Day before yesterday I watched the Bengali film, Aranyer Din Ratri – Days and Nights in the Forest (1970) online (on you tube). I rarely watch movies online but Days and Nights in the Forest was screaming at to me to be watched, thus finally I did and it was absolutely worth it.

Satyajit Ray's Aranyer Din Ratri (1970)

Days and Nights in the Forest
Days and Nights in the Forest, is a brilliant Indian art house movie to come out of the state of Bengal, India. Bollywood is famed for it’s commercial Hindi films, but when it comes to thought provoking art films, Bengal offers the best (Be it in their own language, i.e. Bengali, or in English).
Directed by the veteran Satyajit Ray, Days and Nights in the Forest is a very interesting character study of various young people of modern India (India of the late 60’s) within two social strata’s.
The movie begins with four well to do middle class men from Calcutta, Bengal, India; who travel up north to a forest, mainly inhibited by a tribal community, in the state of Bihar, on a holiday. Their plan is to enjoy themselves with alcohol and the local tribal women, and not bother to shave and live by city rules, and to avoid associating their own social circles, for those few days. But their hypocrisy is soon revealed, when early next day one of them spots two sophisticated ladies through his window. As he happily runs and wakes up his friends to share what he just witnessed, he states, one in a ‘sari’ and the other in ‘slacks’. This attire itself signifying the ladies’ higher social status as opposed to the village tribal women’s attire.
Thus, shunning all plans of disregarding city rules, the men shave and bathe to look more presentable to vie for the attention of the two more elegant females residing in the neighbouring lodge, rather than stick to their original intention of going wild in the wild.
The men, all clean and dressed, venture forth to introduce themselves, except for Hari (Samit Bhanja), who recently being ditched by his classy girlfriend (Aparna Sen), lusts for the affection of a mouthy tribal woman, Duli (Simi Garewal), instead. The others are invited by an older gentleman, Sadashiv Tripathi (Pahadi Sanyal) who happens to be the father and father-in-law of the two ladies in question; and soon Hari joins in as well.

Three very varied bold women
The four men in this movie themselves are quite varied characters.
Ashim (Soumitra Chatterjee) happens to be a bit of a flirt, yet a man with a conscience, and is especially conscious of how he is perceived by others; while we see Sanjoy (Shubhendu Chatterjee) who happens to be a poet, literary advocate and a bit of a leftist (in the late 60’s a lot of young modernist were influenced by communistic propaganda); then there’s Hari (Samit Bhanja), a somewhat brash and quite lethargic, yet straightforward, individual, who’s not so happy about the fact that a woman dared to dump him (i.e. his ex-girlfriend mentioned above, a nameless character played by Aparna Sen); and finally there’s Shekar (Rabi Gosh), who happens to be a jobless gambler and a bit of a comical character, a jester (more laugh at him, than with him, kind of jester), who seems to be the happiest of them all, with no conscience and not a care in the world, yet a good hearted character.
But the variations in the psychological characteristics of the three women, all bold feminist in their own way, is way more vast and not easy to decipher, neither for the four men nor us, the viewer, until towards the end of the film.

Sharmila Tagore as Aparna

Sharmila Tagore as Aparna

Sharmila Tagore plays Aparna, the daughter of Sadashiv Tripathi. When the four men enter the threshold of the neighbouring lodge and are introduced to her by her father, she politely says hello, but seems reserved and doesn’t seem interested in socialising with them. Instead she sits in a corner reading a book, while her father, sister-in-law, and little nephew entertain the guests. Yet she politely answers what ever questions the men throw at her, and then gets back to her reading. Here we see her being anti-social, but at the same time she’s not being rude either. Soon three of the men and her sister-in-law decide to play badminton. Aparna is left alone with Ashim, who seems to have developed an infatuation for her.
Her father asks her to show Ashim the unfinished building which she uses for her meditation and recreation. Ashim is in awe when he sees her library containing books as diverse as Agatha Christie mysteries to non fictional books like The Survival of God in the Scientific World, and of her good taste in music too (from her collection of vinyl records) which is as diverse as her taste in books, from classical music to popular music. He can’t seem to keep up with her level of intellect, and starts to develop an inferiority complex, and finds it difficult make her out. She seems kind, friendly and nice, yet aloof. Even when she tells him, that her mother and brother have passed away, she never betrays the how and why of the tragic circumstances that lead to their demise. She smiles, and shares her intelligence, but doesn’t openly display any sign of pain or unhappiness that she might be feeling.

The Three Female Leads

Kaberi Bose plays Jaya, a widow, a mother, Mr. Tripathi’s daughter-in-law, and Aparna’s sister-in-law. She seems fun loving, friendly, moved on with her life despite a past tragedy that beset her.
Simi Garewal plays Duli, a bold tribal woman, who seemingly willingly agrees to do anything the city folk want her to do for money, from cleaning house to other services.
All three women put up a bold exterior, without publicly exposing their true emotions of loss, longing and loneliness.

