Ek Din Pratidin (1979)
Director: Mrinal Sen; Writer: Amalendu Chakraborty, Mrinal Sen; Producer: Mrinal Sen; Cinematographer: K.K. Mahajan; Editor: Gangadhar Naskar; Cast: Satya Bannerjee, Geeta Sen, Mamata Shankar, Sreela Majumdar, Umanath Bhattacharya, Arun Mukherjee, Tapan Das, Nalini Bannerjee, Kaushik Sen, Tupur Ghosh, Gautam Chakraborty, Biplab Chatterjee
Duration: 01:20:57; Aspect Ratio: 1.467:1; Hue: 54.702; Saturation: 0.149; Lightness: 0.204; Volume: 0.149; Cuts per Minute: 6.226; Words per Minute: 58.710
Summary: Sen uses a thriller format for this tale set among Calcutta’s petty bourgeoisie. A young woman, Chinu (Mamata Shankar), is the sole breadwinner supporting a family of seven headed by a retired clerk (Satya Bandyopadhyay) and his wife (Geeta Sen). One night, she does not return home from the office and, as the hours pass, the family grows increasingly distraught as each member, including the independent-seeming university student Minu (Sreela Majumdar), begins to realise how dependent they are on Chinu’s labour. Filmed by Sen with a mastery of mise en scene in cramped surroundings, the story graphically illustrates how profound insecurities underpin a precarious, egotistical moral code that refuses to acknowledge the real place of women in the social network. When Chinu returns by taxi in the morning, nobody dares question her since this would involve each family member having to betray the selfishness of their concern. With amazing resilience, the facade is restored. There are some echoes of Sen’s previous stylistic devices (e.g. direct address to camera by the characters when they visit a hospital to check on missing persons), but the film leaves an indelible impression of the cavernous courtyard surrounded by claustrophobic apartments and, beyond the gate, a teeming and indifferent metropolis making its presence felt mainly on the soundtrack. Sen claimed that the film started his interest in the ‘inward’ investigation into middle-class life, away from the explicitly political language of his earlier 70s films.
Release date: 8 August, 1980 (Globe)
Based on the short story 'Abirata Chenamukh' ('A Parade of Familar Faces') by Amalendu Chakraborty, 'Ek Din Pratidin' is a crucial film in Mrinal Sen's oeuvre. After the Left Front government assumed power in 1977, there was considerable shift in Sen's cinematic language with the earlier agit-prop aesthetic replaced by a slower, and more introspective look at the everyday life of the urban metropolis, with special emphasis on the Bengali middle-class. Consequently, narrative stages a come-back in this phase of Mrinal Sen's films, though in many cases in purely formal ways - that is, a semblance of a narrative is established in order to turn the authorial gaze inwards, into the inner workings of middle-class lives. In many ways, both thematically and structurally, 'Ek Din Pratidin' is first of a loosely defined trilogy on the Bengali middle-class, to be followed by 'Chaalchitra' and 'Kharij'. Consequently, questions of gender and patriarchal domination are critical in this film, much more so than the previous instances where Sen directly addresses 'feminist' or gender concerns - most notably, the famine episode of 'Calcutta 71', and Simi Garewal's character in 'Padatik'.
Sen has remarked: 'On the surface, a simple story, with plot and incident de-emphasized, Ekdin Pratidin gave me immense scope to probe, to capture every bit of movement of the arrow quivering into the flesh, and to expose the people’s connivance in a male-dominated conformist society. The attempt was to point my accusing finger at the enemy within, at my own community. All quietly, unobtrusively, furtively, as though the characters and the crowd appearing in the film were all at fault.' - (‘Always Being Born: Mrinal Sen, A Memoir’, Stellar Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2004)
The imposing mansion where the family lives is in North Calcutta and is shared by a host of other tenants. We have discussed the recurring motif of the ruins in the context of Mrinal Sen. Such mansions, dating back to the colonial period, are commonplace in the city, remnants of a certain family's prosperous past. In 'Ek Din Pratidin', the house exists as a living ruin, its glorious past now long gone.
