Saturday, 15 August 2009

'Pratidwandi' a.k.a. 'The Adversary' (Ray, 1972)

"This isn't a matter of technology. It's just plain, human courage."

Ray's beloved Calcutta is a wonderland of dark discoveries for its troubled protagonist, Siddhartha, who has given up his medical education and trawls through the city in order to find a job to provide for his family after his father's death.

The Adversary is one of the most compelling urban studies ever committed to screen. The city itself presents a medium of almost fetishist fascination with and simultaneous repulsion of the urban sprawl, seen earlier in the form of Isaac Asimov's literary epic Foundation (1951), and was later canonised by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) as the pinnacle of the urban jungle sub-genre. There is a small but memorable moment - of which this film is full - in which a group of White hippies rest under a solitary tree amid the urban chaos and rejoice that they have "found the place where life began". There is a yearning for nature throughout the film, which is hauntingly represented through the recurring image and sound of a rare bird with a beautiful song taken from Siddhartha's childhood memories of him and his sister. And therein lies the link of the protagonist's sense of love and duty towards his family with a greater sense of innocence lost. Between his extremist brother with far left leanings, his ailing mother, and a sister who is becoming more and more used to the idea of using her sexuality (even if only in the most subtly suggestive sense) to get ahead in life, we see what the city has done to corrupt the family unit, which appears to be a literal incarnation of human bliss and perfection, as well as being the stage of its fall from grace. It would seem that it is no coincidence that the main character is named after the birth name of the Buddha.

In a truly mesmerising scene, Siddhartha is brought to a brothel by a friend who tries to help him relax. Staying true to the character and the overriding theme of the film, Siddhartha stays true to his virtuous nature and flees as if running from a burning building. It's little wonder that the one potential source of relief from this forebodingly decadent world arrives in the form of love. Siddhartha gets to touch the innocence and purity of his youth when in her presence, which makes the ending all the more tragic, and makes the hero all the more heroic for remaining uncorrupted despite all the advances of his environs.

At its heart, The Adversary is about the inner yearning for innocence and reconnection, which conflicts with the outer compulsion and pragmatic need to obtain tangible wealth in order to survive the harshness of the modern world. It's a struggle that no-one but Ray could portray in a manner as haunting and as visceral as this.


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