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Phatik Chand (1983): The Boy and the Juggler Saturday, 18 April, 2009

Posted by ~uh~™ in Bengali, My Past Life, Satyajit Ray.
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This review was first published on PFC.

The boy and the Juggler:  Phatikchand (1983)

Direction: Sandip Ray

Story, Screenplay, Music: Satyajit Ray

Many years ago, in Kolkata, a young boy saw a movie called ‘Phatik Chand’ which his dad took him to. The movie had a major impact on the boy because after Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The adventures of Goopy and Bagha) this was the next best children’s movie he had seen from filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Later he saw Ray’s other movies meant for children- Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds), Sonar Kella (The Fortress) and Joi bab Felunath (The Elephant God) but Phatik Chand was etched permanently on his mind. He grew up discovering his love for movies, became a fan of Satyajit Ray’s works, read all his books, saw all his movies but still could not get a chance to see Phatik Chand for the second time. He somehow missed whenever it was played on TV. He searched everywhere in Kolkata but could not find a single copy because the movie was never released on a DVD. He searched for a review, a link about the movie but nowhere could he find any information including Satyajitray.org. He was disappointed and disheartened to see how underrated this beautiful movie was.

26 years later in Mumbai, he found the Phatik Chand DVD lying at BigFlix, the rental store. He was elated to discover that he was the first customer to rent it and rushed back home to see the movie with his sons.

Predictably, that boy was me.

……………………………………………………………………………………..

Phatik Chand is the directoral debut of Sandip Ray based on his dad, Satyajit Ray’s short novel by the same name. The film received an award in the International Children’s Film Festival in Vancouver.

The Story

The movie opens with a scene at astrologer’s office where four goons lead by Shyamlal (Biplab Chatterjee) asks the astrologer to recommend a shubhdin (auspicious date) as they are going to undertake a big job. The astrologer gives a date just 3 days away which makes Shyamlal apparently concerned. However he pays his fees and leaves.

Later, an 11 year old boy named Bablu (Rajib Ganguly), son of an affluent and aristocratic advocate dad (Haradhan Bannerjee), gets kidnapped by four goons, while he is returning from school. The gang led by Shyamlal, put him into a stolen Ambassador and travels towards Kaharagpur. When Bablu gains consciousness in the car, the thugs seem to be in an inebriated state including the driver. Driving on the dark highway, the driver loses his concentration and moments later, a truck rams the car head on. The truck driver drives away from the scene.  The accident mangles the Ambassador killing the driver and one goon dies on the spot. Bablu gets thrown out on the street, and loses consciousness. Recovering from the shock, Shyamlal and his sidekick Raghunath checks unconscious Bablu and presuming he is dead, leaves the scene.

Bablu regains consciousness but discovers that he can’t recollect anything from his past, including his name. A gentleman volunteers to take Bablu for a medical check-up. Learning, he would be handed over to the cops, due to his childish fear Bablu flees towards the station following the sound of train whistle.  On a Kolkata bound train he meets a wandering street juggler (Kamu Mukherjee), Harun-Al -Rashid, the self proclaimed badshah of juggling. Harun suspects something uncanny and tries to probe. On Asking his name, Bablu recollects ‘Phatik Chandra Paul & Sons’ from the calendar at the Doctor’s chamber and tells the same. Harun, though not convinced, follows his carefree instincts to take care of Bablu.

Harun organizes a day job for Bablu as a serving boy in a tea café. In weekends Bablu accompanied Harun to maidan (Central Green at Kolkata) where Harun shows his juggling tricks to earn his living. Bablu happily helps him works like an assistant to him. Gradually their bond grows stronger. One day Shyamlal & Raghunath visit the same tea café and spots Bablu and revives their kidnapping plan. They stalk Bablu but Harun discovers their motive. Shyamlal’s attacks the duo at maidan, but they manage to escape. While traveling on the taxi, Bablu regains his lost memory.

