a reviewer at which the Professor started simmering.Perhaps Aparna too found flaws in the professor’s writings. Her statement thatthe professor has possibly written the article in haste is a revelation of her skepticism. However that she was enamored of the professor is revealed when she decides to capture the various moods of her professor in photographs, by skillfully using her hobby of photography.

When Shabana comes to know of her father’s soft corner for Aparna, she goes to meet Aparna. A lady opens the door and said Aparna had left the place and gone off elsewhere.

Soon after, Aparna pays a visit to the Professor’s house on hearing that Shabana had come to meet her.The wife opens the door and invites Aparna in. Gradually the wife discloses of her husband’s secret cravings for Aparna, and the sketch drawn by her husband was shown to her. Unaware of the fact and caught in an awkward position before the wife and Shabana, Aparna jumps off her seat and goes out of the house, in order to save herself from more embarrassment.

Anjan Dutta plays Shabana’s boyfriend and is generally seen around with her in some sequences. Mrinal Sen makes a dig at fake religious God-man in the film.When the wife had lost all hope of her husband’s return and a neighbor (Lily Chakravorty) informs her of a religious man with miraculous capabilities, the wife on persuasion goes to meet the sadhu.
A huge crowd had assembled to meet the man with extra-ordinary powers. At that claustrophobic gathering, people even fainted. That the God-man was a hoax can be gauged when his followers began accepting money from rich people and secretly took them to the God-man through backdoor, and when people actually fainted they were being recommended to the doctor and not to the man with great powers at his disposal.

A relation of the family, Arunbabu (Anil Chaterjee) is a depiction of a very practical person,who ties himself closely with the professor’s family when he could foresee some benefits for him ( he had opened a tutorial center and wanted the professor to take some classes) but in the hour of distress of the family, his help was not much on display.

A few months later the professor’s huge collection of books were arranged to be donated to a public library by the uncle (Manohar Singh) where it will be kept for public usage, and a mention of the donor will find a place somewhere.

The ending sequence is particularly poignant. Exactly a year after the disappearance, the wife and the two daughters is shown recollecting memories about the professor and discussing the void it had caused in their lives. Shabana Azmi reveals what her father had said to her once “That sadly we all live just once. The professor possibly longed for a second life as it would help him to correct the mistakes he made in this life and achieve a higher level in his field.”

The film ends on this wistful note. Interestingly, the Director Mrinal Sen, had said in an interview that on re-assessment of his corpus of work, he would have liked to start afresh from scratch.  “Ek Din Achanak”is a very ‘personal’ work of Mrinal Sen embodying his feeling that a second life would help to achieve greater heights.

In the words of Mrinal Sen “I wish I could start from scratch. I have done good, bad and indifferent films. I wish I could erase it all and start afresh like the Professor of “Ek Din Achanak” who walked out on his family in a rainy day without even as much as informing anybody. One of the characters says “one of the saddest things in life is that you live only one life.” However famous you are, you are aware of your mediocrity in certain respects. When you realize that, you face a crisis that is insurmountable. Though I have an enviable position as a maker of good,bad and indifferent films, I cannot escape this feeling of mediocrity within.Perhaps it happens because we are too immersed in our own selves.”

“Ek Din Achanak” featured at the 12th International Film Festival in1988. “Ek Din Achanak” also got an award for the Best Supporting actress category at the National film awards that year. Mrinal Sen won the OCIC Award and an Honorable Mention for “Ek Din Achanak” in 1989 at the Venice International Film Festival. Sreeram Lagoo, Aparna Sen, Uttara Baonkar,Shabana Azmi, Arjun Chakravorty, Rupa Ganguly, Anil Chaterji and Lily Chakraborty formed the cast.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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