Mrinal Sen’s haunting self critical classic “Akaler Shandaney” (1982) starring Smita Patil, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sreela Majumdar, Rajen Tarafdar, a timeless cult classic.
Its a film within a film in the sense that a film unit goes into a village to shoot a movie about the great Bengal famine of 1943 killing more than 5 million people. The Director Dhritiman is a thinking sort of person ready to listen to the others point of view. They settle into an old decrepit run down mansion in which the owner is staying in one room tendering to her bed ridden husband.
Smita Patil plays the role of a housewife in the famine movie with sons and husband to take care of. The husband and his father do not want to part with their piece of land for Rs.50 (believe it or not) because they have pride in the land. Smita has to resort to other means by visiting a local contractor to get rice for the family. Ultimately all the villagers leave the village with their belongings on their head but at one point Smita turns around, looks at the village she is leaving by and breaks down and cries uncontrollably.
Meanwhile the film unit has an usual star problem with one lady star deciding to cut her hair, do her eyebrows which is not suited for a famine stricken women she is playing at. After some tantrums she leaves the unit in a huff, which renders them critically short of one actor. There is one lady Durga (Sreela Majumdar) who works in the film unit, sweeping floors and making tea and earning Rs.7 per day and one time meal. While she is watching the scene being enacted by Smita in which her husband is threatening to pick up the kid and throw it down, Durga suddenly reacts with alarm. Her husband has no job having lost his arm in a factory accident and she has a baby to take care of. Both these women, Durga and the other lady caring for her bed stricken husband are survivors of the great Bengal famine.
While scouting for a replacement actor in the vital part, Rajen Tarafdar suggests one village damsel who is apparently quite smart and suitable for the role. But when the girl’s father listens to the plot and the part that his daughter has to play that of a prostitute, he suddenly backs off, blaming the film unit for disgracing their lives. The villagers, thereafter, are up in arms against the film unit and they ultimately have to leave the village without completing the full shooting. The headmaster of the local village school reminds all the villagers of how they have profited from the famine.
In the last scene, the headmaster of the local village school tells the director that the fault is with both the parties. The villagers with their selfishness, greed, ignorance and the film makers with their inability to understand the sensitivities of the rural people. The dice is brilliantly thrown both sides by Mrinal Sen. For eg. there is one scene in which the film unit goes to the local village market and buys off all the vegetables and fruits for which a local villager accuses them of creating a mini famine. There is another scene in which the film unit people play games with photos of the dead people from famines or tragedies from different eras. So its like a brutally self critical film brilliantly made by Mrinal Sen.
Of the cast, Smita Patil, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rajen Tarafdar and Sreela Majumdar have acted quite brilliantly.