With all the people dying, you would think that it would be easier to find a job.
For free on Youtubeâ€¦make sure that you get the subtitled one, though. You will find out around 12-seconds in. Approximately 105 minutes.
The movie starts out with a dead man and his grieving widow. It suddenly focuses on a young man looking all ominous, as if he were the murderer…actually, no, he is just the manâ€™s son.
Siddartha, now in his mid-twenties, dropped out of medical school after his father died, and has spent the last two years looking for work all around the city of Kolkata. Unemployment is rampant, though, so employers seem to use whatever criteria that they want in order to choose new hires. One interview seems to be goingâ€¦almost okayâ€¦until he gets asked about the most important event of the last decade, meaning the 1960s. The obvious answer would be the moon landing, but Siddartha says that the uprising in Vietnam is more important. He gives a thoughtful reason behind choosing that over the moon landing, but the only takeaway that the interviewers take away from it is that he might be a Communist. And, even if the pro-Maoist Naxalites had not been carrying out attacks in Kolkata and the surrounding region, a Communist is not necessarily someone that they would want in their company. So he is rejected then and there.
As Siddartha is at a cafÃ©, still thinking about work, a man who knew him as a university student approaches him and tries to recruit him to the movementâ€¦most likely the Naxalites. Siddartha argues that he needs a job. He mentally shuts out the guy when the subject of factory work comes up, but his ears perk up again when the man brings up the possibility of a job as a medical representative outside of the city.
Siddartha goes to a cinema to get some sleep in a place that is not sweltering. Suddenly, a bomb goes off and everyone has to evacuate. Siddartha seems more annoyed at losing his opportunity to sleep comfortably than anything else. He walks around Kolkata until he finds a place in a park to sit down and relax. It is not long, however, before a bunch of hippie tourists interrupt his rest by dancing around, banging on a drum, getting high, and yammering on about how everything is delightful. I cannot tell you how much this scene made me grin.
Siddartha goes to the dorm room of some university friends to sleep, only to argue with his brotherâ€™s roommate about the ethics of stealing money from a Red Cross donation can. One of his friends takes him to the university theater to watch a Swedish film. They probably think that it is going to be porn, but it seems like some quirky art film that they find pretty boring. Siddartha seems to get some sleep, though.
As Siddartha and his friend are walking around town, Siddartha ends up going on a rant about the job market. It is clear that he is resentful of his sister getting a job when he is unable to do so. With more than a little bit of sexism, he claims that a pretty face and compliance are considered better qualifications than intellect, honesty, or competence. He makes a promise that he will be calculated in his answers to interviews from now on, telling the interviewers what they want to hear rather than what actually would be helpful.
Speaking of Siddarthaâ€™s sister, rumors are going around that she is sleeping with her boss. Siddartha does not want to believe it, but his mother thinks the worst. When his sister finally does come back, she appears to care neither about the rumors regarding her alleged relationship with her boss, the rather questionable behavior of her boss that has given rise to such a rumors, nor how this impending scandal will affect the family. After all, she is the only one bringing in money; she does what is necessary. Siddartha expresses a desire to beat up that guy, but his sister just finds it amusing.
Siddartha then talks to his younger brother, who has apparently injured his leg. It could be due to participating in some Naxalite activism, but it is never made clear. Siddartha asks him for money to take care of what he calls a crisis. His brother tells him that he has changed since his more radical days of university, before he became obsessed with finding a job. He claims that Siddartha has no path and is going nowhere.
Siddartha goes to see his sisterâ€™s boss and lies that she is feeling sick. Her boss sees through his lieâ€¦as well as his thinly disguised wish to kill him, and offers Siddartha a job. Siddartha leaves, only to come across a mob attacking a man for hitting a girl with his car. He then goes to see the doctor who might have a medical representative job for himâ€¦but there is only traveling salesman jobs, and Siddartha is wary about leaving Kolkata. The doctor gives him ten days to think about it. Siddartha, however, is starting to think about joining the revolution if it starts. But, only once it starts.
Pratidwandi, sometimes known as The Adversary or The Competitor, shows Kolkata in a state of normalized chaos. Unemployment is rampant, corruption is entrenched, and it seems as if the only alternative is a violent Communist insurgency that may have direct connections to Cultural Revolutionary China. The movie seems to treat this state of affairs as something that has been going on for a while and will continue to be for a while, and that is not far from the reality of 1970s Kolkata. The promises of a new India, which seemed so bright only a few years earlier, have turned to a cynical status quo in decline.
The Siddartha that the movie presents is a man who has sacrificed who he is in order to do one thing: get a job. He no longer possesses the radical dreams that his brother seems to have inherited, but he also lacks the cold and ambitious practicality that his sister possesses in order to really get a job. So he spends his time between job interviews wandering around the city, moping around with friends who had not dropped out of school, baring witness to various bad things going on, and unsuccessfully trying to get some of his possessions fixed.
Sometimes, either through daydreaming or simple hallucinations brought about by exhaustion, Siddartha has fantasies and flashbacks. Some of the flashbacks are to his time in medical school, listening to lectures. The context of these flashbacks are somewhat disturbing, though not quite as unsettling as the fantasies. Other flashbacks are to his childhood, when he and his sister were in the countryside and were listening to birds. At one point, he tries to find these birds in Kolkata, but cannot find them. We see little else of what he was like before he was forced to look for jobs, but it is clear that he was not the way that he is now. India has changed, he has changed, and it seems as if there is no going back.
Siddartha comes across as bored and occasionally annoyed, but there is an undercurrent of rage simmering only somewhat beneath the surface. The frustration, humiliation, and degradation eats at him, and it seems that he might bite back before too long. Siddartha seems to think that the deviance of modern Kolkata is holding him down, forcing him to become a man too early while withholding from him the means to prove himself a man. Yet, he is reluctant to leave, perhaps because he believes that it is even worse elsewhere. Eventually, he seems to find the potential for happiness in his life, but it is a fragile happiness and perhaps only temporary anyways. Yet, maybe his circumstances and his way of going about life are only temporary as well.
Pratidwandi is the first in a trilogy, though the other stories are not really about the same characters. I have not seen the other two movies yet, but I gather that they are even bleaker and angrier than this one. And this one is bleak and angry already. It is not quite as hardened as Taxi Driver, but I would not be surprised if Martin Scorcese and the others behind it had seen this film before coming up with that one. This is probably not the best movie to watch when you want to feel good about life, but it is one that I definitely recommend.
WTF ASIA 91: A Detective Story (Japan: 1983, approx. 110 minutes)
On Youtube, though the subtitles are not quite synced up
WTF ASIA 92: The Wooden Manâ€™s Bride (China: 1994, approx. 115 minutes)
Available at your library? Maybe?