Director: Mrinal Sen; Writer: Mrinal Sen, Ashish Burman; Producer: Mrinal Sen; Cinematographer: K.K. Mahajan; Editor: Gangadhar Naskar; Cast: Simi Garewal, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Bijon Bhattacharya, Jochan Dastidar, Dhruba Mitra, Ashima Sinha, Kamal Kidwai, Farida Kidwai, Tapan Das, Prabhash Sarkar
Duration: 01:31:00; Aspect Ratio: 1.481:1; Hue: 130.770; Saturation: 0.017; Lightness: 0.429; Volume: 0.299; Cuts per Minute: 29.566; Words per Minute: 52.002
Release date: 27 September, 1973 (Elite)
Completing his Calcutta trilogy (Interview, 1970; Calcutta ’71, 1972) with a story more conventionally coherent than its predecessors, Sen presents the lessons adumbrated in the two previous instalments in a reflection on practical politics and party organisation after the Moscow-Beijing split of the early 60s and the Naxalite rising. An urban political activist (Chatterjee) escapes from police custody and is sheltered by an upper-class woman (Simi) who also defies the constraints of ‘traditional’ oppression: she left her husband and lives alone in a comfortable flat. The two are visited by a prudish and dogmatic party official (Mitra). The activist, though loyal to the movement for political liberation, uses his enforced isolation to reassess the political situation in Bengal. Eventually the activist leaves the flat to visit his ailing mother and learns that his father (Bhattacharya) refuses to be coerced into signing a no-strike agreement at his factory. Sen’s lucid if at times naive assessment of party politics and leadership questions caused considerable controversy at the time, partly because, via the figure of the activist’s father’s admonition that the ‘Naxalite movement should learn its lessons from the freedom struggle’ (referring thereby to Tagore’s Char Adhyay), Sen suggests that the Naxalite rising against the Indian State could also be viewed as an extension of the Independence movement.
The press is a recurrent image in the film, foregrounding the two distinct preoccupations that dominate the narrative. On the one hand, a set of the headlines reflect the dominant social, political and economic problems of the time - ranging from scarcity of food and fuel, unemployment, corruption, political violence, repression of the Naxalites, to the Government's inability to provide economic rehabilitation. At the same time, the headlines also foreground the issues within the Naxalite movement itself - sectarianism, inter-party and intra-party clashes. The third film of the Calcutta trilogy, 'Padatik' (1973) is admittedly an exercise in 'stock-taking' as Sen himself has often put it. This is the vantage point of the rebel, who is also the outsider, attempting an auto-critique. The setting, as the last title points out, is the 'problem city' of Calcutta. In a way, if one seeks to read the narrative of anger that is at the heart of the trilogy, then 'Padatik' foregrounds the attempt to turn that anger into introspection and critique. The modern industrial metropolis as the symbol of neocolonialism, violence, corruption and poverty is a trope well-documented in the Latin American cinema of the time (Glauber Rocha of Brazil, Fernando Solanas of Argentina) - we have previously discussed in 'Interview' and 'Calcutta 71' how Solanas's 'The Hour of the Furnaces' (1968) is crucial to understanding Mrinal Sen's aesthetic, ideological, technical and political associations. The opening sequence, with the press (which will be repeated later) and the text about the conditions of the city of Calcutta, closely refer to the Buenos Aires sequences in Solanas's film.
Just as much as he cites his various influences, especially during the 70s leading up to Akaler Sandhane, Mrinal Sen’s cinema is replete with references to his own films – a curious nod, both formal and contextual, to acknowledge the shared space that these films occupy. One particularly powerful way of doing this is to repeat particular emblematic characters in the films: the iconic image of the young Naxalite student running in the dead of night or dawn and unseen policemen shoot him dead form the connecting link between Calcutta 71 and Padatik. It is a deliberate formal intervention - jerky camera movements, intercut with freeze frames and photographic stills, Ananda Shankar's background score - revealing an ongoing dialogue between acknowledging collective cultural memories of events and actors, and unearthing a history of poverty and anger.
Jochon Dastidar, a leading figure of the group-theatre movement at the time, was also an active member of the Left Movement and had been sent to jail in 1965 for six months under the Defense of India rules (1962).