The Memory Game
I won’t divulge every single detail about the movie, and there are whole lot of happenings in the movie, but I would like discuss many essential aspects of the film. And the picnic sequence (especially ‘The Memory Game’ they play) happens to be one of the best and crucial scenes of Days and Nights in the Forest.

Days and Nights in the Forest (1970) picnic
After the four friends meet their new neighbours, they are invited by Jaya for the Breakfast the following morning. But owing to a drunken escapade the night before (a recurring occurrence in the life of the four men), they wake up too late next morning and find their breakfast sitting outside with a note. Embarrassed, the four friends apologise and invite their new friends to their place for a sort of picnic. Since Mr. Tripathi and his little grandson, on the insistence of the child, have already made plans to go and see the circus, just the two ladies attend.
At the picnic Jaya suggests playing ‘The Memory Game’, in which, apparently, Aparna is really good at. The Memory Game comprises of each individual stating a name of some well known personality; and as they go around each person has to say all the names said before and add a name of his or her own, without breaking the rhythm. The names have to be said in the chronological order. What is interesting is each name added by the said individual represents his or her own personality. For example Sanjoy, who veers more towards communist attitudes says names like Karl Marx, Mao Tse Tung etc etc… ; while Aparna, says names like Cleopatra, reflecting her own feminist intellectual non submissive roots, and Bobby Kennedy, famed for his advocacy for the African American civil rights movement, reflecting on her open-minded attitude. As the game goes around, people make mistakes and fall ‘out’, meanwhile Hari drops out loosing interest. Ultimately only Ashim and Aparna are left. Ashim, desperate to win is very careful, not wanting to seem inferior to Aparna, in front of whom he’s managed to embarrass himself a number of times. Detecting his fear Aparna, lets Ashim win the game. But, aware that she got out on purpose, it only adds to Ashim’s inferiority complex.

The Carnivalesque situation  
This segment in about the Carnivalesque situation of disruption and celebration that happens at the same time, literally, in the finalé of Days and Nights in the Forest.
After the picnic, by evening, they all go to the village Carnival that’s taking place that same day. This is where the films most climatic situation ensues. All the friends split and immerse themselves into the carnival. The comical gambler, Shekar, goes off to gamble away with his friends’ money; Ashim and Aparna separated from the group, walk off together, where we see Ashim’s torture at being constantly feeling inferior to Aparna, but here we also see Aparna share her more vulnerable side, which wasn’t easy to detect earlier. She confides in him about the fact that as a child she witnessed her mother burn to death, and that her brother’s death was actually suicide, leaving behind his wife Jaya and son. At the same time she confronts Ashim about his ignorance and indifference relating to the illness of the wife of the gatekeeper at the lodge the men are currently residing in. (Earlier in the movie, in more than one instance the gatekeeper mentions that his wife is ill). Aparna takes Ashim to a small hut, where we see the gatekeepers bedridden wife, and a child crying can be heard as well. Ashim admits he had no idea that she was in such a grave condition. Aparna points out their urban insensitivity. Despite spending three days at the lodge, and the gatekeeper more than once having mentioned his wife was ill, none of the four men bothered to find out how seriously ailing she was. Meanwhile we see Duli, the tribal woman, being dragged into the forest by Hari. Yet once there, she seems to be willing to satisfy his lust, so long as she gets paid. Here we learn that she too is a widow, and that her husband died due to a snake bite. Hari is seen threatening her, that he’ll hit her if she doesn’t see him again. She agrees without a fight. The sad thing is, she actually believes he has a right to treat her this way, not just because of her low cast, but also cause she is a woman. At the same time, Jaya takes Sanjoy home for coffee. Her father-in law and son have not returned. Whilst he’s drinking his coffee, Jaya has changed her clothes. We see, her dolled up, and in what appears to be a colourful sari (in this Black/white film), all decked up in jewellery. She tries to seduce him, and makes him feel her heartbeat, letting us see her longings and loneliness. Here we start to sympathise with her, seeing her unexpected weaker side. She laughs and cries at the same time. Sanjoy is shocked when she states her husband died by committing suicide. When asked why, she seemingly nonchalantly states, who knows? He must have had some problems.
Meanwhile, a man, who was falsely accused of stealing Hari’s wallet earlier in the movie, takes his revenge in the forest, after witnessing Hari’s escapade with Duli.

ON The Sets 1969 (Cast and crew on location)
Ultimately, By the end of the film, by the time the four friends head back home, we see them all changed. Each more mature than before, each individual having improved as a person after spending a few Days and Nights in the Forest.

All the actors are brilliant in their performance, especially Sharmila Tagore as Aparna. But the most unexpected exceptional role seen here is that of Duli, the tribal woman, by actress Simi Garewal.

An excellent movie. The last Satyajit Ray film I watched was Nayak (1966), and that was almost a decade ago. I loved that movie back then, but I think I like Aranyer Din Ratri – Days and Nights in the Forest (1970), even more.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense
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D&NITF (70')

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