Agantuk (1992)

A delightful story of how the arrival of a stranger challenges a family's beliefs, trust and values.

7/5/20234 min read

Utpal Dutta and Mamta Shankar in Ray's 'Agantuk'
Utpal Dutta and Mamta Shankar in Ray's 'Agantuk'

Bengali, 120 mins, 1992

Now showing on Youtube

Director: Satyajit Ray

Cast: Utpal Dutta, Mamta Shankar, Deepankar De, Robi Ghosh, Dhritiman Chatterjee

Awards: National Film Award, India, for Best Film and Best Director, 1992

A long lost maternal uncle, Manomohan Mitra , who had abandoned home, more than 30 years back, wants to return and spend some time with his niece in Kolkata, India. He sends her a letter informing them about his decision. This sets cat among pigeons because his niece, Anila Bose (Mamta Shankar) was a kid when he left and now doesn’t remember him. Her husband, Sudhindra Bose (Deepankar De) so is suspicious about who this person is? Is he really the person he is claiming to be or is he an imposter? Even if he is genuinely his wife’s uncle, what prompted him to come back now, after so many years? The niece, Anila, however is convinced that he is her uncle and he is coming here because he genuinely wants to spend some time with his niece as he has claimed in his letter.

The D-day arrives and the uncle (Utpal Dutta) arrives. He is welcomed by Anila and her son. Her husband is at office. His refined behavior, his language and warmth displayed convinces her that he indeed is her uncle. To quell husband’s doubts, the uncle produces his passport without him asking for it and yet says that “this passport proves nothing”, because you can procure duplicate passport from anywhere. This again deepens the mystery in Sudhindra’s mind.

He calls one of his lawyer friends, Prithwish (Dhritiman Chatterjee) to unravel the truth and objective behind his sudden love for his niece. The friend comes and the discussion assumes a kind of investigative tone. However, this discussions reveals the deep knowledge about the world, society and civilization in general, the uncle has gained over the years during his travels across the globe. Irked at not being able to get to the truth, Prithwish directly confronts the uncle, saying how his visit has put this couple in tight spot because the couple doesn’t know him at all and is not aware about why is he visiting them. The uncle gets disturbed by this revealation and is quiet. He leaves in the morning without telling anybody.

Sudhindra and Anila feel guilty and make enquiries. They learn that he is visiting nearby tribal settlement. They approach him and request him to come back. He does come back and after few days gets ready to leave for Australia. While leaving he gives an envelope to Sudhindra and asks him to open only after he is gone. The opening of the envelope becomes a profound moment for the Bose family.

The film shows why Satyajit Ray was regarded all over the world as a master filmmaker. The deep understanding of the wrorld, importance of human values and the dangers of the haphazard evolution of this civilization is brought forth by the master through the character of Manomohan Mitra, the wanderer uncle. Ray uses tribal civilization as his starting point and explores the issues of family and trust in contemporary civilized world.

The film is Satyajit Ray’s last movie which was produced by NFDC (National Film Development corporation), India and Gerard Depardieu’s production company DD Productions. The film actually was fifth highest grossing film in France that year.

About the director, Satyajit Ray

Born in May, 1921 at Calcutta, British India, Ray was a complete maestro in real sense. He donned so many hats over the years with ease and aplomb and yet made 36 films over a carrier spanning more than 40 years in the film industry. He was film director, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, author, essayist, lyricist, magazine editor, illustrator, calligrapher, and music composer. He even sang few lines for lead actor in this film Agantuk.

He studied at Ballygunge Government High school in Calcutta and completed his BA in Economics from Presidency College, University of Calcutta. For higher studies in Art, Ray got admitted to Visva Bharti University at Shantiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. However, he dropped out of art course because he didn’t like becoming painter.

After dropping out of college, Ray joined as junior visualizer at D. J. Keymer, a British Advertisig agency at Calcutta. His initiation in commercial art started in this firm. He was sent for six months’ training to London where Ray saw lot of films. But the famous film ‘Bicycle thieves’ had a lasting impression on him and he decided then to become a filmmaker some day. Later he resigned from the company and started working at ‘Signet Press’ where he truly evolved as commercial illustrator. He became a good typographer and in demand book- jacket designer there due to complete freedom given by company owner, D. K. Gupta. He designed book jackets for many famous works including Jim Corbett’s ‘Man eaters of Kumaon’ and Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’.

These were the formative years for Satyajit Ray as he befriended many individuals, due to mutual affinity towards films, who later became well- known figures in Film business like Bansi Chandragupta (Art Director), Chidanand Dasgupta (Film Critic). With these and many others, Ray formed Calcutta film society in 1947 which would screen a lot of foreign films in. In 1949, Jean Renoir came to Calcutta to shoot his film ‘The River’ and Ray helped him with various resources. Ray broached him the idea of making ‘Pather Panchali’ based on a novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay by same name. Jean Renoir encouraged him.

Ray’s fist film ‘Pather Panchali’, eventually was made in 1955, which won eleven international prizes, including the inaugural Best Human Document award at the Cannes Film Festival that year. He later followed up with the character ‘Apu’ of ‘pather Panchali’ and made two films ‘Aparajito’ (1956) and ‘Apur Sansar’ (1959). The three films are regarded as ‘ Apu trilogy’ by the film fraternity. ‘Aparajito’ won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. He made many films which were received well all over the world but the film which almost all acknowledge as his greatest work is ‘Charulata’ which won Ray, Silver Bear at Berlin international film festival (1964).

Amongst his other important works like, ’Jalsaghar’ ‘Ghare Baire’, ‘Shakha Proshakha’ ‘Mahanagar’ and ‘Ganashatru’, in bengali language, there is also a notable hindi film, ‘Shatranj ke khiladi’ based on chess playing nawabs during the 1857 mutiny.

He was awarded ‘Bharat Ratna’ , Indian government’s highest civilian award in 1992. Twenty four days before his death, on hospital bed, Ray was presented Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1992. Ray died on 23rd April, 1992.