Director: Phani Majumdar; Writer: Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay, Phani Majumdar; Cinematographer: Yusuf Mulji; Editor: Haridas Mahalanobis; Cast: Pankaj Mullick, Ahindra Choudhury, Jyotiprakash, Sailen Choudhury, Amar Mullick, Buddhadeb, Indu Mukherjee, Panna Rani, Bharati Devi, Nemo, Hari Sundari, Tona Roy, Boken Chattopadhyay, Aurobindo Sen, Naresh Bose, Ardhendu Mukhopadhyay, Kenaram Mukherjee, Kanu Bandyopadhyay, Sukumar Pal, Biren Das, M. M. Bhattacharya, Dwijen Ganguly, Harimohan Bose, Dhruba Chakraborty, Kamala
Duration: 02:17:26; Aspect Ratio: 1.301:1; Hue: 60.011; Saturation: 0.015; Lightness: 0.231; Volume: 0.169; Cuts per Minute: 7.610; Words per Minute: 65.800
Summary: Poverty, disease, superstition and caste distinctions were all targets of attack in New Theatres’ “Doctor” which came in 1940, based on a story by Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay. In keeping with the tradition of B. N. Sircar’s famous banner, this film too is meant to be a critique of certain dominant social evils, presented in a way which the audience would like, with soulful songs and the singing star as well as composer Pankaj Mullick playing a prominent part. Multiple thematic strains are interwoven: a father-son conflict, gives way to an inter-caste marriage and its ramifications, to the ethical positions of doctors in society, estranged family, and finally turning a full circle back to the father-son conflict over caste a generation later. The film was dubbed in Hindi, re-edited and released the next year by Subodh Mitra. The film was remade again in 1977, in both Bengali and Hindi, by Shakti Samanta. Uttam Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Rakesh Roshan, Mousumi Chatterjee, Utpal Dutta and Asit Sen were cast in the roles previously played by Pankaj Mullick, Ahindra Choudhury, Panna Rani, Jyotiprakash, Bharati Devi, Sailen Choudhury and Amar Mullick, respectively.
Release date: 31 August, 1940 (Chitra; Purna)
An early example of social realism that reached its height with 'Udayer Pathey' and more memorably with 'Chhinnamul', 'Doctor' was meant as a stringent critique of practices that were beginning to be deemed as persistant evils that plague society, namely superstitions, religious dogma and discrimination on the basis of caste. However, that would be a far too simplistic reading of the multiple thematic elements that tie together the narrative of 'Doctor'. The idea of caste based discrimination, violence and upper-caste hypocrisy is placed alongside the notions of generational conflict in a father-son relationship and the idea of a ever-widening generation gap especially in the historical and socio-political context of the film. Above all, the ever-present uneasy relationship between tradition, represented by the samaj and its customs and rituals, and modernity, is a persistant leitmotif in the film. The train is thus very important and is constantly referred to throughout the film. One of the protagonists, the son, enters on a train, singing a song about youthful exuberance and how the old is destitute and on the verge of collapse represented by the goldsmith's run-down cart. The train, a persistant symbol of the march of modernity, whether physically or through references, keeps re-appearing in the film, offset by instances of how the traditional seems woefully out of depth when dealing with change, be it ideological or actual. The shot immediately after the train is of the station where a palanquin awaits to take the son to his house, a juxtaposition both ironic and telling in establishing the central conflict of the narrative. He reacts accordingly, pointing out at the absurdity of the palanquin, and also establishing his absolute lack of patience for such things he considers a misfit to the new world he wishes to create/inhabit.
What follows immediately is a demonstration of this. The villagers, bound by a lifetime of customs and rules that surround the village temple and its priests have little understanding or patience for Amarnath's repeated attempts to change things. It is insinuated that the conflict between the priest and Amarnath has a history to it with both resorting to their own brand of strong-arm tactics for what they perceive is the way things should run. In a way, such a fight has no easy resolution precisely because the two represent not so much a personal set of standpoints only but two different ways of life and two different world-views. The fact that the priest's role is so obviously antagonistic is for a two-fold reason: firstly, it will eventually catapult the narrative to its crucial second act, and also, it serves to contextualise and direct the social critique that the narrative is meant to be. This is further established by the introduction of the character of Maya, whose father had been made an outcaste because he had failed to get his daughter married on time due to a lack of dowry. Various issues come to the forefront at once - dowry, marriage, caste, exploitation and violence. Amarnath's blatant disregard for the sanctions of the village elders threatens to destroy their long established structure - a structure that works on extremely complicated lines of repression and control symbolized by how a brahmin who has already being ostracized, nevertheless, cannot be permitted to go to a hospital because it is not a purely brahmin space.