The self-criticism that forms the crux of the film, borne of the growing sectarianism even among the radical that had become evident at the time, is made more effective by evoking the image of the murdered Naxal right at the outset. The first shot of Dhritiman Chatterjee is framed the exact same way as that of Debraj Roy from the previous film as the nameless youth who has walked the earth for 20,000 years. It establishes a sense of continuity, both thematically and formally; but it is a continuity informed by the fractured history of class oppression and struggle that he has also unearthed. In fact, the trilogy asserts the gradual evolution of what comprises the political and the activist for Mrinal Sen. Thus in Padatik the youth that Sen had referred to in Calcutta 71, the nameless rebel portrayed by Roy, gets a name and a context and comes to be embodied in Sumit (Dhritiman Chatterjee). It establishes a narrative – Padatik is in fact the most ‘coherent’ film in the quartet – while simultaneously breaking it with the cinematic interruptions like newsreel footages, references to various other similar radical movements, references to other ‘revolutionary activist’ cinemas, newspaper headlines critiquing both the administrations and the Naxalite movement.
The word 'action' is a short-hand for any potentially violent mission that the Naxalites would undertake; the word itself has its roots in its deployment during the National Movement especially by the swadeshi to define their often violent assaults on the British Government. The reference to Park Street is significant. Park Street as emblematic of the white town of the colonial period would also the emblem of neo-colonialism and consumerism during the 60s and the 70s. Ironically, in order to be accepted in the hide-out the rebel has to don the garb of one who would be his chief class-enemy, the ones who would inhabit the high-rises and frequent places like Park Street. It also underlines Sumit's discomfort about the arrangement and why such a hide-out would be akin to hell for him.
Flashbacks comprising of images of the running Naxal rebel that we have discussed before. Instead of the mythical rebel who has been twenty for twenty thousand years, the image gets an immediate context in the running figure of the film's rebel protagonist who has seemingly run away from the police for the second time.
Bijon Bhattacharya, founding member of the IPTA and one of the most influential playwrights of his time, his play Nabanna being one of the IPTA's most renowned and political plays. His presence as Sumit's father highlights the self-critical nature of the narrative and its political underpinnings; he was one of the most radical left activists of his time and the casting simultaneously asserts the need for self-reflection even within social movements geared towards combating oppression and inequalities. Ironically, he plays a man who used to be an extremist freedom-fighter but who is less than comfortable with his son's involvement in radical left political, having chosen the path of middle-class domesticity - itself a critical look at much of the left leadership of the time.
The exile sequences have two recognizable types of scenes: the first type comprises of longer takes and close-ups to highlight the boredom that the rebel faces when forced to hide, the scenes hardly animated and instead focusing on disjointed limbs, empty frames or those with the young man restlessly pacing.
The second type are the frequent citations of the socio-political milieu at the time, be it the images of the Naxal rebels or the general state of the urban metropolis and the problems of poverty, unemployment and violence. The scenes keep shifting between these two types almost mimicking the protagonist's own split state of mind: he is confined and restless while at the same time beginning to take a critical and reflective look at the movement, having removed himself from it in some capacity. The game he plays with the tea, pretending to have a conversation with himself, foregrounds this split in his personality.
In fact, at the core of 'Padatik' is a narrative premised upon the father-son relationship which also stands in for a clash in ideologies. The father was a part of the National Movement but, having been assimilated into the middle-class after the independence, is now wary of his son's political and revolutionary leanings. This clash of worldviews is the context for exploring the split in the left movement at the time. The Communist Party of India’s relationship and attitude towards Nehru’s government had already been tense, what with people like B. T. Ranadive accusing the INC of having gone over to the Anglo-American camp and calling the transfer of power a ‘fake independence’. The CPI formally split in 1964, with the Leftist CPI(M) breaking ranks in favour of a people’s democracy headed by the working class that would oppose the feudal and imperialist forces still holding sway. Dissidence in the ranks of the CPI(M), especially in Bengal, were given concrete shape by Charu Mazumdar and his call to combat the revisionism many had begun to accuse the party leadership of. In 1967, a militant peasant uprising took place in Naxalbari, led by his comrade-in-arms Kanu Sanyal. While the uprising was violently quashed by the police in a few months, the event changed the very fabric of the socio-political scenario in Bengal thereafter, spreading like wildfire through the peasant rebellion to the urban space of Calcutta. The sudden intrusion of the press, yet again, foregrounds the fractured political matrix and the consequent impact on society and the people - the issues range from clashes, both within and without the party, to violence, and political murders.
Simi Garewal plays Sumit's landlady Sheela, a woman is battling traditional oppressive customs in her own right; she is divorced, and a single-mother.
