Ajantrik (1958)

26 01 2011

In an ongoing project to thrust myself back into the life of cinephila, I’ve decided to become completely random with my viewings and dive in head first to uncharted territory. This is some pretty ridiculous rhetoric to start a review, but it explains why I just started with one of Ritwik Ghatak’s most praised works, rather than going in chronological order like I once used to do. Whatever the case, there’s still enough positive things here for me to want to return to his work. Although this isn’t nearly as refined as Satyajit Ray’s earliest work, it is of the same vein, but with its own quirks, some of which become sort of bothersome.

Bimal is fascinated with his car, ney he is absolutely in love with it. While it does provide a mean of income, his relationship with his old Chevy, which he affectionately refers to as Jagaddal, is unhealthy to say the least. Not only does he put hours of work into it, but he also takes the slightest bit of criticism as disrespect. Since the car itself is rather old and not so efficient, nearly all of Bimal’s customers find it humorous. This doesn’t sit well with him, and it contributes to his emotional collapse.

There’s definitely something silly about the story, the fact that it really is about a man and the love for his car. One could argue that movies can’t be compelling without a relationship between two humans. I’d argue it have to be living things (dogs are acceptable, more of these movies are needed for the record) but ultimately, the subject is him and his disconnect with the world. It’s funny, as crazy as Bimal is viewed by the outsiders that come close to him, he would have fit in perfectly with 1950s American car culture. There’s not really that sad, poignant implication of the west’s influence on Indian culture. His infatuation is completely foreign to everyone else in the film’s world.

It’s easy to make a quick comparison to Ray’s earlier (I’m thinking pre-1960s) films, but Ghatak has a slower, less “fly on the wall” style, closer to being an anticipation of that glacier minimalism that is dominating China last time I checked. There’s a lot of nice long, static shots in which we get to observe Bimal and his “shenanigans” in a really objective way. It’s definitely one of the most memorable elements of the movie. Unfortunately, another equally memorable element is the non-diegetic sound that is used to personalize the car. It is  unnecessary and completely intrudes on the film’s earthy, quiet tone. Still, it’s a pretty remarkable movie.

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One response

27 01 2011
Shubhajit Lahiri

I have seen very few Ritwik Ghatak films, and that’s something I’m very embarrassed to admit (since I’m a Bengali). Anyway, after the likes of Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarno Rekha & Komol Gandhar, Ajantrik does rank among his most well-knowned films, perhaps alongside the likes of Jukti Takko Aar Gappo & Bari Theke Paliye. Your wonderful review has made me extremely eager to watch this Ghatak film.

By the way, since you already seem to have seen Ray’s films (who, by the way, happens to be my favourite filmmaker), you might also give Mrinal Sen’s films a try, i.e. if you already haven’t.

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