Meantime Bablu’s dad, impatient with the police’s inactivity, announces a cash reward. When Harun arrives to his posh mansion, Bablu’s dad gets furious to know Bablu was made to do petty job. Disgruntled, he insults Harun as selfish and greedy. Harun, a man with high self respect, retaliates and expresses his ignorance about the reward. The advocate refuses to believe, so Harun informs him about Bablu’s injury and leaves the house. Later the advocate repents his harshness, realizes Harun’s bigheartedness and as a redemption effort, sends Bablu to handover the cheque to Harun.  Bablu somehow he makes it to Howrah station and catches Harun while he is about to leave for Chennai to join a circus. He offers the cheque, Harun refuses saying he can’t take money for taking care of his brother. He asks Bablu to look out for the circus to arrive at Kolkata and gives his juggling balls as a parting gift. The train leaves station, Bablu looks at the leaving train.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OrMgvw9vO8&feature=PlayList&p=3B9B7E32B576765B&index=4]

My observations

  • I am not sure why I find myself to be attached so closely to this movie. May be it is associated with my childhood memories or it reminds me of yesteryears Kolkata (where I was born and brought up) or because of the sensitive script and memorable character performances. Ray’s book itself was very popular among kids as well as their parents. When the movie was made Sandip Ray could capture the essence of the book. Though, the obvious difference between reading about juggling and actually seeing it remain as complete different experiences.
  • The movie is a poignant story told in a minimalistic linear narrative. A handful of characters represented various social strata, professions and culture on 80’s Kolkata. The basic theme, like all other Ray’s works, is human relationship, which Sandip delivers with panache in his debut effort. Sandip had enough experience while working as assistant director to Ray since he was 22 and picked up many qualities of Ray’s style of storytelling.
  • Three of the actors have worked with Ray in his other films; Biplab Chatterjee (2 films), Kamu Mukherjee (2 films) and Haradhan (5 films). Kamu known as a method actor delivered an iconic performance on a negative role, in Sonar Kella. In Pahtik Chand he dominates with his powerhouse performance. It is a legend that, to play Harun’s character Kamu actually practiced and mastered juggling. Biplab’s portrayal as heartless crook Shyamlal is as good as it gets. Rajib as Bablu enacts a heart wrenching performance by his portrayal of an innocent boy in distress. Haradhan comes in only at two scenes in the movie but good enough to boost the conviction of the script.
  • Ray has always loved to snub fake spirituality, blind faith and the babaji culture. He has portrayed his stand in no lesser terms in Jai Baba Felunath (The Elephant God), Kapurush O Mahapurush (The Coward and the Holy Man) and a whole movie during later part of his carrier in Ganshatru (Enemy of the People). Ray used various elements to ridicule the superstition and spirituality, at time brutally. In Phatik Chand too, his disbelief in astrologic predictions are articulated by the accident on the same date recommended by the Astrologer. Later, when Shyamlal returns to the astrologer he mocks him by painting his face with ink and damages his office. Shyamlal’s action is a cinematic depiction of Ray’s stand on this aspect.
  • The movie beautifully captures the socio-economic essence of 80’s Kolkata. The astrologer’s fee is Rs 10. The bill of one omlette, toast and tea is Rs. 1.40 .A patron pays 10 paisa as tip which Bablu safe keeps in his pocket. The advocate reward of Rs 5000 was significant in those days. The maidan, the monument and the weekend crowd thronging to see the street games captures the simplicity of Kolkata life, in those laid back days of 80s. The Ambassador car plays an important role; many of the shots are taken while the character’s converse sitting on the spacious rear seats.
  • Bablu’s advocate dad represents the rich and sophisticated, whose larger than life ego prevents him to acknowledge the favour to someone belonging from lower social strata. On the contrary Harun, a nameless drifter is poor but rock-solid in character. He is an emblem of self-respect and affection. Harun doesn’t want a burden on him, but wants Bablu’s well being too. . He doesn’t hesitate to make up a story to the tea shop owner, that Bablu is a helpless orphan and he need to be saved from his torturous uncle.
  • Any task when accomplished with passion transcends into a delightful experience. The close up shots of juggling by Harun’s guru with the Taj as backdrop with Ray’s mesmerizing music is a cinematic highlight and hints Sandip’s grasp on the medium.
  • Like typical Ray’s stories for children the script is devoid of any woman character. Ray probably kept the women characters away from children’s literature for the sake of simplicity.

This movie, to my surprise remains as one of the least discussed in public domain. Even, I had to add this movie to many of the relevant pages in wikipedia.