The 'Frontier' magazine was founded in in April 1968 by Samar Sen, and was one of the most well-known chronicles of that decade of turmoil. The 'Frontier' and its association with Sen is well-documented with Samik Bandyopadhyay having reviewed many of Sen's films and the journal itself having been a supporter of Sen's brand of 'revolutionary activist cinema'. At the same time, much of the criticism and debate generated by the film at the time of its release also played out in the journal with readers writing in with their observations, criticisms or even blatant attacks.
The conversation regarding forced occupation of her home, ironically compared to the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917, cuts to scenes of violence and armed rebellion from Vietnam, Africa and, possibly, Buenos Aires. These tropes are startlingly similar to scenes from Solanas's 'The Hour of the Furnaces' which also refer to armed uprisings across the world against the onslaught of neo-colonialism and oppression (here, the globe turns symbolically). Many have suggested that through the auto-critique the only possible solution forwarded by Sen to counter the political turmoil is the effectiveness of armed uprisings against the State. There are enough reasons why, despite the critique of the radical left movement of the time, many deemed the film to be anti-establishment.
The questions that are central to the self-criticism and stock-taking are in fact actual words used by Mao Tse Tung in 1926: 'Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution...' The sequence, in a manner close to a manifesto or a sermon, highlights the true ideals of a revolutionary organisation and its most important responsibilities. Through quoting Mao, explicitly here but implicitly throughout, two things can be concluded: the call for a violent uprising, and also the need to reflect upon one's own policies and shortcomings.
As mentioned before, the press is a powerful image in 'Padatik', a space of covert operations which is made more potent by its symbolic associations with dissemination of information; in a repressive socio-political climate, the freedom of the press would be a rallying point and also an effective tool for mass mobilization. Many Naxal units were associated with independent press houses, as is the case here.
The entire conversation uses the rhetoric of 'us' and 'them' - here, the two factions that split from Communist Party of India - the Leftist CPI(M) and the more radical CPI(M-L). It is significant that both the wings resolved to seek their goal through ‘peaceful means’, a systematic exorcism of all radical and potentially violent trends. As Sumanta Banerjee points out, ‘Thus, the CPI(M) started its journey with suppressed radicals in its ranks. Promises by the leaders to make it a revolutionary party, different from the ‘revisionist’ CPI, kept the ranks appeased for sometime.’(Sumanta Banerjee, In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India, Subarnarekha: Calcutta, 1980, p. 79) - that is, until the Naxalbari uprising.
Sheela is an employee at an advertising agency, working on an advertisement campaign for unadulterated baby food. A stringent critique of neo-colonialism and consumerism is foregrounded by replacing the pleasant images of the advertisement in the second round by images of poverty, hunger, malnourished children and food scarcity. This association of consumerism and starvation is a recurrent trope in Sen, seen famously in the Party episode of 'Calcutta 71'.
The possible rift in the easy camaraderie between Sumit and Biman heightens the sense of doubt that has taken hold of the former. While Bimal is dogged in his devotion to the party, Sumit has begun to ask questions regarding the scope of the movement and the problems of sectarianism. Expressions like 'vacuum', 'frustration', 'defeatism' are important signposts that foreground Sumit's growing discontent regarding the nature of the political organisation and the hegemonic structure of the party leadership. Regarding the need to questions ideological assumptions, Mrinal Sen has repeatedly reiterated that his impulse behind making 'Padatik' was not to denigrate the radical movement at all but to question its limits and assumptions: 'When making Padatik, I was always conscious that the line between self-criticism and slander is very thin in this case. It was almost like tightrope walking. I had the greatest respect for those who played militant roles in the Naxalite movement; at the same time I was critical, for things were quite at the time, and the movement itself had somewhat disintegrated.' - (‘Interview: 1980’, ‘Montage – Mrinal Sen: Life, Politics, Cinema’, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2002)
The party thrown to celebrate the success of Sheela's advertisement campaign is an ironic foil to the discussion Sumit and Bimal have been having. At the same time, it highlights the strange double life she has; she is well-placed within the consumer culture that is at odds with her involvement in the radical political movement of the time.
