Seemabadhha - Show time with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Satyajit Ray’s take on the corporate world in Seemabaddha seems even more relevant after fifty years.

Calcutta in the 70s was a different world, the corporate capital of India with the Head Quarters of almost large multinationals located there. The city was always abuzz with the famous black tie club culture, dazzling night club scenes in Park Street and pulsating derby races on winter afternoons. Quite different from today’s politically ravaged and almost lost corporate culture, almost all MNCs having moved their HQs away to the business-friendly cities of Delhi and Bangalore. No movie has captured the essence of life of a corporate executive in the 70’s Calcutta the way Ray has in Seemabaddha.

In Seemabaddha, Ray operates in a zone, that’s real, to highlight the futility of rate race in the corporate world; the unbridled greed that often creeps into the lives of successful corporate executives. The clever use of the word ‘Seemabaddha’, that means ‘limited’ in Bengali in the context of a ‘Company Limited’ allows us a peek into Ray’s brilliant mind. In a rather poignant scene from the movie, an older Tamil colleague about to retire, quotes from Joseph Conrad to warn the protagonist, Shyamalendu, brilliantly portrayed by Barun Chanda, ‘All ambitions are lawful except those which climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind’. The character is well sketched as a deserving candidate who seeks his promotion to the Board of Directors of the firm, caught at a weird crossroad of life, faced with moral and ethical dilemmas. Ray paints the character as flawed may be, but not as a villain, making us relate to him.

Ray also weaves in a part that shows an ad campaign for the firm getting discussed and approved. His familiarity with the subject is apparent; drawn from his career in advertising when he spent a few years in British advertising agency named DJ Keymer in the 1940s, working as a junior visualiser. It was perhaps during his stint with the company that he realised the futility of the rat race in such corporate firms and decided to adapt a novel on the same subject by renowned Bengali writer Mani Shankar Mukherjee in 1971, to direct Seemabaddha, which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film that year.

The protagonist Shyamalendu Chatterjee is the sales head of the fans division in Hindustan Peters — a British MNC that manufactures and markets electric fans and lights. Extremely well paid, he is amongst the club going elite of Calcutta, living in a tony neighbourhood, enjoying perks of a chauffeur driven car and assistants both at work and home. Shyamalendu has had modest beginnings, and had started career as an idealistic teacher. But the glitz and glamour of the corporate world corrupt him and he is now a shrewd man ready to compromise to move up the corporate ladder.

The story revolves around Shyamalendu’s developing relationship with his wife’s sister when she comes visiting them from Patna. It’s a beautiful yet slightly complex relationship built on admiration, awe and respect that slowly turns into disillusionment as murky truths from his work emerge. And Shyamalendu, despite having secured the much sought-after promotion, is left ashamed, having lost the respect of his sister-in-law he is so eager to impress.

Sharmila Tagore is fabulous as the sister-in-law Tutul. She delivers a restrained performance, as a girl out of place in a world that is so alien to her — a world of cocktail parties, fancy salons, live cabaret shows, but smart enough to absorb and to cope with the situation, without compromising on her small-town values.

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