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An Enemy of the People (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 18, 2014

Dr. Ashok Gupta (Soumitra Chatterjee) is alarmed by a sudden increase of hepatitis and jaundice among his patients.  He investigates the water supply and finds bacteria in abundance.  Dr. Gupta alerts his friend, Haridas (Dipankar Dey), the editor of a local newspaper.  Haridas prints the story, but as Dr. Gupta extends his research and finds that the source of the contamination is the beloved temple, he meets resistance.  Resistance in the form of Dr. Gupta’s brother, Nishith (Dhritiman Chatterjee), the municipal chairman.  Nishith fears that panic about the temple will not only sway public opinion but also cut into tourism revenue.  Nishith persuades Haridas and his publisher (Manoj Mitra) to side against Dr. Gupta, who now faces severe opposition in his quest to educate the public about the impending health epidemic.

8 years after my first viewing, this isn’t as disappointing as I initially thought.  It is true that Satyajit Ray, recovering from a heart attack that put him out of commission for years, tones down his style to accommodate his limitations.  Most of it takes place on very plain sets (though they look better on DVD than they did on VHS) with very straightforward framing.  Although there are a couple of lovely shots — the close-ups of hands supporting Gupta in times of need are particularly expressive — for the most part it’s not very sophisticated cinematography.  And the editing does feel a bit awkward, without Ray’s usual impeccable sense of when and where to cut.

As unpolished as the film is, however, it still contains very powerful drama.  Unfortunately things get wrapped up far too neatly in the last three minutes — bless Ray’s heart for his optimism, but it’s way too easy considering all the grimness leading up to it — but otherwise it’s a really compelling story.  It makes you wonder how many truths are withheld from us in the name of “public interest”… while actually just protecting the interests of the wealthy and powerful.  In my first review I called the performances “stilted” but this time that didn’t seem true at all.  Soumitra Chatterjee has done much finer work, for sure, but he’s in fine form here.  And I have no complaints about the rest of the cast, either.  Especially good are Dipankar Dey, as well as Ruma Guha Thakurta and Mamata Shankar as Gupta’s wife and daughter.

I would still consider this one of Ray’s “lesser” films and it certainly has some faults.  But I’m glad I took a second look, especially with the chance to see it nicely restored on DVD.  Rating: Good (71)


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