Director: Satyen Bose; Writer: Satyen Bose, Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay; Cinematographer: Bimal Mukherjee; Editor: Ardhendu Chatterjee; Cast: Kali Bannerjee, Anup Kumar, Satya Bannerjee, Arun Chowdhury, Haradhan Bandyopadhyay, Bhabhen Pal, Jiten Chakraborty, Bhanu Bannerjee, Santi Bhattacharya, Sachinandan Ghosh, Gosto Mallick, Binoy Mukherjee, Jamuna Sinha, Shikha Dutta, Sandhya Debi
Duration: 01:56:34; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Lightness: 0.292; Volume: 0.276; Cuts per Minute: 5.713; Words per Minute: 65.010
Successful ensemble-play comedy featuring the stammerer Ganesha (K. Bannerjee) and three efforts to find him a bride. In the first, Ganesha goes with his friends to a village to attend a wedding, but they are mistaken for thieves when trying to peek into the bridal chamber. They create another scandal when they arrive at the bride’s house ‘for negotiations’, impersonating their guardians. Ganesha later becomes tutor to the cousin of the girl he loves, but this fails as well, and he gets punished by his despotic uncle. This perennial hit, admired by Ray for its authenticity, launched a genre of the ensemble ‘slice of life’ comedy, esp. Pasher Bari (1952)
and Sharey Chuattar (1953)
Release date: 16 February, 1951 (Basusree; Bina)
The first example of what was loosely described as 'slice of life' comedies, like 'Pasher Bari' (1952) and 'Sare Chuttar' (1954), 'Barjatri' was very well-received in its time for its acting, dialogues, and situations. In a post-independence context, this was the first in a spate of comedies of the early 50s which were marked by their preoccupations with the quirks and foibles of particular cultural and social archetypes. The term 'Barjatri' refers to the wedding party that accompanies the groom, including family and mostly friends, to the bride's house on the day of the wedding. The film follows the protagonist Ganesh who keeps attending weddings of friends and acquaintances much to the anger of his uncle who wishes for the boy to be more responsible. Themes of coming-of-age are tied inextricably with the metaphor of the wedding and the optimism of the new nation-state. At the same time Ganesh's initial cluelessness can also be read as a metaphor for the initial few years after the independence.
Weddings form a major component of the narrative, as cohesive events that link the body social. Weddings also form the thematic backdrop against which Ganesh's coming-of-age play unfolds. The first sounds heard are that of the 'sankha' or the conch shell, considered extremely auspicious and indispensible in religious ceremonies in Bengal. It sets the stage for the narrative which will primarily deal with cultural, religious, and social tropes of Bengal.
Ganesh's aimless lifestyle is in direct contrast to the order represented by his uncle. The latter constanly wishes for the boy to work, earn and be responsible, and this will become a recurrent motif in the film. Ganesh is also marked by his stammer - while it is generally played for laughs, it also foregrounds his awkwardness and hesitation.
Having been forbidden by his uncle from going to the wedding, Ganesh dresses up as a woman to be able to slip out of the house.
Ganesh's uncle had fixed a job interview for him the next day which he will miss because of the wedding. One is given to understand that such an incident has happened before, underlining how Ganesh has been trying his best to evade any possibility of a job and its responsibilities.
'Bashar' is typically the night of the wedding when the bride's family, usually the younger members and friends, stays up with the newlyweds, in order to sing and make merry and occasionally tease the groom.
The disparity between the groom's family and the bride's has been well-documented in Bengali fiction, especially in the context of the tragic consequences of dowry demands. Here, this same disparity is the source for comedy where the groom's father with two other senior members have turned up at the wedding roaring drunk.
The groom is more nervous about the 'bashar' celebrations, and the inevitable demands for him to sing, than the actual wedding itself.
Parallel shots of the three drunk members of the wedding party. The comic element of the scene is heightened by the fact that a fight breaks out over who is the better 'bhadralok' there. The notion of the 'bhadralok', an already contentious category, is itself the subject of pure lampoon here, quite different from the sarcastic critique of it that one has come across in earlier films, like in P. C. Barua's work.
