DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE EXPEDITION (ABHIJAN) (director/writer: Satyajit Ray; screenwriter: story by Tarashankar Banerjee; cinematographer: Soumendu Roy; editor:  Dulal Dutta; music:  Satyajit Ray; cast: Waheeda Rehman (Gulabi), Soumitra Chatterjee (Narsingh), Ruma Guha Thakurta (Neeli), Gyanesh Mukhopadhyay (Josef), Robi Ghosh (Rama), Shekhar Chattopadhyay (Rameshwar), Reba Devi (Joseph's Mother), Charuprakash Ghosh (Sukhanram), Abani Mukhopadhyay (Lawyer); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Botha Nath Roy; Angel; 1962--India--in Bengali with English subtitles)

"Weaves a trite commercial film action story but is rescued from its ordinariness by the director's usual humanistic touches."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the lesser films of Satyajit Ray ("Charulata"/"The Music Room"/"The Chess Players"), that weaves a trite commercial film action story but is rescued from its ordinariness by the director's usual humanistic touches. It's adapted by Ray from a story by Tarashankar Banerjee, and is filmed in B/W. It plays best as a character study of a volatile, unsympathetic character, who reforms when he falls in love with a virtuous schoolteacher he cannot have and the secular warrior becomes religious to ape her recent conversion to the Catholic faith in multicultural India.

Taxi driver Singh (Soumitra Chatterjee), driving a vintage 1930 Chrysler, loses his taxi license when recklessly passing on the road a local political bigwig. As a result, Singh moves to a small town that borders the states of Bengal and Bihar. Here Singh, embittered over a recent divorce and that he as a proud member of the Rajput warrior caste is forced to mingle with lower-class castes, gets hired by the shady merchant Sukhanram (Charuprakash Ghosh) to transport opium. He also falls madly in love with reserved Catholic schoolteacher Neeli (Ruma Guha Thakurta), who is committed to marrying a crippled. Changing his wild ways in the presence of Neeli, a changed Singh helps her elope with the crippled.

Meanwhile Singh sells his valued vintage car to partner with Sukhanram and his crooked lawyer (Abani Mukhopadhyay) friend in the smuggling racket. But when confronted by his loyal assistant Rama (Robi Ghosh) and Neeli's earnest Catholic brother Josef (Gyanesh Mukhopadhyay), he reacts against his partner's white slavery operation and acts to free the prostitute Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman, Bollywood superstar).

This commercial film, the artistic director's most mainstream film, one that Ray never intended to direct, his friend Bijoy Chatterjee was supposed to but bowed out after one day on the set thinking he was not the person to direct this melodramatic story. It  was ironically Ray's biggest box-office success in his native Bengal.

REVIEWED ON 3/29/2014       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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