Phatik Chand, to me will remain one of the best human stories among Ray’s works for children with enough food for thoughts for adults to ponder.

The DVD by Shradhdha video is available now.

The full movie in Bengali (without subtitles) can be watched in Youtube here.

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Detailed Storyline ( I want to add this in Wikipedia)

The movie opens with a scene at astrologer’s office where four goons lead by Shyamlal (Biplab Chatterjee) asks the astrologer to recommend a shubhdin (a good date) as they are going to undertake a big job. The astrologer gives them a date only 3 days away which makes Shyamlal apparently concerned. However he pays a fee of Rs 10 to him and leaves.

Later, an 11 year old boy named Bablu (Rajib Ganguly), son of an affluent and aristocratic advocate dad (Haradhan Bannerjee), gets kidnapped by four goons with the help of chloroform, while he is returning from school. The gang led by Shyamlal, put him into on a stolen Ambassador and travels towards Kaharagpur, away from Kolkata. Bablu gains consciousness and is visibly scared. Shyamlal tries to pacify him by giving him a bar of chocolate and saying they are friends and won’t do any harm to him. Shyamlal turns his pocket radio on which plays the Hindi song “……………” . All of the thugs seem to be in inebriated state including the driver. Driving on a dark road, the driver sleeps off on the wheel and the vehicle car out of control. Just as the car is about to slide off the road, Shyamlal shouts and the driver gains control over the wheel again. Few moments later, a truck comes from the opposite direction and the driver gets blinded by its headlight glare, loses control again which results into a head on collision. The truck driver pulls back and drives away from the scene.  The accident mangles the Ambassador killing the driver and one more goon, on the spot, Bablu is thrown out of the vehicle losing consciousness. Upon recovering from the shock of the accident Shyamlal and his sidekick inspects the situation and thinks Bablu is dead too.

Bablu regains consciousness and gets picked up by another truck in the morning. The truck driver takes him to a highway dhaba and tries to find out about him, but Bablu suffers a memory loss due to a head injury and could not say anything about him or the accident. Another gentleman in the dhaba observing the conversation, volunteers to take care of Bablu till Kaharagpur for a medical chaeck-up. On his car he explains that after his treatment, he would handover Bablu to the police, who would take it forward. Due to his childish fear for the cops, he flees from the Doctor’s chamber towards the station following train whistle.

He gets into a Kolkata bound train where he gets noticed by a Bohemian street juggler ( Kamu Mukherjee), who introduces himself as Harun-Al -Rashid, the badshah of juggling. Harun, seeing a young kid traveling alone, suspects something uncanny and tried to converse with Bablu. When he asks his name, Bablu recollects a name ‘Phatik Chandra Paul’ from a calendar he has seen at the Doctor’s chamber tells the same. Harun, though not convinced , being broad hearted takes up the responsibility to return the boy to his parents.

Harun realizes his cramped shanty won’t be a suitable accommodation for Bablu. He organizes a day job for Bablu as a serving boy, in a tea café, whose owner he knows to be a kind hearted man. In weekends Bablu accompanies Harun to Maidan (Central Green in Kolkata) where Harun shows his juggling tricks to earn his living. Bablu helps him collect the cash and woks like an assistant to him. Gradually the bond between them grows stronger. Harun takes Bablu to his shanty, shows his juggling possessions and tells about his past. Harun tells how he ran away from his home to land up at Taj Mahal where he meet his Guru and learnt juggling. Bablu continued his life as a boy in the tea cabin and Harun grew a brotherly affection on him. One day Shyamlal & Raghunath visit the same tea café and spots Bablu. Naturally, Bablu fails to recognize them, but they revive their kidnapping plan once again. They follow Harun and finds out his whereabouts, Harun, with his local connections quickly finds out their real identities and gets cautious. One weekend while Harun was demonstrating on maidan, Shyamlal attacks the duo. Somehow, Harun out smarts him able to escape with Bablu. While returning on a taxi, Bablu suddenly regains his lost memory.