Another classic scenario where the groom's family refuses to go ahead with the wedding unless their demands are met. Here, the scenario is recast in the context of the mock-fight, the drunk older men, and the absurd demands regarding who is a better person. The groom's father, in a drunken fit, lamenting about how the groom is an orphan foregrounds the mocking rendition of such a familiar event.
'Stree-achaar', or women's customs, as the name implies were rituals performed only by women and girls of the household after the wedding, typically at the beginning of 'bashar'. This would traditionally also be the time when the groom would be teased by the women of the bride's family. The fact that it is a primarily female event, with men barred from being a part of it, making it a bigger attraction among the bachelors. This prohibitive space and the men's vain attempts to breach it, are oft-cited comic tropes in Bengali fiction.
Having heard the songs of the 'bashar' from a distance, the four plan to eavesdrop. This is one of the first elaborate gags in the film and also one of the most iconic as a series of unfortunate things happen, including, getting mistaken for robbers, the whole crowd descending upon them, and jumping into an infected pool by mistake.
The name 'Gora' in Bengali means fair, it also used to be a moniker for the British or any foreigner. The people of the bride's house sarcastically play on the word 'Gora' because they don't believe the men at all. They call him 'Thailand'er Gora', as in, a sahib from Thailand because of his appearance. Similarly, they refer to Ganesh as the 'Commander-in-chief' because he is the leader of the group.
The bride's family devises of a plan to verify if the four men belong to the wedding party, but the three older men they approach for verification are drunk and they fail to help.
As mentioned before, marriage is inextricably linked to the theme of coming-of-age, for both the protagonist and the emerging nation-state as a way of establishing and valorising the family which was being posited as the bedrock of the new democracy. The characters also refer to astrologers and other similar practitioners, who would come to occupy a central role in this narrative.
It is evident that the uncle is in no mood to humour Ganesh, especially after the latter's irresponsible behaviour and this also probably why Gora is sent instead of him to broach the topic of marriage. The differences in opinion between Ganesh and his uncle over marriage also highlights the difference in the two generations before and after the War and the Nationalist Movement, especially regarding notions of marriage, duty, family and money.
The friends decide to go to a distant relative of Trilochan's wife, who has a beautiful daughter of marriageable age. They decide to go in disguise because the incidents that came to pass in Kalshitey during Trilochan's wedding would probably still be fresh in the minds of the bride's family.
Rajen, the poet of the group, has been shown as sensitive and a tad bit effeminate right from the outset. Continuing with the association, he has joined the ruse as the fictional groom's aunt, which also enables him to cross over into the inner quarters of the house which would otherwise be out of bounds for men.
The friends know fully well that this sham will not work in the long run and thus the entire impulse behind this episode to see the bride and also casually mention Ganesh as someone they know and who is apparently well-known in the Howrah region as a very good boy.
A prevalent custom among the bhadralok at the time would be to invite the guests to a grand spread, even if the meeting was not fruitful and the match did not lead to marriage. Considered to be the pride of the bhadralok and the new middle class, food played an integral part of the body social, as a symbol of pride, hospitality and especially one's social status. Also, as is evident here, since orthodox brahmin priests would eschew fish, meat and food from outside, there would be separate provisions made for them in such households.
Unable to maintain his composure, Rajen decides to escape through the bathroom window and climb down the water pipes. However, this also ensures that the whole ruse is discovered when he leaves his wig behind, alerting the people of the house.
Much like most of their endeavours, this one also characteristically ends in disaster. What is more ironic is the precarious position Trilochan occupies, both as the son-in-law of the house and also one of the perpetrators of this charade.
Football and it's association with the quintessential 'bangal'(refugees from East Pakistan) and 'ghoti'(native dwellers of Bengal) divide is a widely-known trope in Bengali culture and literature, assimilating within it both the trauma of the Partition and the problems faced in the new social spaces created after the Independence. It will become a much visited narrative trope in Bengali cinema very soon, beginning with Nirmal Dey's 'Sarey Chuattar' (1953).
