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aka The Hero 1966 120’ b&w Bengali d/s/m Satyajit Ray p R.D. Bansal pc R.D.B. c Subrata Mitra lp Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Bireshwar Sen, Soumyen Bose, Nirmal Ghosh, Premangshu Bose, Sumita Sanyal, Ranjit Sen, Bharati Devi, Lali Choudhury, Kamu Mukherjee, Sushmita Mukherjee, Subrata Sen Sharma, Jamuna Sinha, Hiralal, Jogesh Chatterjee, Satya Bannerjee, Gopal Dey

Ray’s first original script since Kanchanjungha (1962) seems inspired by Bergman’s Smullstronstallet (1957) and uses an ensemble piece with the structure of a suspense plot: a group of characters interact during a 24-hour train journey between Calcutta and Delhi. The film is dominated by its insecure male lead, movie megastar Arindam Mukherjee (played by Bengali megastar Uttam Kumar). In nightmares he drowns in a sea of banknotes amid jangling telephones operated by skeletons. On the train, he tells his story to Aditi (Tagore), the sexy but severe (her intelligence is signalled conventionally by her glasses, her beauty equally conventionally by having her remove her glasses) editor of a women’s magazine. In the end, she destroys her notes because journalists should respect the privacy even of film stars. As in Kanchanjungha, the bizarre protagonist, the dream sequences and the flashbacks constantly suggest an impending dramatic event: e.g. the tensely edited sequence in which he gets drunk, contemplates suicide, gets the attendant to call Aditi, starts confessing to her about his affair with a married woman, etc. The presence of a small set of bit players, including an advertising man, a religious guru (Bannerjee) who wants to advertise his business, an old writer who sees the hero as exemplifying contemporary decadence and a businessman with his family, are typical of the whodunit ploy of creating a small but varied set of potential murder suspects. Here, unlike Kanchanjungha or the film that would use the format with greater skill, Aranyer Din Ratri (1969), the ‘clues’ to the unfolding drama point not to a crime but to a notion of cultural identity hidden in verbal, gestural and dress nuances (e.g. when Aditi gets off the train, Arindam puts on his dark sunglasses again). Ray made his first real thriller the following year, Chidiakhana (1967).