The focus of the plot is the family of seven, one of the many tenants of the house. Their mundane existence is rocked when Chinu (Mamata Shankar), their oldest daughter, the sole working-member of the family, does not return home one night after office. The sense of calm and happiness of a quiet domesticity that is evident in the beginning, slowly transmutes to anxiety, bitterness over the course of the night. The film adopts the format of a narrative, but often breaks it with interruptions, recorded footage and inserts, in a manner that is quite reminiscent of Mrinal Sen's experiments with the documentary and fictional elements in his films.
A voice-over by Biplab Chakraborty, about the illustrious history of the house, rendered more ironic by its present decrepit state. Sen recounts: 'In the screenplay, a couple of minutes or three after the story began, a voice-over was planted, the voice of a commentator, and he, a sort of chronicler of history, took just two minutes to tell the story of an age-old mansion, built in 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny – the mansion that witnessed the rule of the East India Company and the subsequent taking over of the governance by Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, followed by continuous political ups and downs; partition of Bengal, preceded and followed by meetings, processions, riots, bloodshed, famines, exodus; and also the uneventful life in the family of seven and of the fateful night of the long and frightening wait.' - (‘Always Being Born: Mrinal Sen, A Memoir’, Stellar Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2004)
The owner/landlord, Dwarik Mullick, epitomizes the mansion ravaged by time. He is desperately attempting to hold on to his class position which is simultaneously jeopardized by his changed economic and social circumstances, causing a curious set of contradictions within the character. This tension between the past and the present, between pre-colonial glory and the ravaged present day circumstances, is also one of the most defining characteristics of the middle-class.
'Bolo Hari, Hari Bol' is a chant used by pall-bearers during funeral processions. 'Hari' is a moniker for Vishnu and the chant invokes Vishnu for the safe passage of the recently departed soul. The chant has both sacred and ominous associations in the everyday.
Gita Sen had not been the original choice for the role of the mother. Mrinal Sen had initially approached Tripti Mitra (renowned theatre actress and wife of playwright/director Shombhu Mitra) for the role but she had been unsure about her role and its importance in the film. Eventually, Sen himself suggested that it would perhaps be better if she did not do the role and instead offered the film to his wife Gita. Gita Sen received immense praise for her performance in the film and for her scenes with Shreela Majumdar.
Chinu (Mamata Shankar), despite being the most discussed character in the narrative, is hardly ever seen in the film, except for this sequence and in the end when she returns. The narrative deliberately separates her from the rest of the action, making the final dramatic confrontation even more significant - even someone who is seemingly separate from the discursive limits of this social formation is not safe from its restrictive and unforgiving moral codes. The separateness which frames her character is foregrounded also by the narratorial voice which describes her everyday travails.
The news that Chinu has not yet returned home begins to spread, that too under the censorious and disapproving gaze of the landlord. In this case, one is not entirely sure if the excuse about 'overtime' that Minu provides is true or if its a quintessential middle-class attempt to maintain appearances in a moment of crisis.
The crisis situation also unearths already existing bitterness and hostility within the family; such episodes are integral to Sen's oeuvre, revealing the tenuous nature of families and familial ties in times of economic, social and personal stress. Other remarkable examples of such scenes are the 1943 Famine episode of 'Calcutta 71' (which had also dealt with gender and sexual mores) and the husband-wife scenes in 'Neel Akasher Niche' and 'Baishey Shravan'.
Tapu, the unemployed son, the oldest of all the siblings. 'Nora' is a round stone mace, used to grind spices by rolling it over a flat piece of stone called a 'sheel'. An essential component of the kitchen, it is also used in religious functions like weddings and hence using it to fix shoes would be considered an indiscretion.
The inward investigation of middle-class lives that Sen claimed was at the centre of the film is most explicitly underlined in these three sequences. The other tenants have varying reactions to Chinu's disappearances, ranging from shocked concerns regarding her safety to derisive assumptions regarding her character and morals. Two things are crucial here. The old couple are another facet of the family of seven at the centre of the controversy; they are similarly trying to protect their grand-daughter and keeping up appearances regarding her possible indiscretions (the incident is only hinted at and not explicitly stated). Besides, there is a class aspect even within the gamut of people living there: Shyamal (Arun Mukherjee) is removed ideologically, and perhaps culturally too, from the rest, making his self-evaluation and critical intervention possible. He is the only one in the extended household who is not quick to jump onto the moral bandwagon, despite being part of the same social formation (in fact, he does mention being a 'bhadralok' too, like the rest). Over and above all, the most defining image of the sequence is the looming dilapidated house itself, the cramped desolate surroundings the perfect space for the engendering of a patriarchal and egotistical moral code.