The patriarch is seemingly unconcerned by the son's direct flouting of the rules of society. However, such a statement needs must be qualified by the acknowledgement that the father perhaps does not really believe that Amarnath's actions are anything but youthful exuberance. He is set in his ways, having probably instituted many of the rules his son is trying to break but his affection for his heir far outweighs any complaints anyone might have about the latter's behaviour. Thus he might not entirely condone the sending of the ailing Beni to a hospital, but, he refuses to see it as anything beyond that. The banter that follows is testimony to that.
The next series of scenes demonstrate Amarnath's attempts to instruct the villagers about the pitfalls of their lack of concern regarding their own hygiene and well-being. It is interesting to note that Amarnath's methods, consciously or unconsciously, somewhat mirror that of the priests' - he uses fear, persuation, threats and above all his own family power to ensure his ends.
The song is again about the exuberance of youth and the rail tracks frame the path the protagonist charts.
The first act is mainly expository in 'Doctor', establishing the central concerns and conflicts of the narrative. It reaches its crescendo in the scene with Beni, the outcaste brahmin. He stands in for variety of figures - the outcaste who is still a brahmin, the father who is petrified of what will happen to his daughter after his demise, and the cholera victim who has fallen prey to what Amarnath has been trying to warn everyone about for so long. In fact, his feverish hallucinations are directed particularly at the figure of the head-priest Shiromoni harking back to the priest-Amarnath dynamic we have already discussed in an earlier scene. Prejudices, superstitions, hypocrisy, everything that has thus far been attached to the religious heads of the village intensifies with the suffering of this man and consequently, with his death, catapults the narrative towards its second act. The series of shots leading up to the close-up of the old man's hands joining Amarnath and Maya's hands together before falling away as he dies constitutes this movement. As the scene fades to black, voices of dissent can already be heard.
It is obvious by now that Maya had been at the very heart of the reason behind the treatment meted out to her and her father after the debacle of her aborted wedding. Her resistance to the overtures of the head-priest Shiromani had resulted in intensification of the sanctions against them and now with Amarnath having accepted her as his wife on her father's death-bed, those intensions must necessarily find a different way of being manifested. Use of words like 'prey' make that very obvious when the priests rue that Amarnath has snatched away an easy prey like Maya. The latter has obviously identified the crux of the problem, having lived through it for so long and hence she rightly surmises what could be possible inevitable outcome of their union. Her resistance is, in part, due to an unwillingness to cause anymore social injunction for someone else like it had been for her father.
The hunters, having had their 'prey' snatched away from them, must find a way to exact vengeance. The most obvious route for them is to complain to the patriarch, the keeper of the very traditions Amarnath has flouted, his own father. It's interesting to note that they use here the rhetoric of the exuberance of youth that has framed so much of the first act of 'Doctor'. By their own admission they have disregarded his behaviour thus far because of his youth but with marriage, family, property and progeny now being involved, that is no longer a viable avenue. The scene is interesting in how the band of priests attempt to go about on their campaign. They can freely abuse the woman but must refrain from doing so with the landlord's son. Thus, their anger finds a vent in couching their complaint in the guise of concern and anxiety for the family name of the Chowdhurys. They cannot afford to go into direct conflict with the powerful zamindar, thus, whatever information they seek to share must be done through insinuations, advice and soft warnings.
The repercussions are seen immediately after. Albeit fond of his son enough to disregard the priests' accusations, the father cannot completely ignore its implications. With matters of class, caste, property and name at stake, a safe marriage is the only alternative he can think of. The setting is crucial here. Their conversation takes place in a room framed by the portraits of the ancestors whom the father refers to as he implores his son to reconsider. For a moment the social critique takes a backseat as generational and filial conflicts are foregrounded. Thus when the judgment is passed that the son must relinquish all claims to the name and property if he wishes to continue on his path, it is, seemingly testified by the silent ancestors and all the conflicts that one has identified thus far come together in the pronouncement. The mid shot of the son leaving, the father standing still as stone before rushing after him, the numerous portraits of the ancestors, and the final close-up of the grieving father before he turns back towards his ancestors, the entire tableau serves as the climax of the first act.
The second act begins again with a train passing by as Amarnath and Maya, now settled in their matrimony, are talking. They play a game, a rather simple guessing game regarding the nature of the train that passes by. The train and the progress it symbolizes now frames their domestic life revealing itself in the game they have invented. It is at once a metaphor for the easy companionship they have established as also for their shared goals of development and service of humanity. This game will reappear whether at joyful moments or whenever they seek to resolve any discord, disagreement or sorrow, almost like an automatic reminder of the path both of them have willingly chosen to travel together.
The song that follows and the series of scenes that accompany it showing the two of them building their hospital and at the same time establishing their home is a reaffirmation of that choice.
