Abhijan was Satyajit Ray’s most popular film in Bengal: a “conscious” effort to communicate with a wider audience. The project was originally conceived by his friends and Ray stepped in when they panicked at the prospect of directing. Ray’s mastery turned a starkly conventional plot into a subtly nuanced story which topped the Bengali box office for months.
Set on the Bihar-Bengal border, where Marwari businessmen — a powerful Hindi-dialect community of entrepreneurs much disliked throughout India — and Rajputs of warrior caste (from Rajasthan) have both settled. The central character of Narsingh (Soumitra Chatterjee), is a disillusioned, frequently drunken Rajput reduced in status to an ill-educated taxi driver. Proud and hot-tempered, with a passion for his 1930s Chrysler, Narsingh is offered work transporting tins of ghee for Sukhanram, a shady merchant, and finds himself drawn against his better judgement into trafficking opium. Having failed in everything honest, he has to decide whether or not he will engage in criminal activity to make money.
Starring Waheeda Rehman — one of the greatest stars of ‘Bollywood’ cinema — as Gulabi, a prostitute; Rabi Ghosh as Rama, Narsingh’s right-hand man; and Ruma Guha Thakurata as Neeli, Abhijan was honoured with the National Award of India in 1962. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Abhijan for the first time on DVD in the West, restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Academy Film Archive.