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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Drama, Thriller, 1982, Color

The film begins with the ‘accidental’ death of the chief labour officer of a private steel company in Barrackpore following his detection of serious corruption within the management. He reports the matter to the authorities in New Delhi but the management learns of the secret report. The officer resigns and soon after dies in an ‘accident’. Following this ‘accident’, Probir Dutta, the intrepid young secretary of the company’s trade union, gets to know the truth about the officer’s death. He calls a worker’s meeting where he intends to expose the management. Before he can do this, he and his close friend Bijon are attacked by hired killers. Probir is killed but Bijon manages to escape. Bijon breaks the news to Probir’s family and is forced to abscond.  Probir’s family comprises his aged parents, two grown-up sisters and a small brother. They are compelled to leave their suburban home to settle in a backstreet home in Calcutta. Nirupama, the elder sister, in love with Bijon, waits for his return. A young reporter Sandipan is assigned by his paper to do an investigative story on the series of mystery deaths and their links to the company. He doggedly collects bits and scraps of information that, when pieced together, provides a likely answer to the question – who are the killers? He tracks down one of the suspects, Sital, who is goalkeeper in a small-time football team. His conversations with Sital reveal that the management has lured Sital with either money or a job and Sital who now wishes to concentrate on living a normal life through football backed by a job, is intent on distancing himself from his criminal past. In its attempt to compromise the bereaved family of Probir and the insistently questioning Nirupama, the company offers her a job. Though Nirupama is by now aware of what led to her brother’s death, she is forced by circumstances to accept the offer with the hope and confidence that Sandipan will continue his crusade to discover the truth. In the meantime, Bijon, who had done well in faraway Nashik, comes back. Bijon is now a successful salesman and no longer cares for the revolutionary ideals he stood for in the past. His youthful anger against the Establishment is replaced by the anxiety to attain material success, leaving him content on the one hand and cynical of those who still stood by their faith in radical social change on the other. He rents a flat in one of the city’s better parts and proposes marriage to Nirupama. She accepts the proposal and requests Sandipan to be a witness to their registration. As he proceeds for the wedding on his two-wheeler, Sandipan is hit by a car and is killed on the spot. A shocked Nirupama who refuses to accept Sandipan’s death as a mere accident, asks Bijon to postpone the wedding. Bijon is angry at this request. Nirupama, realizing that this is no longer the man she once was so deeply in love with, turns him away. The break makes her realize that she has an inner strength she was never aware of, a capacity to defy she never recognized.  The film ends with the elimination of Sital who gets killed in a deserted playfield during his workout in the breaking hours of the day.

Grihajuddha (Crossroads) made in 1982, was based on a Dibyendu Palit story. This was Buddhadeb Dasgupta, crossing black-and-white to step into colour. He uses the format of a slickly made political thriller to unfold the story of a family’s victimization to corporate politics. He goes on to portray how one member, the daughter engaged to her dead brother’s runaway friend, draws strength and moral courage from the very oppression they are victim to. The story is built around a few individuals whose lives are trapped in an urban corner where all the exit points have suddenly been closed. Which is tragic considering each one of them is fighting a war (griha- meaning ‘home’ and juddha meaning ‘war’) and is seeking his/her own way out of this war. If one is fighting a war for love, another is fighting a war for integrity, and a third is forced to wage a war for the very basic reason of survival. Somewhere along the way, these separate, individualistic ‘wars’, congregate and the difference between them is nothing more than a confused blur.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta gives celluloid credibility to the low middle class milieu in Grihajuddha.  The inquisitive neighbours leaning out of the rooftop, the tipsy husband tottering back home, the distressed family huddling together in their dingy dwelling reveal Dasgupta’s commendable concern for detail. Based on a contemporary short story called Maach (Fish), structurally, the film runs along two levels almost like parallels on a single plane. One consists of a young and crusading journalist’s attempt to investigate two murders committed by the management of the factory. The other explores the inner journey of Nirupama, the sister of one of the murder victims, in her separate search for truth on the one hand and her love for Bijon on the other. The two strands meet at one point, move together for some time and then go their separate ways after Sandipan is killed. Sandipan functions as the common link between these two strands of the story. His death could have been the climax. But Dasgupta thankfully saves the film from this clichéd end. He lets it move on for some more time to end in a freeze shot of the footballer against the soundtrack of the breaking of a glass pane.