A section of criticism faced by the film was directed at this episode and the character of Sheela, with many calling the episode an island outside the 'Indian reality'. Though Sen has admitted in later interviews that it might have been a different and more effective vantage point if Sumit had taken refuge in a class-location closer to his own, he has admitted to have been stubborn in his resolve because of the extreme reactions that the episode and the character evoked. While the presence of women, especially within the agit-prop aesthetics of this period, has been remarkably uneven in Sen's cinema, there are startling parallels that the narrative draws upon. The narrative, at certain junctures in their conversation, posits a certain shared space of struggle for the two though the nature and outcome of these are extremely different. They are both trying to overcome their own constraints, be it personal or political. One aspect of this shared matrix is of course the fact that her brother had been a revolutionary himself and had been killed by the State. At the same time, through the character of Sheela, broader concerns regarding the Women's Question, both in society and within the left movement, are addressed, unlike anywhere else in Sen's oeuvre. This, however, is not without its inherent problems either. The very fact that Sheela is obviously from an upper-class, financially secure background was used by critics to question both Sumit's easy and unquestioning acceptance of his upper-class hideout and the efficacy of examining the Marxist women's movement from an inherently compromised bourgeois class position. The casting of Simi Garewal is interesting for this debate too. Simi grew up in England and studied at Newland House School with her sister Amrita. In 1961, she moved back to India in order to become an actress. Never a conventional Hindi film actress, her career was marked by a series of unconventional choices which can be read into the graph of her character in 'Padatik'.
padatik women's interview
An 'attitude survey', regarding the role of women in the larger social and political changes in the country and also in the context of the larger women's movement for equal rights and opportunities. The sequence is unique in Mrinal Sen's oeuvre in many ways - for one, it explicitly asks questions of women's liberation and rights that have no precedent or antecedent in Sen's cinema. While the shots of the women being interviewed are intercut with shots of Sheela listening and recording, there are also accompanying shots of women's protest marches and meetings; the editing in the entire sequence very clearly guided by a documentary aesthetic. The recording machine is another interesting instance in Mrinal Sen where technology and the new technical innovations are inscribed within the very frame. The first interviewee is Suchitra Mitra (1924-2011), the renowned singer, teacher, and exponent of Rabindra Sangeet.
The parallel being drawn here between the women's movement and Sumit's radical politics is reinforced by the sound editing - while he is reading his own letter, the interview in the previous scene is still part of the dialogue track. As mentioned before, the solution that is boldly asserted is unabashedly a defense of violent class struggle - sound of riots, shots of decapitated public statues, etc. These were majorly symbolic acts and interestingly aimed primarily at native icons (the decapitation of the statue of Vidyasagr in College Square is a famous example from the time) rather than colonial statuary. The systematic breakdown of administrative and political machinery is reflected in the major headlines of the day, through successive montages of the press and the government offices.
Sumit comment recalls his last conversation with Biman, where a rift had been apparent. Sumit suspects that his dissent and doubts have been reported, a fact made quite obvious by the single shot of the party leader.
The paper she hands over to him is perhaps a weekly Naxal bulletin, banned otherwise from wider dissemination - one can assume this is one of the many things that the press is producing. In fact, multiple associations are at work here. As mentioned before, one aspect of the shared ground between Sumit and Sheela is her own experiences with her brother and the latter's role and death in the violence protests in Punjab in the late 60s. At the same time, this shared ground is brought within the matrix of a larger climate of oppression and revolution through the mention of the turmoil in Africa, South-east Asia and Latin America. The citational nature of Mrinal Sen's films is evident here too; the voice-over of the brother is in fact the voice of the unknown youth of 'Calcutta 71' who is has walked the earth for 20,000 years.
Biman's misinterpretation of the scene is even more important in retrospect because of how his report regarding the same will be used later against Sumit.
The senior leader Nikhil's reactions to Sumit's questions is quite dismissive. Jochan Dastidar's portrayal of Nikhil is reminiscent of the character Indranath from Rabindranath Tagore's last novel 'Char Adhyay' (1934). The novel, set during the National Movement, had also been a critique of blind idealism and the single-minded devotion to a cause or a leader. A section of the critique of 'Padatik' was leveled at the portrayal of Nikhil in a decidedly negative light, making the systematic excommunication of dissenters like Sumit into a sinister game of control and surveillance even within the ambit of the Party.
A workers' protest where Sumit's father is seen participating, protesting lay-offs, demanding better pay and conditions and threatening violent repercussions otherwise (one board has the following written in Hindi: 'Owner beware, the guerrilla labourer is ready'). It is a moment of transformation - for the father because he has come out demanding his rights and also perhaps for Biman who is clearly shocked at witnessing this and is perhaps experiencing doubts of his own.
Self-criticism is met with stern resistance from the Party, which interprets doubts and questions as a violation of loyalty and integrity. This is also coupled with insinuations regarding Sumit and Sheela - a fact which became apparent a few scenes earlier when Biman had seemingly misinterpreted Sheela and Sumit's conversation. In fact, Nikhil's version of events completely eschews Biman's own doubts regarding the truth of what he thought he had seen.