The accident at the beginning of the film has taken on more ominous dimensions when placed in the context of the subsequent events of the day; a commonplace superstition regarding how a small incident gestures towards a far bigger catastrophe. The sequence of the narrative also mimics this gradual build-up, with the film beginning with the accident with the youngest son and gradually heightening the sense of impending doom, aided and abetted by over-vigilant, gossip-mongering neighbours.
The parallels between this section of 'Ek Din Pratidin' and the famine episode from 'Calcutta 71' have been discussed previously. In the latter episode (written by Prabodh Sanyal) a family of four had been desperately trying to ensure that their secret remains hidden - that they have resorted to prostitution and petty theft in order to make ends meet. Here, the absence of the oldest daughter has engendered a similar moral conundrum, regarding respectability and honour. The father's lament that everyone has come to know everything is symptomatic of the Bengali middle class's devotion to maintaining forms and appearances even in the face of abject adversity. When the charade comes apart at the seams it lets lose a volley of accusations and an ugly confrontation, threatening to further destabilize their fragile respectability.
The medicine shop with its heavily ironic disclaimer that they remain open throughout the day and night - the scene suggests that the unattended phone-call may perhaps have been from Chinu, attempting to inform her family. The narrative never lets her provide an excuse for her sudden disappearance, never once attempting to assuage the middle-class audience's moral outrage by furnishing a convenient explanation.
Unlike Sen's previous films, the city is never directly present in the film, with most of the action taking place within claustrophobic indoor settings. This is a deliberate mimicry of the mindset Sen has set out to explore. The city, when present, is the site of accidents (the youngest son's accident in the beginning) or is an uncaring, seedy, unfeeling metropolis where accidents are commonplace (the only spaces in the city that are explored are the morgue, the hospital and the police station, the latter replete with smugglers and prostitutes). The actor portraying the police-officer, Biplab Chakraborty, is also responsible for the voice-over narration used at certain points in the film. It provides a curious thrust to the proceedings, conflating the narratorial voice with that of a policeman's report that further serves to heighten the sense of doom and tragedy.
The old woman's comments regarding the lives of women in such a society are extremely significant. The explicit indictment of the patriarchal set-up that refuses to acknowledge the role of women is reminiscent in many ways of the attitude survey conducted in 'Padatik', regarding the status of women in society and the nature of sexual division of labour.
This is further foregrounded by the flashback sequence where Chinu had just gotten her job. The ease with which she is immediately elevated to the position of the primary caregiver and bread-earner is significant when contrasted with the role of the men in her life - her father and her brother - neither of whom are responsible for sustaining the family despite being the de facto heads of the household. In fact, 'Ek Din Pratidin' is as much a study of the men in the family as it is about the position of women within the oppressive petit bourgeois moral economy.
An instance of the notion of masculinity that is also under critique: the friend rebukes Tapu for 'going soft' after the visit to the morgue, derisively deeming it to be a feminine affect.
The family is quite obviously distressed by the arrival of the police, considering the stigma regarding the legal and juridical system among the middle-classes (despite her excuse, it is quite obvious that Minu is unwilling to let the police into the inner quarters of the house). The police in this scenario is then seen primarily as a harbinger of bad news (for instance, the news about the unidentified pregnant woman who has tried to commit suicide) or as an agent of disruption that seeks to destabilize the 'bhadralok' status quo through scandal and crime.
The hospital sequence is reminiscent of Mrinal Sen's use of interruptive or non-linear form from his earlier phase of films. The characters, when they each recall their predicaments, seemingly break the fourth wall and address the viewers, serving to assimilate their stories within the larger social and economic narrative of the middle-class at the time. The sequence also foregrounds the blend of fact and fiction that has been one of central concerns of Sen's cinematic language, and which takes on interesting formal dimensions in his more narrative-driven later films.
