We live in a materialised world where our lives revolve around technology. From reading books to means of communication, every little aspect of our lives is slowly being controlled by the machinery we build. Yes, technology has its perks, in someway or the other it has made our lives much easier. Yet, there is a big downside to our tech-savvy lives. Einstein once predicted that technology will surpass human interaction. And much like Einstein, Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak shared his concerns over modernism and portrayed the relationship between a man and material through his 1958 film Ajantrik.
This comedy drama of Ritwik Ghataks was one of earliest Bengali films to portray an inanimate object as a major character of a film. It is also regarded as one of the first attempts of a Bengali science fiction cinema. The film is a quirky story of one man's (Bimal) undying love for his car, a 1920's Chevrolet, affectionately referred to as Jagaddhal. Bimal (played by Kali Banerjee) is a taxi driver in a provincial town. He lives alone and his Chevrolet serves as his only companion and is also the apple of Bimal's eye. Ajantrik showcases the episodes of Bimal's life in an industrial wasteland, delivering people from one place to another. It is said that Ghatak has procrastinated over the story for twelve long years before making it into a full length cinema.
Ritwik Ghatak predicted that industrialism would have its draw backs in a newly partitioned country. Ajantrik sets as a perfect example of how he tried to deal with his devastation on the partition and what industrialising the newly born country meant through just a comedy filled relationship between a man and his machine. On the most basic level of understanding the film, Ghatak injected the car with a riotous personality which symbolised wider ideas including technology, the 'machine age' and above all, rapid modernisation.
Ghatak is said to be ahead of his time. Though most of his films were box office flops, including Ajantrik; people now see the different layers his films carried. For example, in Ajantrik, Bimal is seen talking to his car and not just random about random things, but have actual serious discussions. At that time it was something the audience could not relate to. Now let's think of this from our perspective, considering time and age. Every tech enthusiasts knows about Siri, a computer programme working as an intelligent personal assistant. One can ask Siri anything and it would respond with an answer. There're records of people spending hours talking to Siri, and not just asking about the weather, but having actual discussions. Now can it be said that Ghatak predicted this exact scenario through his adaptation. It might vary from audience to audience, but there's no doubt that Ghatak saw the approach of this circumstance.
Another aspect of the story is how Bimal takes care of his car. Quite often, he forgets about others' presences or his earthly duties, but concentrates wholly on the well being of the Chevrolet. Such a scenario is quite familiar nowadays, where people will risk even their lives just to protect their cell phones, laptops or cars. There have been situations where people have even gotten killed or hurt by muggers for not giving up their gadgets. Yes, technology is expensive, and some store a lot of personal information which can be valuable. The question, though, remains- is it something worth risking your life over?
Though technology gave us a lot, it also took a lot away. Human interaction is decreasing day by day. Or the personal touch of hand written letters are replaced by rapid emails. Industrialisation was aimed to make our lives simple. After all these years, we ask – has it done exactly that? That is still debatable. Nonetheless Ritwik Ghatak's Ajantrik might give some interesting answers to this question.