Dasgupta’s statement on Grihajuddha is clear, perceptive and forceful. “In Grihajuddha,” he says, “my intention is to portray an average man with contemporary sensibilities, aware of the world around him, left with no choice but to be committed. But the atrocities practiced by big capital frighten him and force him to abandon his commitment. Predictably, he tries to justify his veering away from his original stance. The metamorphosis is tragic because it makes him stand up against his own people. This, to my mind, is the tragedy of the present times and of many a sensitive, present-day individual.” Interestingly, though Dasgupta uses the masculine pronoun ‘he’ to make his statement, it is Nirupama who emerges triumphant, in her own small way, by refusing to surrender to a man she can no longer recognize as the one she once loved, though she is quite aware that with this, she has possibly signed off all hopes of a marriage in future. She refuses being made a victim or even being martyred in any small way. The victims incidentally, are all men, even Sital, the pawn who fails to realize his dreams of a normal life, including Bijon, the man who has made it good, only at a price he can never hope to regain. He ends up being the worst victim of them all, as his so-called success is tinged with his failure to make his ladylove accept him as her life partner.

Mamata Shankar as Nirupama offers a kind of continuity from Anjali in Dooratwa (1978), as if Nirupama is a logical extension of Anjali if not the same woman in a different time-space-incident setting. Nirupama is as low profile, as subtle and as quiet as Anjali is. She changes along with changes in the social, familial and political environment of her life. The sudden responsibility thrust on her turning her into the sole breadwinner for the family following the tragic death of the elder brother she idolized so much is something she finds difficult to begin with, but learns to cope in her own simple and unobtrusive way. Every experience makes her stronger than she was before, the final turning point coming with the death of Sandipan and her acceptance of the fact that the man she once loved is certainly not the one she would like to spend her life with. Mamata essays the same restraint she essayed in Dooratwa, along with the same silences. As the only female character of note in a film almost entirely peopled by men, Nirupama stands out not by her beauty, her sensuousness or her seductive qualities, none of which are even touched upon in the film, but by her subtlety and her growing strength. Her strength is wonderfully counter pointed by the weak Bijon portrayed by Anjan Dutt. Sandipan, portrayed brilliantly by director Goutam Ghose, comes across as a strong complement to Nirupama. Both the men offer two different kinds of contrasting characterization to Nirupama.

The most striking element of Grihajuddha lies mainly in its ‘absences.’ The adversaries in the film are never really visible but make their presence strongly felt by the sheer power of their absence. Dasgupta exercises excellent control by presenting the murders mostly in ‘absence’ with only one direct confrontation when Probir is beaten up and dies as a result. The stylistic presentation of the footballer Sital at the end of the film is a case in point.

The precise dictionary translation of the Bengali word grihajuddha is ‘domestic conflict.’ Dasgupta widens the horizons of this meaning to embrace a small world in conflict, where people meet at a certain crossroad they have been pushed into, and are vague about their bearings, about the risks involved, the lurking dangers, and about the responsibilities they are circumstantially forced to take up. This ‘small’ world is a microcosm of the larger world out there, where moral decay in one group of people or one individual victimizes another individual or group. The victimizer, such as Mandar in Dooratwa, Bijon in Grihajuddha and Hemant in Andhi Gali (1984), evolve into victims sucked into a vicious circle of their own making, from which exit seems difficult, though not impossible.

Dasgupta’s trilogy, namely Dooratwa, Grihajuddha and Andhi Gali demonstrates his concern about the social forces that go to shape the destinies of individuals rather than trying to explore the psychology of individual characters. Yet, he never permits his characters to be reduced to cliché, cardboard characters used to mouth his own ideologies or simply to make a point. The distances created by Mandar in Dooratwa are sustained, or perhaps heightened within the inner conflict in Grihajuddha and stretch towards an unknown infinity in Andhi Gali. The inner conflicts of Mandar, Bijon and Hemant are not identical, but the consequences they encounter in ideological terms, are. Is this because these men are lesser than they believed themselves to be?  How does one explain their moral cowardice and decay once they have quit their political commitments in the past? Or, has their disillusionment with the movement they once believed in has led to disillusionment with themselves? Are these three men symbols of the ideologically fickle middle class of Calcutta in the 1970s? These significant questions are universal and timeless. They mark this Dasgupta trilogy as the most outstanding political and social statement of the times they reflect.

The most interesting reality of Grihajuddha is that the Left-ruled Marxist Government of West Bengal produced it while the WBFDC (West Bengal Film Development Corporation) took on the responsibility of distributing the film. The film is a strong yet very subtly stated critique of the Establishment. So, it would seem that the WBFDC developed cold feet when it saw/heard about the film and its statement because it held back the film’s release for two long years. After this, it decided to release the film in theatres that previously screened either Hindi or English films from Hollywood. However, unlike most of Dasgupta’s films that do not do well commercially, Grihajuddha was reasonably well received. Soon after its release, it picked up six Ultorath awards. The awards were for Best Story (Dibyendu Palit), Best Script and Direction (Buddhadeb Dasgupta), Best Actor (Gautam Ghosh), Best Actress (Mamata Shankar) and Best Supporting Actor (Sunil Mukherjee.) Grihajuddha also won the Fipresci Jury award at the Venice International Film Festival in 1983.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji

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