About the sudden change in form in this sequence Mrinal Sen has remarked: 'But even there I have slipped out of the storytelling from time to time to make a comment, for example, about women at one point, or when one of the characters visit the hospital where a group of people wait to identify a girl, an accident victim. These characters do not belong to the story; in them and through them I try to capture the image of the larger society lying outside. From them I move to a sequence of newspaper headings, far beyond the scope of the storyteller who believes strictly in storytelling. As you see, for all practical purposes, I have not changed my style of treatment after all. I have continued mixing the two forms to ensure better communication. I have never really rejected the style which I developed a long time ago. I would characterize my style as basically non-narrative, a calculated mixture of the fictional and documentary, with actual coverage.' - (‘Interview: 1980’, ‘Montage – Mrinal Sen: Life, Politics, Cinema’, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2002)
The newspaper headings reveal the nature and forms of sexual violence rampant in society, and which are systematically silenced by the guardians of middle-class morality: 'Dismembered body of young woman found inside a box in Howrah Station', 'Body of a young woman found floating in the Ravindra Sarovar Lake', 'Call-girl's heartrending confessions in court', 'An account of the flesh trade'.
The tensions within the family come to the forefront when the desire to maintain appearances gives way under the strain of recent occurrences. The bitter episode where the family blames each other is reminiscent of many such cruel episodes in Mrinal Sen's earlier films (notably, 'Baishe Shravan', the 1943 episode of 'Calcutta 71') where family members turn on each other in moments of crisis. It is a culmination of the discontent brewing since the beginning - the clock ticking like in a bomb about to explode - which brings the entire family together. They air their grievances against each other, grievances which had been simmering under the surface and which they had carefully tried to conceal (Minu compares their crumbling lives with that of the morgue the brother has just visited). Interestingly, Minu is the voice of reason and self-criticism here, railing against her family for taking Chinu for granted and for taking advantage of her. At the same time, she too is plagued by the same insecurities; she is well-aware that Chinu's disappearance will pass the burden of the family onto her.
The angry and bitter exchange also reveals other secrets which had been carefully protected thus far. Sanjeev, Chinu's alleged ex-suitor, had perhaps been a political activist which would explain the family's reluctance to let them marry. Besides, given the milieu within which 'Ek Din Pratidin' has been conceived, this conclusion is even more likely. At the same time, the inefficacy of the male figure in such a social unit is further underlined. In a moment of crisis, the wife, labouring under guilt, anger and anxiety, accuses her husband of a life-long passivity that is, at least partially, responsible for this night. As mentioned before, the passive male figure, the middle-class patriarch (both the father and the son), ineffectual, powerless but still the figurehead, is as much the subject of critique here. Mrinal Sen has often remarked about his preoccupation with exposing the hypocrisies of the male-dominated, conformist, middle-class society of his time in 'Ek Din Pratidin'.
The cyclical nature of the oppression that structures the lives in such a social formation is amply revealed through the younger sister's monologue in the very next sequence. Sen remarks: 'Again, a little before the curtain was drawn, and the family lost all hopes of the return of the sole breadwinner, the second daughter in the family, still in her college, having had a fight with the mother, hurling against each other in dreadful frustration, indulged in a kind of what one could as well call a monologue. This, again, sounded like the voice of a chronicler, looking beyond and building history that would come to be – the story of the family, not of seven anymore, but of six, when they would shift to a still cheaper place to live in and breathe stink, when she would have no choice but to discontinue her studies and would manage to get a modest job in an office. And when, on a disastrous night, a similar story of a long wait would be repeated. A dead end! All that happened in Ekdin Pratidin was set between the two – it was like treating the main story as an extension of socio-political history that was, and a prelude to another story that would soon be told. After all, nothing would happen in void, nothing would drop out of vacuum, nothing would grow in isolation. The dressing, as just described, was to put the film in a perspective suggesting the continuity of history.' - (‘Always Being Born: Mrinal Sen, A Memoir’, Stellar Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2004)
As mentioned before, Chinu is discussed throughout the film though she herself is almost entirely absent. The confrontation that ensues once she returns home, is thus crucial. No one is willing to listen to her: partly perhaps out of fear regarding what she has been up to, and partly because hearing her version of events is irrelevant in this conformist, patriarchal scenario. In fact, the dramatic confrontation, where the entire household is immediately drawn in (the imposing low-angle shot where the lights of the building switch on, one after another), serves to destabilize the separateness that has been built around her throughout the film by making her as susceptible to the moral economy that defines the middle-class. She may have been the sole bread-earner of the family, but no one really manages to climb out of this corrosive social formation. The structural separateness that defines her, the figure of the independent working woman, is thus effectively brought down.