The second act thus far has been about domestic and professional bliss for Maya and Amarnath. The news of the arrival of their first child thus brings with it a mix of emotions - elation, hope and also regret about things that had come to pass. Intercut images of the father serves to underline this further. His foremost request to his son had been to consider the future of the family. Now with that future about to present itself the rift between them seems that much wider. Yet, the father's inability to ignore things that remind him of his son, despite his protests otherwise, serve to intensify the pathos of that rift.
The notion of a son here holds more relevance than continuation of the family, and the hopes that Maya harbours for their child. One can already identify a curious recurrence here. Just like Amarnath's father had harboured a set of expectations from him regarding the continuation of their family prosperity, similarly Amarnath and Maya have nurtured a set of dreams that will be fulfilled by their son. They both hope their son will continue their work of serving humanity even to the extent of becoming some sort of a guardian for their efforts in their old age. The dynamics and conflicts between generations that marked the latter half of the first act have begun to re-emerge here even when the child is yet absent. Maya's ill-heath serves to signal the fact that all might not go as planned for them.
Further signals abound when the next person who comes in is a man in distress about the sudden ill-health of his pregnant wife. Two things are important here. One, the intruder, desperately tells Amarnath that he does not wish for a son if it comes at the cost of his wife. What he declares almost as a choice will hardly be so for Amarnath himself at the time of his own son's birth. And two, the way Maya is shot towards the end of the scene as she convinces Amarnath to go to the man's aid. For a moment, almost like a portrait, she stands still and smiling before pain assails her.
The two babies are born almost simultaneously, which further serves to intensify the pathos and irony of the scene. Amarnath saves the man's wife and after desperate efforts manages to save the man's son too. However, not only is he absent during the birth of his own son but he does not even manage to save his own wife's life. The long tracking shot as Amarnath walks out of the infirmary holding his son as the patients gradually begin to sit up, set to a soundtrack primarily of violins, ends in him addressing his infant son reminding the latter of his mother's dreams and aspirations. Amarnath's life and his son's have begun to resemble each other and it sets the stage for the generational father-son conflict at the heart of the story to be reproduced in the third act.
But the reproduction of the father-son conflict that frames the narrative of 'Doctor' must be brought to a limitable and workable context in order for the denouement to be effective. The fact that Dayal comes at this moment and insists on taking the infant son back to his grand-father, albeit having hidden his identity, is a most efficient narrative technique for this. Various things are at play here. In the absense of his son the zamindar must choose an heir so that his property and titles can be passed on. At the same time the father-son conflict that had ended the first act has not been resolved for the son to be able to go back home. With the grandson taken back to his family, the narrative traces a circle that limits the central conflict within these three generations.
A series of scenes that set the stage for the third act to follow: the old zamindar despite his initial unwillingness gradually begins to thaw towards the child he does not know is his grandson and this is intercut with Amarnath immersing himself in his service work. The scene between the infant Somnath and his grandfather is especially relevant because it takes place again in the room full of the portraits of the ancestors and is immediately followed by the old man's change of heart. As he decides to move from his family seat to the city to bring the child better it is a symbolic move as well for him as he chooses to look towards the future. In a way they both are working at cross purposes here because the old man is clearly looking towards the child to fulfil all that Amarnath had failed to live upto and Amarnath is attempting to set the stage for a time when his son will fulfil his deceased wife's dreams.
Certain motifs from the first act recur. Somnath arrives as a doctor by train much like his father had. But it makes space for crucial displacements in how the scene is played out. It is now the city and not the village and the urban setting immediately foregrounds the circular nature of father-son conflict at the heart of the story. The son has moved away from the dreams the father had nurtured for him. The final shot of the scene is telling: Amarnath is standing behind the iron bars of the platform yard; a train whistles as it leaves shocking him out of his reverie and he turns to leave. The setting resembles a prison cell, a constricting space from where he is merely an observer now, unable to do anything.
More recurrent images from the first act, especially Somnath's interaction with Dayal and his grand-father is reminiscent of Amarnath's interactions with the two of them. At the same time, it is a crucial set of two scenes where the altered form of the primary conflict is foregrounded. Since we have already discussed how the conflict has been limited by making it cyclical in nature, it must be made clear that the site of its operation is by no means singular like the earlier one. While Somnath and his grandfather's dreams are at cross-purposes already due to their different world-views, his aspirations are as different from Amarnath as well. The narrative has three sites of operation now: Amarnath and his father Sitanath, Amarnath and Somnath and finally, Sitanath and Somnath.
