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When a corrupt cop takes away Narsingh's taxi license after an illegal car race, Narsingh finds himself reduced to poverty living in the outskirts of Kolkata. A practicing Sihk, he finds himself having to accept work from a dubious business man, Sukhanram, who employs Narsingh in dope smuggling. Given his reduced circumstances, Narsingh finds welcome assistance from a fellow villager, Josef, and his Christian schoolteacher sister, Neeli. Narsingh finds himself attracted to Neeli's altruism, but mistakes it for true love - when Neeli's love is for an untouchable cripple. Meanwhile, Sukhamran's prostitute, Gulabi, sees Narsingh's attempts to right the wrongs around him, and she sees through Sukhanram's duplicity when Sukhanram tries to convince Narsingh to sell his beloved taxi in exchange for a share of the profits in his next enterprise. With difficulty and the assistance of Narsingh's taxi partner Rama, Gulabi convinces Narsingh to break off the deal, but then Sukhanram takes his ...Written by
Satyajit Ray's 'Abhijaan' tells the story of taxi-driver Singhji (Soumitra Chatterjee) who travels in his Chrysler with companion Rama. A misogynist (due to his wife's abandonment) and an alcoholic, it doesn't take long for Singhji to have his license revoked because of his unproffesionalism. Thereafter, he soon arrives at a small town while giving a paying lift to a sleazy businessman. The passenger offers him a proposition due to which he decides to temporarily stay at this town. During his stay, he unexpectedly reunites with an old friend Joseph, and his sister Mary. Unexpectedly he receives visits from the enigmatic mistress of the shady businessman, Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman), who falls in love with him.
'Abhijaan' is another proof of why Ray is one of the best filmmakers in history. It is just as much character-driven as story driven. Ray effectively tackles different themes such as betrayal, alcoholism, corruption, sex, discrimination, prejudice and unrequited love. For example, in one dialogue he brilliantly tackled the theme of attempted suicide. The scene takes place during a conversation between Singhji and Gulabi where she describes her temptations to commit suicide and why she eventually steps back because of fear of missing out on life. I have only seen but very few movies that explore themes of suicide in such a brilliantly effective way (another example is Stephen Daldry's fantastic 'The Hours'). Most movies show characters succeeding, or the character being rescued or the aftermath on others but hardly is the theme further developed but here in just one line Ray skillfully explores this sensitive theme making it a powerful scene.
The discrimination against Indian Christians is also an interesting theme that Ray has introduced. I did not know that Indian Christians suffered so much discrimination (except during the British Raj) and it was interesting to see.
Ray is known for his ability to recognize talent. Soumitra Chatterjee is pretty much considered a regular in Ray films. He carries the film with sheer ease and delivers an incredible performance. Soumitra's display of the range of emotions and complexities of Singhji is amazing. The relationship between Singhji and Gulabi begins with reluctance and pity (even though he is aware that her attempts to visit him are not entirely honorable), then it shifts to lust but with every subsequent visit love develops. Waheeda Rehman can be counted on to deliver at least a good performance and here she is a total surprise, right from her first scene where she attempts to seduce Singhji and eventually revealing her vulnerable side sharing her dreams about her prince charming rescuing her and then marrying her, the dream that kept her alive and finally the scene where she confronts Singhji about his weakness and fatal path towards self destruction. While Singhji may have had mixed feelings for Gulabi, she has always looked at him with love, as a savior who will one day take her away from this state of purgatory and give her a new life. It is one of the most sympathetic performances of a prostitute that I have witnessed on screen. As Singhji's sidekick, Robi Ghosh is fun to watch. Gyanesh Mukherjee and Ruma Guha Thakur offer great support as the friend and potential love interest respectively.
In a way, the movie may remind one of Saratchandra's 'Devdas' except that Singhji isn't a guilt-ridden whining 'loser'. Even though he is about to embark a similar path of self destruction, to me his character is more human and the bond between him and Gulabi is more real than that of Devdas and Chandramukhi.
'Abhijaan' is another winner from the late genius called Satyajit Ray. I don't think there is more I need to say that has not already been said by someone else but if you haven't seen it then what are you waiting for?
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