Consequently, football also becomes one of the 'distractions' that constantly preoccupies Ganesh, leading to his distaste for work and his clashes with his uncle. Much like the constant references to marriage, football and its associations in the social sphere especially for the post-independence youth is a recurrent theme in many of the films of the 50s.
Satya Bandyopadhyay's character, K. Gupta, is the only one in the group who is either older than all the others or who is more of a peripheral member of the group. The others constantly refer to him in formal terms, underlining the fact.
This is recurrent motif in the narrative where the four friends go canvassing for potential brides for Ganesh, especially since he is the leader of the group. Most of these incidents, like their other escapades, end in disaster involving many of the famous comic gags of the film.
Putu's comments about Ganesh and his group throws some light on the social matrix of the new middle classes. Ganesh and his team stand as the quintessetial youth of the fiction of the time, the wastrel do-gooders who are easily observable in all social events and festivals, well-known and seen taking an active role (for example, the constant references to the 'seva-sangh' that the boys runs to help those in need), but who are otherwise marked by their general dissociation from their previous generations' ideals and points-of-view.
Ganesh's uncle is equally aware of the plans that him and his group are hatching and it is quite obvious that neither has taken the group's intrusion too seriously.
'Kith-kith'/'ek-hat du-hat' is the popular bengali variant of the hopscotch. Though the original game had no gender specificity, in India, especially in Bengal, the game has traditionally been associated with young or adolescent girls.
Being tasked with finding a tutor for his niece gives Gora the perfect opportunity to orchestrate a meeting between Putu and Ganesh.
Magic has interesting connotations with regards to the narrative. While it reaffirms the uncle's accusations regarding Ganesh and his idle and irresponsible lifestyle, the notion of trickery or sleight of hand also gestures towards the final act where Ganesh's coming-of-age narrative will play out in exile.
Gupta is constantly associated with football, so much so that the others constantly shut him up using his apparent love for footbal as an excuse. There is a new order of masculinity at play here that will come to be defined according to specific spaces - for example, the hopscotch for the women and the more aggressive football for the men. Phalgu is a river sacred to the Hindus that flows by Gaya. In mythology, it was said to have been cursed by Sita for having lied to Ram. Gupta being unaware about the myth of Phalgu seemingly reinforces his lack of knowledge about women.
Trilochan's wife's distant uncle Binod Behari Ganguly is established right at the outset as a man of extremely dubious means. The signboard on his house decalres that he has an MB degree, he is a general merchant, stock broker, an order supplier for the government and the military, and also runs a labour organisation. He represents the class of merchants who had made an immense fortune during the War but whose social status has later gone for a sharp decline due to their dubious contacts and records. Seemingly a social pariah, the fact that he agrees to keep Ganesh here in exchange for money, despite being unsure of the situation and the boys' motives, underlines this. A subject of sharp lampoon here, his behaviour with Ganesh would further reaffirm this assessment. The post-independence nation-state, amidst its dreams of development, would also be marked by such characters who constantly undercut ideas of development and progress.
The uncle's less-than-expected reaction to Ganesh's disappearance obviously unsettles Trilochan who has come to see how well their plans are working. His attempts to provoke the uncle with suggestions of possible suicide are also in vain. The latter, having become used to all of Ganesh's tricks, is perhaps even unwilling to believe that anything serious might have happened.
To add to the list of faults, there are obvious indications that Binod Behari is also a petty thief, having started taking small things from Ganesh. This will be confirmed later.
While the initial plan had been to torment Putu into admitting his love for Ganesh, Gora accidentally reveals everything to her about their plan.
Putu's arrival is perfectly timed, just when the worried uncle had begun to soften in his stance about Ganesh. It is clear that this whole incident is something she has cleverly set up; she intends to help the older men catch Ganesh when the group secretly comes next morning in order to get a photo. In many ways she acts as a perfect foil to the wastrel ways of Ganesh and his friends and this is something the uncle confirms when he admits that she will be the perfect bride for Ganesh because she would be able to keep him in check.
Ironically, Trilochan is talking about Ganesh's uncle right when the boy has managed to escape from Binod Behari's house with his belongings intact.