As expected, the landlord becomes the ultimate voice of patriarchal and social rebuke, by invoking notions of appearances, decency and sexual morality - he mentions the 'bhadralok', the quintessential technical term for the middle-class in Bengal and their stringent moral economy. It will be interesting to note that it is never made clear where Chinu had been throughout the night, the narrative constantly interrupts her attempts to furnish an excuse. Mrinal Sen has remarked this to be deliberate authorial device, to constantly cause discomfort to those who wish to be assured that she has not been doing anything wrong.
In his memoirs, he recalls an incident: 'The release was well timed and in good theatres, and centrally, at Metro. The response was positive when the viewers were seen identifying themselves with the characters...But a large number among them had a question for me. The same question every time and everywhere, What happened to her? Why didn’t she come home? Where had she been? And, interestingly, most of them were working women! Yes, they liked the film, they loved it, and yet, they had the question. They were just curious, they said...I was not quite sure. Could it be that they wanted me to assure them that she did not do anything not acceptable to the conformist society? That she did not violate the social norms? A certificate from me testifying her character?...One evening, when I was mobbed by viewers, the larger chunk being women, a man looking very respectable, should be of my age, presumably a thoroughbred Bengali, asked me in English, assuming a tone that was distinctly superior, “Mr Sen, it is important that we know what happened to the woman.” Sounding much less than superior, I said in Bengali, “Dekhun, Sir, aamar to mone hochhe, chhobi’ta aami aapnar moto darshak’r jonye baaniechhi. Aapnaara dekhben aar jantrona paaben. Jantrona paaben kaaron aapnaara jobaab paaben naa.” (My dear Sir, I made this film for you. For you to watch and suffer. You’ll suffer because you will not know the answer.) I added, “If you ask me again, my answer will be – I do not know myself. I do not want to.”' - (‘Always Being Born: Mrinal Sen, A Memoir’, Stellar Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2004)
After the release of the film, many viewers and critics alike pointed out the hopelessness of the final scene which apparently undercuts the 'feminist' outlook that pervades the rest of the narrative. Sen, typically, has defended the end, stating how it evokes a sense of inner strength, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Regardless of the view one ascribes to, the calm of the morning after foregrounds the re-establishment of the appearances that have been shattered the night before.
Sen recollects in his memoirs: 'THE FIRST DAY OF THE RELEASE. The house was packed at the big theatre, Metro. I was the first to come out at the end of the show and take my position at a quiet corner. Whilst I found the crowd emotionally charged, and that was what I felt, the ones who came first to me was a group of my old friends, all firebrand militants, now retired, but still believing that the fire was within. They felt that I had grown old and had, therefore, mellowed down. Which was why the end was so depressing. It was evident, they said, in the mother’s expression...They saw just that – the face of the mother, sad and forlorn, nothing of the inner strength hidden behind the façade...Very early in the morning, the mother stepped into another day. When the plane flew across the sky, it meant nothing but the beginning of a day like any other. When she lighted the stove, she did not forget to gently shut the door behind her to prevent the smoke from going inside. A daily habit. Nothing more, nothing less. Just ordinary, as always. But the night was very different. Throughout the night, the mother was facing chilling situations, one after another, and she was drained of all hope. She survived, nevertheless, and felt stronger. And that was the only logic of one’s existence, that was the only hope for sustenance, that was only how the mother and the rest of the family members could still dream and look beyond. Fighting back on one’s own strength. With no promissory notes from the heavens!' - (‘Always Being Born: Mrinal Sen, A Memoir’, Stellar Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2004)