Meantime Bablu’s dad, getting impatient with the of the police’s indolence, announces a reward towards any information on his whereabouts. When Harun reaches the posh mansion, the dad gets furious to know that Harun made Bablu work as a cabin boy. Disgruntled, he insults Harun saying he has come only for the money. Harun, a man of high self esteem, confronts the advocate, and tells him the truth- that he is not aware of the monetary award. Because Bablu was unable to tell his address he could not bring to his parents earlier. Bablu’s dad refuses to believe him and doesn’t offer him the reward. Harun informs him about Bablu’s injury and leaves the house. Later the dad repents his harshness, realizes Harun’s bigheartedness and as an effort of redemption, sends a cheque with bablu to Harun.

Bablu rushes to Harun’s place finds it locked and remembers Harun has planned to go to Chennai to join a circus. He somehow makes it to Howrah station and catches Harun as the train is about to leave. He offers the cheque, Harun refuses is saying he can’t take money for taking care of his brother. He asks Bablu to look out for the circus to arrive at Kolkata and gifts a set of Juggling balls as a parting gift. The train leaves station, Bablu looks at the leaving train.

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Comments»

1. gauri - Monday, 20 April, 2009

You know what – thank you! Just the other day I was asking someone to recommend some good Ray movies to me (outside the widely known Apu trilogy/Charulata/Goopy gayen etc.). I’ll look out for the ones you mentioned. If you have some good non-kid movies to recommend, that would be nice too! Thanks, fe.

g
…………….
~uh~: You are Welcome 🙂
Well whatever i guess about your taste, from our discussions on movies, I would recommend ‘Sonar Kella’, it’s a detective Feluda story, extremely well made from cinematic perspective.
For non-kid ( though i think his kids movies are no less entertainer for adults)
Do try more chic Jana Aranya (The Middleman) and Simabadhdha (Company Limited) both set on urban socio-corporate culture, applicable anywhere in India, even today.
One of his most deep and ahead of its time work is ‘Kanchenjungha’ but you should watch it after ‘Charulata’.
And of course his period classic ‘Satranj Ki Khiladi’ (The Chess Players) in urdu.
Will love to know what you think after watching.

2. Abha - Wednesday, 22 April, 2009

🙂

its amazing how much detailing you are able to go into! great review!

and here’s a tag to show us your aur ek side!

http://amateurabe.blogspot.com/2009/04/21-months-at-80-clicks.html

cheers!

~uh~: Ray & detail are inseparable.
Interesting tag there 😉

3. gauri - Tuesday, 28 April, 2009

Hey thanks! I looked for Jana Aranya long ago; then forgot about it. Hopefully I get access to these. Will let you know for sure!

g

~uh~™ - Tuesday, 28 April, 2009

Please do. Would love to see your views.

4. witsnnuts - Thursday, 25 June, 2009

i ll make it a point to see this movie in my lifetime..
script is simply superb .. 🙂

Thanks 🙂
……………………..
~uh~: The subtitled DVD is out now. You can see find the movie on Youtube too (w/o subtitles). Link given in post.

5. Soham Banerjee - Tuesday, 15 September, 2009

I found the movie on youtube. I didn’t know the DVD of this film existed ! Will raid BigFlix the next time I’m in India. Yours is one of a handful of writings on the net on what I feel is one of Ray’s best stories. I first read this story when I was, maybe, 10 years old, and have read it innumerable times after that. Every time, my eyes fill up when Haroun says ‘Bhai ke firiye diye ki keu taka nei’….
………………………….
~uh~™: You know what? Comment like yours make it worth writing on them and keeps my fire of motivation burning. Thanks for that.
Phatikchand is part of our growing up and we must be proud of it.

6. Debanjan Bose - Wednesday, 21 November, 2012

Just a little bit of correction there. Ray has worked with Kamu in 4 previous occasions. His first movie was Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne ( as a village announcer), next was Nayak (as a co passenger in the train), then came Sonar Kella (as the brilliant thug Mandar Bose.

The most interesting case is as the knife thrower Arjun in Joy Baba Felunath. Knife Throwing and Jugglery were both part of a regular Sunday act at the Maidan in Kolkata. It has been noted that Ray used to frequently visit the Maidan on Sundays for research purposes. He had also once written an article on the plethora of activities on a Sunday maidan. I have not found that yet, though.
………………………
~uh~™:Thanks for the comment and the anecdote. Appreciate 🙂


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