Gora has not realised that he has revealed crucial information to Putu. Thus all of them are under the impression that their plan, of tormenting Putu into admitting her love for Ganesh, has worked.
The scene where Ganesh actually runs away is composed of three sets of superimposed shots: the open road, the uncle and Putu now actually concerned and worried and, interestingly, newspapers like the Hindustan Standard, Yugantar, Satyayug and Amrit Bazar patrika carrying advertisements of Ganesh having gone missing with news regarding the new developmental measures, Partition and War relief camps, and the various local problems in the first years after the Independence. The latter, while it lays out the socio-political context that has been only teased at in the film thus far, firmly entrenches Ganesh's flight within the matrix of coming-of-age narratives and its association with the floundering initial years of the nation-state.
Some time has passed. Ganesh has presumably run away to Kolkata. Trilochan has come there with his father and wife. This is a typical 'bhan' performance in the premises of the Kalighat temple. A 'bhan' would be a popular poetic performance, usually public, where ribalde and insulting lyrics would often be used to riducule both people and institutions in a mock fight among poets. The song, about a small fish or similar animal that is seen floundering once it attempts to overreach and walk on land, works as a perfect metaphor for Ganesh's condition.
The trope of the trickster completes a circle when we realise that Ganesh has run away and joined a holy man's cult, the sort that are prevalent in places of public worship, meant to extort money from devotees who visit. Trilochan, quite understandably, assumes that the operation has been set-up by Ganesh.
The two con-men are seen making arrangements for the next day where the old woman would come unexpectedly to the gathering and cry and tell everyone present that the holy man has performed some incredible miracle.
It becomes evident that Ganesh's role in this charade is not voluntary, at least at the moment. In the guise of vedic chants and blessings he instructs Trilochan to wait for his letter that night.
'Datura' or the Indian Thorn Apple is known primarily for both its medicinal use and its highly toxic nature. In the Indian subcontinent, 'datura' is inextricably connected to the cult of Shiva and is considered sacred. Since many of these con-artists connected to the Shaivait cult would regularly ingest hallucinogens, the plan involves spiking their drinks with 'datura' so that Ganesh can escape.
The letter makes it evident that the two men are keeping Ganesh using threats. They are a group of murderers who are holding him captive and have started this charade with him.
An interesting instance of how the new citizens negotiate their way through the new juridical and legal systems. The men don't know how one lodges an First Information Report with the police and discuss among themselves how to go about it.
Much like most of their other endeavours their plan to take the manager of the inn along with them to lodge a complaint backfires when the old man assumes they wish to lodge the complaint against him.
With Ganesh having come back, preparations are underway for his wedding with Putu.
'Rajjotak' is a term in astrology which signifies that all the essential qualities to be found in the horoscopes of the bride and the groom match, making it a perfect union.
The last gag revisits the scenario of the previous gags as Rajen gives Ganesh and the others advice about styling their hair for the wedding. It is evident that much like the earlier episodes this too will lead to less than fortunate circumstances for the group and for Ganesh especially.
A month has passed and the group, following Rajen 's advice, has decided to keep their hair long in a manner called the 'baabri', as was the fashion among the youth of the time.
The reference to being labelled as chinese by the police is important. It betrays a certain view regarding communism that was gradually gaining ground in the first years of the Cold War. Interestingly, Kali Banerjee would go on to play a chinese man in Mrinal Sen's 1958 film 'Neel Akasher Niche'.
The men are apprehensive about going into a barbershop owned by a 'hindusthani' man. The man, in fact, would perhaps be part of the myriad migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar who would come and settle in the city. The discomfort regarding the barber stems from the assumption that given his background the man would not be aware of a more 'Bengali' way of cutting hair.
Their worst fears are proved to be true when the barber almost shaves off half his hair. The brief had been to give Ganesh a wedding haircut and the barber had given him a haircut that typically wrestlers of his community would sport on their weddings.
In the dark, Putu, unaware that Ganesh has had to go bald, assumes that there is a stranger beside her. In an ironic nod to the the first wedding we see in the film, he is mistaken to be a thief yet again.