Abhijan (The Expedition)

1962, India. 150 mins., B/W, In Bengali with subtitles

Summary

Ray’s favorite actor Soumitra Chatterjee plays Narsingh, a taxi driver. Narsingh is a proud and hot-tempered Rajput with a passion for his car, a vintage 1930 Chrysler. He recklessly passes the car of a powerful, local policeman and has his permit taken away. It forces him to take refuge in a small town on the borders of the states of Bengal and Bihar.

Sukhanram, a shady merchant, offers him a handsome fee to transport some merchandise, and soon he finds himself into trafficking in opium. The two main women characters Neeli and Gulabi form a contrast. Narsingh is attracted to Neeli, a reserved Catholic schoolteacher. She has no interest in Narsingh. The other female character is warm, demonstrative and beautiful prostitute Gulabi. Gulabi has an instinctive liking towards Narsingh.

Unaware that Neeli has already committed herself to another man, a cripple, for Neeli’s sake, Narsingh begins to reform himself and even takes interest in her religion. But soon finds himself helping Neeli elope with her cripple lover.

He also is seduced by Sukhanram and his lawyer friends to enter into a partnership and is even willing to sell off of his car to invest in the smuggling venture. Confronted by Gulabi, his assistant Rama and finally by Neeli’s brother Joseph, Narsingh realizes his mistake.
Despite the romantic disillusion, he finds spiritual redemption when in climatic sequence of events he splits with his smuggler associates and rescues Gulabi from them. Narsingh is united with the woman he truly loves.

Comments

Abhijan was Satyajit Ray’s biggest box-office success in his native Bengal. Soumitra Chatterjee appears a miscast for the rugged character of Narsingh. He seems too sophisticated for the role and his passion for his car seems a bit contrived. Superb performance by Rabi Ghosh (Rama), Charuprasash Ghosh (Sukhanram), Ruma Guha Thakurta (Neeli ) and Wahida Rehman (Gulabi).

The film was originally conceived by his friends. A producer friend, Bijoy Chatterjee was to direct it. He had persuaded Ray to write the script and help in pre-production of the film. As a friendly gesture Ray agreed to direct the first scene on the first day of the shoot. By end of the day Bijoy Chatterjee and friends had persuaded Ray to direct the complete film. “They lost their nerve,” Ray said. Ray, who is usually associated with gentle and contemplative films, added a fight scene to Abhijan. He later admitted the fight should have been better staged. The filming took place in 114-degrees weather with the actors wearing heavy clothes to simulate winter. So did he want more violence? “Oh, yes,” Ray said. “I’d have very much liked a John Ford-type rough-and-tumble.”

Awards

  • President’s Silver Medal, New Delhi, 1962

Credits

Producer:Abhijatrik
Screenplay & Direction:Satyajit Ray form the novel “Abhijan” by Tarasankar Banerjee
Cinematography:Soumendu Roy
Editing:Dulal Dutta
Art Direction:Bansi Chandragupta
Sound:Durgadas Mitra, Nripen Paul, Sujit Sarkar
Music:Satyajit Ray

Cast

 
Narsingh:Soumitra Chatterjee
Gulabi:Wahida Rehman
Neel:Ruma Guha Thakurta
Joseph:Ganesh Mukherjee
Sukhanram:Charuprasash Ghosh
Rama (Narsingh’s assistant):Rabi Ghosh
Naskar:Arun Roy
Rameswar:Sekhar Chatterjee
Banerjee:Ajit Banerjee
Joseph’s mother:Reba Devi
Lawyer:Abani Mukherjee
Gulabi and Narsingh
Gulabi and Narsingh
Ruma Guha Thakurta as Neeli and Soumitra Chatterjee as Singhji
Gulabi and Narsingh
Gulabi and Narsingh