As the scene proceeds Sanjay (Subhendu) is shown to read the book. It is the same book by Sunil Gangopadhyay which the film has been inspired. Aranyer Din Ratri shows four friends set out to have complete fun and to break away from the monotony of their city life. The pristine nature completely woos them. The first sign which establishes their completely disconnected from the human civilisation is the burning of newspaper by Shekhar (Rabi Ghosh). The simple incidents signify a lot in Aranyer Din Ratri. At night they drink 'mahua' and get drunk at a local liquor shop. As they talk the frustrations and anxieties in their lives are revealed slowly. While Asim (Soumitra) feels claustrophobic in his corporate world, Hari (Shamit Bhanja) has gone through a heart break when his girlfriend (Aparna Sen) dumped him on a flimsy ground.
While they are vacationing in the forest they come across a family that has been living there. The family consists of Sadashiv Tripathi (Pahari Sanyal), his daughter, Aparna (Sharmila Tagore), his widowed daughter-in-law, Jaya (Kaveri Bose) and Jaya's little son. In most of Satyajit Ray's films women are often shown in better light than men. It is same with Aranyer Din Ratri. Inspite of being city bred the indifference with which they treat the local tribes is condemnable. Asim does not think twice about the sick wife of the caretaker and neither does Hari while charging the local tribesman with theft. Rather it is Aparna who points out their indifference towards the end of the film to Asim.
Satyajit Ray also shows how corruption seeps in through these four city men. It is the city that brings corruption to the heart of the virgin forests. Wilderness in itself is in its pure form, absolutely untainted by the decadence of urbanism. While Hari pays Dhuli (Simi Garewal) for physical relationship, Asim bribes the caretaker so that they live in the forest bungalow without prior booking. On the other hand Shekhar is a compulsive gambler and Sanjay lacks the courage to get intimate with a woman just because she is a widow and, of course, mother of a child. The subtlety with which Ray puts these notions across is simply superb. Aranyer Din Ratri is truly one of the signature films of Satyajit Ray.
On the surface level Aranyer Din Ratri seems light hearted which deals with four friends who spend their holiday in a forest and have fun while one of them falls in love. But behind this lucid form Satyajit Ray explores several themes that interwoven into a single script. The rapid flow of events makes the film more interesting. Aranyer Din Ratri did not do well at the box office and Ray once commented in an interview ruefully, "… the film is about so many things, that's the trouble. People want just one theme, which they can hold in their hands."
Ray's masterstroke in the film comes with the fact that the audience does not look disdainfully at the characters. Rather they sympathise with them. Asim is an egoist and in the last scenes when he and Aparna speak their hearts out it feels like that the man can be given another chance after all. The feeling is the same for other three men as well. Hari is, probably, a tad bit better than them as he always speaks his own mind. There is no hypocrisy in him.
The most memorable scene in Aranyer Din Ratri is the picnic sequence when all the six characters are together in the middle of the forest. They play a memory game where every character is to say the name of a personage and recall the names others have said. It is this game that reveals the intellect as well as the characteristic of all the characters. Aparna is the most intelligent of them all but is sensitive towards the feelings as well. Asim is an egoist. Ray also drops in the hint here that four people are attracted to each other (Asim and Aparna; Sanjay and Jaya). The sequence is an absolutely brilliant piece of cinema.
Aranyer Din Ratri ends with a hint that a long standing relation would develop between Asim and Aparna. As they leave the forest bungalow there is a letter and a breakfast box from the ladies. The men return to city with vital lessons that the wilderness has taught them.
As far as the performances are concerned each and every character seems to be etched out for that very role. Soumitra is so convincing in his role of a hypocrite Asim. Sharmila is all elegance as the well read Aparna. Subhendu Chatterjee's character lacks backbone and Jaya (Kaberi Bose) feels stifled leading a widow's life. She misses the presence of a man in her life. Rabi Ghosh, one of Ray's favourite actors is perfect in the role of a funny and easy going Shekhar. A special mention must be made about Simi Garewal who plays the role of a Santhali woman. Being attractive she knows how to entice of men. No amount of warnings from his friends or the caretaker stops Hari from getting intimate with her.
Forest is a recurring image in Ray's films. It is there in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Shakha Prosakha and, of course, in Aranyer Din Ratri. The jungle here is as much important as its leading characters. The refinement with which Aranyer Din Ratri was made has put it in the league of some of the greatest Bengali films that had been or ever will be made. Although Aranyer Din Ratri was made in 1970s its timelessness lies in its theme and the treatment of that theme by a great maestro.
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