Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Film Review: Ganashotru by Satyajit Ray

 “There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” - Peter Drucker

One of Satyajit Ray’s lesser known films was made after he had a heart attack on the sets of a hugely successful film, Ghare-Baire. One his doctor’s advice, the renowned film maker, was forced to make the film totally in the Studio.

The film is an adaptation of a play by Henrik Ibsen: An Enemy of the People. Set in a small Bengali town, Dr. Ashoke Gupta (Soumitra Chatterjee) who heads the town hospital finds that he is flooded by patients with jaundice. All these patients have been to the town’s largest temple and participated is drinking the holy water, called charanamitra, which is contaminated water from the river on which the temple stands. Dr Gupta's younger brother, Nisith (Dhritiman Chatterjee), is the head of the committees running the hospital and the temple, both of which were built by a local Industrialist. The temple is a big tourist attraction and quite naturally a cash-cow for the industrialist.

Convinced, after proper water testing, Dr. Gupta believes that the holy water of the temple is contaminated due to faulty pipe-laying, which is now causing an epidemic in the town. He warns his brother Nisith. However, Nisith and the Industrialist and other town officials reject the idea that holy water might be the cause of the epidemic. They refuse to close the temple to carry out the repairs, with the fear that if the public came to know about water contamination, the crowds may thin out. 

Obsessed with the town’s heath, Dr. Gupta wants to write an article in the newspaper to warn people. The enthusiastic Editor of the newspaper, however also comes under pressure and the article goes unpublished.
Left with no alternative, Dr. Gupta organises a public meeting that is also sabotaged. He is proclaimed a Ganashotru, enemy of the people.

The film moves on to show, how, one by one, the doctor’s wings are cut off – first, he is suspended from work, then his daughter loses her job and finally, his landlord asks him to leave his house. Left with little choice, the Doctor is preparing to leave, when finally from far, he hears the people’s voice, shouting slogans in support of him. The lone, crusader has won his battle against the industrialist and those who tried to malign his effort to save people.

Highly unlikely, a lone doctor’s fight against a money-spinning industry like a temple, the film is saved from utter rubbish, when one looks carefully at some other layers that intertwine to make it a watchable film.
First, it brings out the stark difference between religious beliefs and what is scientific. For example, the water report on the charanamitra, proves it is contaminated but the industrialist, tries to drill into the doctor’s mind, how a mere presence of the tulsi leaf in the charanamitra makes the liquid ‘pure’, free of all contamination.

Second, although it may have had no relevance then, when it was made, the clash of objectives between the religious bigots and the scientifically objective can at least be the central take-away from the film, now in India, especially if you consider that Satyajit Ray, is an Indian born international figure and film maker, unmatched so far. It is a film that warns public against religious bigot and the rise of people’s power to overthrow blind belief, against scientific evidence.

Third, who is the real enemy of the people, blind belief, religion or science? 

Indeed, as the film ends, with a bottle of charnamrita and a stethoscope lying side by side, we get the message loud and clear – blind belief of religion and science lie side by side and it is for us to choose what we want – one, or both, either/or. Whatever.

As for me, I am with Peter Ducker - “There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

Film: Ganashatru  
Producer: NFDC, National Film Development Corporation of India
Screenplay & Direction: Satyajit Ray; Adapted from the play: 'An Enemy of the People' by Henrik Ibsen.
Cinematography: Barun Raha
Editing: Dulal Dutta
Art Direction: Ashoke Bose
Sound: Sujit Sarkar
Music: Satyajit Ray
Character: Performer
Dr. Ashoke Gupta:Soumitra Chatterjee
Maya, Dr. Gupta's wife: Ruma Guha Thakurta
Indrani, Dr. Gupta's daughter: Mamata Shankar
Nisith: Dhritiman Chatterjee
Haridas Bagchi: Dipankar Dey
Biresh: Subhendu Chatterjee
Adhir:  Manoj Mitra

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