Starring Mithun Chakraborty, Mamata Shankar, Robert Wright, Sajal Roy Chowdhury, Sadhu Mehar, Gyanesh Mukherjee, Anoop Kumar, Samit Bhanja, Ann Wright

This was Mithun Chakraborty’s debut film that won him the National Award for Best Actor and the maker the Best Film Award, as also the Filmfare trophy apart from a nomination for Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1977. Based on “Shikar” — a story about tribal exploitation by Bhagbati Charan Panigrahi, scripted by Mohit Chattopadhyay and Arun Kaul with music by Salil Chowdhury and cinematography by K.K. Mahajan for producer Rajeshwara Rao under the banner of Udaya Bhaskar International, it was Mrinal Sen’s mid-career venture in colour.

The allegorical story set in the 1930s about of a group of simple tribals in an Orissa village with echoes of the Santhal revolt in the background (but actually location shot in village Masaanjore in Bihar) operates at various levels. It is the story of Ghinua, a sharp-shooter-archer (Mithun Chakraborty) who shares a passion for hunting with the middle-aged British administrator (Robert Wright) who offers him a reward for every wild head. On another level it is the exploitation by the local moneylender, Govind Sardar (Sajal Roy Chowdhry), who gets away unscathed with every offence, including assaulting women and kidnapping Ghinua’s wife, Dhungri (Mamta Shankar) for inability to return a loan. To avenge her honour, Ghinua kills him and carries his head to the administrator, claiming he had hunted down the most savage beast in the area. He is hanged for the killing, even though it was an act under rage, leading to a question mark in his eyes because he had not distinguished between a predator and a wild animal.

A lot more had been perceived in the narrative since it was made during the Emergency and touched upon sensitive issues of strict imposition, at times unequal, of law and order — as evident in the case of the falsely implicated Sholpu; the tribal chief ending his long drawn provocative speech with “We’re impotent, impotent, impotent”; and the climax when the visual merges in end titles, which is not part of the story but an outcry of the filmmaker’s own political agenda. A lot of events and not necessarily merging situations have been added that dilute the slow movement further. The story unfolds with random shots of tree felling, etc, a scene of pigs destroying the standing crop and the entry of a local moneylender to establish a connectivity. On another level it deals with a young revolutionary supported by the locals, Sholpu (Samit Bhanja), who despite the village support gets cornered and killed through betrayal for unjustified reasons, though rewarded by the administration.

Although far less stylised than his earlier films, the narrative moves at a slow pace resulting in diluting the impact of some highly dramatic scenes. Salil Chowdhury’s music is a letdown — the use of Santhali incongruous music is jarring, especially in the prolonged dance-drama sequence; the long-drawn identification parade; the endless walk through the corridor as Sardar walks followed by cops; the highly symbolic scene of Ghinua aiming an arrow at a bottle swaying in the air while the scene shifts to an earlier uprising; the court room sequence; the pre-climax tribal rising shots; the love-making sequence between Ghinua and Dhungri.

Mithun hardly looks a debutant, and excels in intense scenes while Mamta is a bundle of nerves. Amongst others Sadhu Mehar as Dora, Samit Bhanja as Sholpu and Sajal Roy Chowdhury as moneylender perform competently.

Mahajan’s cinematography is in keeping with the restricted possibilities as most of the film is shot in the same outdoors, especially in the sequence where Ghinua is on hunt and Dhungri follows him through the forest cover, or little village vignettes. The story, understandably, had the makings of a great socio-political, and had Sen stuck to the straight narrative method, it would have worked both with the audience and the discerning.

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