Director: Satyajit Ray
Production: Indus Films; black and white, 35 mm; running time: 133 minutes. Filmed in Calcutta.
Producer: Subir Guha; screenplay: Satyajit Ray, adapted from the novel Jana Aranya by Manisankar "Sankar" Mukherjee (also known as Samkara and Shankar); photography: Soumendu Roy; editor: Dulal Dutta; art director: Asok Bose; musical director: Satyajit Ray; sound: J.D. Irani, Anal Talukdar, Adinath Nag, Sujit Ghosh.
Cast: Pradip Mukherjee (Somnath Banerjee); Satya Banerjee (Somnath's Father); Dipankar Dey (Bhombol); Lily Chakravarti (Kamala); Aparna Sen (Somnath's girlfriend); Gautam Chakravarti (Sukumar); Sudesna Das (Kauna, known as Juthika); Uptal Dutt (Bisu); Rabi Ghosh (Mr. Mitter) Bimal Bhattacharya (Mrs. Ganguli); Padma Devi (Mrs. Biswas); Soven Lahiri (Goenka); Santosh Dutta (Hiralal).
Samkara, Jana Aranya, India, 1974.
Moskowitz, G., in Variety, 28 July 1976.
Houston, Penelope, in Sight and Sound (London), no. 2, 1977.
Coleman, J., in New Statesman (London), 11 February 1977
Brown, G., in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1977.
Elley, Derek, in Films and Filming (London), May 1977.
Kuthna, M., in Film (London), 11 May 1977.
Ghosal, Sumantra, in International Film Guide (London), 1978.
* * *
Jana Aranya is a representative Satyajit Ray film in that it features an acutely observed, personality-driven narrative and characters who are well-defined products of their surroundings. At the same time, its concerns are distinctly political, as it offers stinging commentary on the economic plight of contemporary India and the manner in which the individual is destined to be crushed and devoured by a callous material environment.
At its core, Jana Aranya is a story of tainted innocence. Its hero is an unsophisticated young man who is surrounded by depravity. None of the rogues in his midst are blatantly evil. Rather, their villainy is subtle, and they justify their unsavory ethics in the name of rat-race survival.
Somnath Banerjee is a sweetly handsome young man. At the outset, he is about to graduate from Calcutta University when he is victimized by a myopic instructor who cannot read his exam answers, depriving him of a graduation with honors. And so Ray starts out by offering a biting satire of a ludicrous educational bureaucracy. Yet all of Somnath's experiences while a student, and all of his book learning, have left him ill-prepared for the cruel realities he will face while attempting to enter the job market. Harsh fact first intrudes when he is told, "You're so young. It'll be ages before you're established." These words are prophetic. Long months pass, and Somnath is unable to secure employment. At this point, he can compromise his ideals by marrying a young woman he has never met, enabling him to take over her father's business. But Somnath refuses. Instead, he agrees to go into "business" with an acquaintance. He remains trusting, even upon being told that the young man he is replacing has been missing for two months.
Somnath's job is to act as a middleman, a go-between. He will be "ordering supplies" and, as such, he is to "study the market" and "buy cheap." "What do I sell?" he asks. "Anything," is the response. He remains oblivious to the implications of his being instructed to set up bogus companies, and flash different business cards to different clients. "You'll be fine on your own," the contact tells Somnath. "In two days you'll learn everything, and if you get into trouble . . . of course you'll have to clean up your own mess."
Somnath's "business" results in his inevitable mixing with an assortment of wizened, corrupt characters. His maturation process climaxes when he is called upon to act as a pimp in a business transaction, a job requirement he finds reprehensible. Furthermore, the prostitute in question is a friend's sister, who is attempting to support her family. Somnath's integrity is irrevocably tainted when his sense of self-preservation obliterates his morality, and he agrees to go along with the scheme. In so doing, he now is trafficking in human beings as well as goods. He has become just as much of a whore as the sister.
All Somnath wants is an honest job, a not-unreasonable request in a fair and equitable world. However, within the parameters of society, the young man—in order to insure his own survival—does not have the luxury of spurning those who would taint him. "Was anyone ever rewarded for saintliness?" asks one of Somnath's contacts, a "public relations" expert. "Name a single person—no matter how high up— whose reputation is spotless." Jana Aranya is neither the first nor the last film to offer a morality tale in which individuals, in order to guarantee their survival, immerse themselves in mire. What makes it a product of a specific time and place are the economic and political conditions existing in India. "I felt corruption, rampant corruption all around, and I didn't think there was a solution," Ray declared, in reference to why he chose to make Jana Aranya. "I was only waiting, perhaps subconsciously, for a story that would give me an opportunity to show this."
In Jana Aranya, Ray also explores a theme that is a constant in his work: familial relations, and the psychology that exists between parent and child. Somnath's obstacles are not all job-related, in that he is influenced by his widowed father's high expectations for him. The old man, lacking in understanding of the manner of the modern world, accordingly is alienated from Somnath.
In his earliest films, the ones that cemented his reputation, Ray offered revealing, humanist portraits of the inner lives of his characters. By the time he made Jana Aranya, he had expanded his cinematic concerns; his films had become more overtly social and political—and the scenario of Jana Aranya is uncompromising as it spotlights the economic dilemmas confronting contemporary India. Its narrative is uncomplicated; primarily, it is a portrait of a young man and the manner in which he is stripped of his impeccability. The film is at its most astute when Ray offers up knowing vignettes featuring the subtly and not-so-subtly repulsive characters with whom Somnath deals. On strictly visual terms, the filmmaker cleverly lampoons bureaucratic inanity. Repeated shots of young men posting job application letters convey the mind-boggling competition Somnath will face as he sets out to secure a job. He also is seen waiting on countless lines, typing and attaching photos to endless job applications, and being asked ludicrous, rapid-fire questions by job interviewers.
In these sequences, Jana Aranya is amusing. Yet it primarily is a serious and sobering film, an unsentimental account of the battle between maintaining one's scruples and doing what one must in order to survive.