The proverb ‘Joley kumir, dangaaye baagh’ [‘The waters are infested with crocodiles, and the banks, with tigers’] that Sumit utters is especially important. The deliberate use of the proverb here alludes to Sen's friend Niranjan Sen (7 September 1915-29 July 1993, Communist theatre activist, was then the General Secretary of the IPTA), who was being pursued by the police during the period when the Communist Party had been banned and all party members had gone underground. Niranjan Sen had been hiding in Mrinal Sen's house and had requested the latter, using the same proverb, not to reveal his whereabouts to even Party members, persecuted as he was by both friends and foes. Sen recollects: '...a man who was known in Party circles as Master-da, came to me. He said he wished to speak to me, and took me near the No. 4 Bridge in Park Circus. ‘We are very fond of you, and so are the Party leaders. But how can you befriend a man like this?’ I knew this is what I would be told...I lived through such events, at that time, and have been unable to forget them. So this Master-da who spoke to me, 'we would rather you didn’t befriend him.’ ‘I’m afraid I can’t do as you say,’ I replied. ‘You may avoid him or disown him. But I am not prepared to obey the Party mandate. I have no connection with the Party or its decisions. I will continue to act as I like. Go where I please and do what I please.’...When Dhritiman speaks to Simi, I made him say those very words of Niranjan-da’s. And she tells him, ‘Why don’t you stay at my house?’ And he refuses. ‘But the party doesn’t want you.’ ‘The party is not anyone’s personal property. I will fight from within and from without.’ Then his contact man tells him, ‘Your mother is very sick. If you wish to visit her, you may go now.’ He thinks for a while. Is this a trap to get him out? Will they kill him? What if his mother is really sick! Finally, he decides to go. And she is really sick. He meets his father who tells him, ‘Be brave! I have not signed.’" - ('Interview: 2001', ‘Montage – Mrinal Sen: Life, Politics, Cinema’, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2002)
The iconic final sequence where the father and son reach a sudden understanding has been subject to much debate, with many accusing Mrinal Sen of middle-class romanticism in showing the reunion of the family over the death of the mother. Interestingly, the reunion can also be read as a logical solution forwarded by the self-criticism that is at the core of 'Padatik' - a reconciliation of ideologies over a shared goal. Nevertheless, Sen vehemently defended the end, stressing on the family episode as a necessary moment of stock-taking for Sumit - to recognize who his friends and his foes are. The scene establishes a shared ideological space between Sumit and his father, especially when the latter tells the former that he has refused an offer of compromise from his factory owners and will not stop participating in workers' protests.
Sen recollects: "Sushobhan Sarkar [(19 August 1900-26 August 1982), eminent scholar and historian] too was very impressed with it. ‘You’ve done a very good job. But it would been more historically correct if you had shown that the man went out and was shot dead by the police.’ ‘Let me tell you something.’ I said. ‘I never made this film for anyone or any Party. I merely wanted to arrive at a certain conclusion, if I may call it that. An understanding between the father and the son. That was my priority. And everything took second place.’ That the father finally understood. Told his son to be brave. And said that he hadn’t signed. There was something else working in that scene too. When he tells his son, ‘I haven’t told your mother anything. So that she may die in peace.’ That’s where something of Ritwik’s film Meghey Dhaka Tara was working in my mind: the sequence in which Anil [Chaterjee] who plays Shankar, the elder brother visits Neeta in the Sanatorium. ‘How’s everyone at home?’ She asks. And as he recounts, he starts speaking of their little nephew and his antics. He says, “He is the apple of the father’s eye.’ And she breaks down and sobs, ‘Dada, I’d love to live. To live. Tell me, dada, for once, that I’ll live… I’ll live… I’ll live…’ Now, can any well-bred human being who has the slightest bit of sympathy or concern for her ever say those words in front of her? I couldn’t accept this at all. Ashish Rajadhyaksha had retorted, ‘So what do you think he would have said?’ ‘He should have lied!’ I had replied. He argued, ‘No. In every epic, there comes a situation where it progresses beyond logic.’ Somehow I haven’t been able to accept that. I happened to remember that. So in my film Padatik when I create a situation where the father tells his son that the mother knows nothing, has been told nothing – no one will be able to connect the two – only I am conscious of the agony which inspires that sequence." - ('Interview: 2001', ‘Montage – Mrinal Sen: Life, Politics, Cinema’, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2002)