Greed is one of the cardinal sins according to the bible. Satyajit Ray’s 1962 drama Abhijan (The Expedition) tells the tale of a young Sikh driver’s swirling journey in the world of sin. Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik (1952) is said to be the inspiration for this movie.
The plot unfolds in a linear pattern- Narsingh is a young Sikh taxi driver in the small town of Imambazar. His life took a turn for worse after being trampled by his competitor. His wife ran away increasing the confusion. These are parts of information we gather from Singh’s opening conversation with another driver. After an overtake stunt from Singh gets his service license cancelled as the man travelling in the overtaken car was the divisional officer. Deprived of source of income, he hits the road with his helper Rama in his 1930 Chrysler: destination Giribraj. In the middle of night they are stopped by a rich businessman, Sukhanram, requesting Singh to take him along with his “maid” to Shyamnagar. A misogynist after being left by his wife, Narsingh is reluctant to take a female in his car, but agrees to after getting offered double the fare.
On reaching Shyamnagar, Sukhanram persuades Singh to stay there and start a taxi service in the town. He meets the grandson of an old acquaintance of his grandfather, whose family also hails from Giribraj, Joseph. Joseph lives with his aged mother and sister; they were Christians converting from so called low caste Hindus. Narsingh is smitten by Neelima, Joseph’s elegant, cultured and english educated sister. He also meets Gulabi, the “maid”, who is used by the Seth for entertaining his associates. All their lives intermingle, amidst the rocky rural landscape. Neelima leaves the town with her love, her former teacher, as they cannot be united in that backward area where human minds are still not broadened. Singh is broken; he falls into the immorality of illegal opium trade with the Seth, lured by his dreams of becoming rich and honourable. This leads to loss of his new love interest Gulabi, his friend Joseph, and his most trusted companion Rama. He rediscovers himself; recues Gulabi from being dishonoured and leave for Giribraj with Rama and Gulabi.
The idea is indeed inspired by Ghatak’s Ajantrik, but the treatment of Ray is different from that of Ghatak in certain areas. Ray shows a man’s complex emotional and social relations with other humans and a very little with his car. The main character is woven beautifully; his pride for being a descendant of warriors, his hatred towards women, his competitive nature, his lust for status is brought out extraordinarily by both the director and the actor, Soumitra Chatterjee. The only thing lacking from Chatterjee is strong hindi though he is portraying Punjabi character. This can be argued by some pointing that he is from a Punjabi family whose last five generations resided in Bengal. Waheeda Rehman portrays a poor young woman (Gulabi), probably abducted by Sukhanram for pleasuring his associates. She has a past: her mother died during her birth, ravished by man at adolescence. She expresses her feelings for Singh, her averseness to stay in the Seth’s house, her fury with virtuosity. Robi Ghosh plays Rama; who provides some comic relief along with a vital part in moulding the story.
Ray’s score is a great in setting the tone of the scenes, whether it is suspense, fright or romance. He uses the sound very sensibly for unfolding of the visuals like many other great directors. His visual storytelling as in most other films is excellent. Bansi Chandragupta the production designer is up to the mark; however this is certainly not his best work with Ray. Lighting are used by cinematographer Soumendu Roy specifically to highlight the subject in the scene, and create subject to ground relationship.
Overall the film may not be striking but it is of course a good one in terms of plot, acting , sound and visuals. Ardent Ray lovers should not miss this at all, and others too should not miss the opportunity to see this.
Film Score: 72
Director: Satyajit Ray Screenplay: Satyajit Ray Story: Tarashankar Banerjee Cinematography: Soumendu Roy Editing: Dulal Dutta Production Design: Bansi Chandragupta Music: Satyajit Ray Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Waheeda Rehman, Robi Ghosh, Gyanesh Mukherjee, Ruma Guha Thakurta