The first meeting between Amarnath and Somnath is heightened by a series of factors: this is the father's first meeting with the son and hence filled with joy and pathos; at the same time, Amarnath cannot bear to see how far Somnath has strayed from his mother's dreams and his vitriolic outburst is both an expression of rage and sorrow. His apology immediately after his tirade underlines this tension. Somnath, on the other hand, is not immune to that tension despite not knowing who this man is and he cannot help but wonder at the verve behind the old man's convictions.
The fact that Somnath is not immune to his father's vehemance is further foregrounded. At the same time, one of the three sites of conflicts is seemingly reaching an early resolution with Somnath begining to relate to his father's impulses and ideals. At the same time, Sibani and Somnath's interactions signal another repetition: that of the relationship between Amarnath and Maya's. In the light of Amarnath and Somnath's renewed relationship, it becomes rather clear that the rest of the narrative will focus on the originary site of the conflict, that is, Sitanath.
Thus Sitanath's perusal of his son's photo in the next scene is especially significant.
The narrative is now an interesting mix of recurring elements from the first act and certain crucial displacements. The circumstances might not be similar but the evolution of Somnath and Sibani's relationship echoes Amarnath and Maya's. What makes it far more complex is that Sibani is a Christian, unlike Maya who was still an outcaste Hindu, making it far more complicated for the Somnath-Sitanath dyad. At the same time, Somnath and Amarnath are growing closer so much so that the former is ready to follow in the latter's footsteps and Somnath is already at cross-purposes with Sitanath's expectations of him; all this would bring the three generations to head in interesting ways.
Dayal is obviously aware who Somnath's supervising doctor is and it seems he is looking for Sitanath and Amarnath to resolve their differences through a chance meeting after so long. The fact that in the previous scene he convinces Sitanath to come to the factory elucidates that further.
Sibani's reference to Maya, especially in the context of religion, caste and class, is equal parts ironic and symbolic. She is playing a similar role in Somnath's life albeit with certain differences.
The first shot of the village in the third act is accompanied by a banner of Amarnath's hospital with Maya's name on it. It serves to bring together a series of threads: this was the setting for the originary conflict and will also serve as the setting for its reprisal and possible resolution. Maya, albeit absent, is a primal impulse in this act, her memory a driving force for Amarnath, Somnath and Sitanath in extremely different ways. What is especially important is the change - both in ideology and lifestyle - that Amarnath outlines. The villagers, who had been central to the conflict in the first act, have changed beyond measure, embracing all that Amarnath had wished for them. The only person who has not been affected by that change till now is Sitanath.
Both the short song and its framing are extremely important here. Can one claim that when Sibani sings about how her name has been called upon by someone unseen and unheard, it is a veiled reference to Maya and how she is gradually performing the latter's role? This is especially noted because of how Sibani has begun to dress like Maya too, scarf and all, how she behaves with the patients much like how Maya would and her interaction with Somnath immediately after. To drive this recurrence home without a shadow of doubt, the curious game Amarnath and Maya used to play re-appears, an almost miraculous re-appearance with Amarnath and the absent Maya as the only witnesses.
In a way Somnath and Sibani's relationship, with all its parallels to Amarnath and Maya's, is a device of narrative closure: it brings with it realisation on part of Somnath of his duties, the feelings evoked in him about Amarnath and Maya, his memories of his mother, and since it has Amarnath's blessings it provides impulse for the denouement.
The climactic point of the third and final act is oddly reminiscent of Sitanath and Amarnath's confrontation regarding the latter's marriage to Maya. What gives it an extra charge is that neither Somnath or Sitanath know that they are related by blood. Thus Sitanath's revelations about how Somnath came to be with them adds to the dramatic conflict. Somnath's reaction and his anguished question: 'Who am I?' will provide the necessary thrust for the resolution of conflicts.
A series of rapid shots, both of the city and its various spaces, are intercut with close-ups of Somnath as he drives away in anguish. The urban space, however, provides an certain anonymity that the village and its complex web of social ties failed to provide for Amarnath.
The denouement occurs across two crucial sites. The first is where it had all started in the first act - the room with the portraits of the ancestors. It's a closed space, hermetically sealed from the outside world, symbolic of an order that has come under threat. Now when that same order has made space for Somnath and Sibani, it need to also readjust and make amends for previous actions. However, Amarnath's reluctance is in part probably due to his belief that his memories of Maya can never find a place in such a space ever again. He has agreed to reveal Somnath's identity for the sake of his son but the crisis that marks his relationship with his father is irreversible precisely because the crucial factor of that crisis, Maya, is no longer alive. Thus, while Somnath brings the circular conflict to a close with his own marriage and his equal acceptance by both his father and his grandfather, for Amarnath and Sitanath no such resolution is possible. The final shot of Amarnath sitiing in front of Maya's grave as the camera tracks out is testament to that fact.