Wednesday, 28 October 2009


An acknowledged influence on Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver, this film follows the story of Narsingh, a ballsy cabbie whose two greatest loves are his 1930 Chrysler and his Rajput ancestry. When he inadvertently cuts off the district inspector, his attempts to smooth talk his way out of the situation land him in further trouble and his licence is revoked. Without his car, Narsingh feels lost and takes it upon himself to hitchhike to Rajasthan, where he encounters artful businessman Sukhanram who hires him to transport a consignment of opium. After some hesitation, he accepts and soon finds himself on a steady decline into a world of immorality. Throughout the tale, Narsingh’s pattern of self-destruction and irresolution is mirrored in the women who catch his eye. Neeli, a steadfast prostitute, bears the brunt of his frustrations, while village girl Gulabi brings out every guarded grain of optimism from him.

Best known for his low-budget, world-class Apu trilogy, director Satyajit Ray displays here a mature and confident style, creating for us a turbulent, dichotomous journey to share with the protagonist and fleshing out every character with the open wistfulness frequently seen in Italian neorealism. The photography makes for a pleasant surprise, and there are some particularly memorable images of Mama Bhagne, the rock said to carry everyone’s sin. Actor Soumitra Chatterjee does a superb job in the lead role, his expressive face saying more than a thousand lines could, while classical beauty Waheeda Rehman illuminates the screen with an award-worthy performance.

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