Radha (Suchitra Sen) is a nurse who works in a psycho-analytic clinic in Calcutta. She is a favourite of the chief medical officer, the Colonel (Pahari Sanyal), for her ability to cure a patient completely of any kind of depressive state specially linked to a love affair gone sour, by pretending to fall in love with him till he begins to depend on her emotionally and morally. However, she is extremely vulnerable as she has just suffered a major heartbreak after treating a male patient, Debasish,who was diagnosed from acute mania. Even as she cured Debasish, she found herself falling in love with him. While Debasish is grateful to Radha for curing him, he goes ahead and marries the woman tow him he was engaged to. A similar case of a spurned young man, Tapas Choudhury (Basanta Choudhury), who has become an extreme misogynist prone to violence, is offered to Radha, but she initially refuses as she has still not got over Debasish. However, she gets drawn into Tapas’ case only to see events play out in a similar manner. A cured Tapas is desperate to meet her one last time to ask her whether she was really putting on an act with him. However, Radha does not open the door to meet him and Tapas leaves sadly without seeing her. The stress of this ‘playacting’ placed on her in one case after another takes in toll on Radha making her a patient in the very clinic she treated patients…
Deep Jele Jai belongs to a phase in Suchitra Sen’s career where she made her powerful presence felt without her constant screen companion Uttam Kumar to share screen space with The film, one of her and director Asit Sen’s most famous, was a box office hit without a conventional romantic hero even though in a manner of speaking, this is a tender ‘love story’ set against the strange backdrop of a psychiatric nursing home. It is perhaps one major film that featured a female protagonist that in no way offered a feminist slant on the film, the story or the character.
There is a pre-titles prologue that opens with an overhead shot of someone getting into a car that cuts to a close-up of Radha looking down as the car slowly drives towards the gates of a Psycho-analytical Clinic. We next find Radha sitting and reading her diary with a voice-over telling us about Debasish, the patient who just went away, cured. We next see a roll call being taken of the inmates with a nurse calling out numbers – a telling suggestion of human beings being reduced to simple numbers without name of identity. One patient (Anil Chatterjee) approaches Radha and laments that his son has had to go without food even that day. It sets the pace of the ambience within the nursing home. One patient takes a cheque book out of his pocket and writes out cheques to everyone. Another sits quietly at a table in front of a chess board. A third keeps writing postcards. In the women’s wing, a giggling young woman imagines the approaching doctor to be her lover and professes her love for him. The climax rounds up the beginning – a roll call is being taken by the matron herself as she calls out numbers of women patients. At the end of the queue, we see a distraught, mentally imbalanced Radha being escorted by two of her former colleagues…
Deep Jele Jai, undoubtedly, marks a milestone performance in Suchitra Sen’s career. It takes full advantage of her camera-friendly, sensuous beauty as much as she gives to it her best in histrionics. If she seems a little melodramatic in a few fractional moments, it is due to the demands of the script, the time and the fact that this is a mainstream film which at times requires ‘acting’. But it has to said that she brings out the two dimensions of her character extremely well. One needs her to depict a woman pining for love knowing that for her, the story will always be a tragic one. The other shows her as an efficient, low-profile but warm nurse who has a kind word for every patient. She lives out her mentor the Colonel’s belief that it is rapport between the curing and the to-be-cured that carries the magic of cure in every mental case. In order to fulfill her mission, she can be diabolic at times. She literally blackmails Tapas’ girlfriend with her old love letters sent to him to force her to come and pay him a visit at the mental home at once. It is the delicate play of hide-and-seek between ‘acting’ and ‘not acting’, between ‘pretending’ to fall in love as a therapeutic measure and ‘actually’ falling in love n real life somewhere along the way that enriches the humane realism in Radha’s character enriched by Sen’s unforgettable performance as much as by the chiaroscuro cinematography, the haunting musical score and small touches of Nature like the diaphanous white curtains in Radha’s room swaying in the breeze as she sits on an easy chair, refusing to respond to Tapas calling out to her, captured in a top-angle long shot.
Of the rest of the cast, Pahari Sanyal as the Colonel is reliably efficient as the ruthless scientist who is more interested in the subjects of his ‘research’ than in the mental health of his paramedical staff. Radha points this out painfully in one scene as he narrates an anecdote of his war backdrop to cite what commitment meant to a war-time nurse. Chandrabati Devi in a role almost without any dialogue is very good. Basanta Choudhury, however, is uneven – fine when he is sane but unconvincing when he is not. Kajari Guha as Tapas’s girlfriend is artificial and crude. Anil Chatterjee has a wonderful song sequence when he wants a peg and Radha pours water from a jug into his empty bottle and he drinks and sings in his ‘tipsy’ state! The song carries references to the legendary Devdas-Parvati story. Tulsi Chakraborty is his brilliant self in a well-fleshed-out cameo as Tapas’ sympathetic friend from the mess he stayed in. The character offers an insight into the social reality that existed in the late 1950s where even mess colleagues bonded with so much warmth.
One of the most outstanding features of the film is its musical score, one of the most brilliant creations of Hemanta Mukherjee as music director. The theme song Ei Raat Tomar Amar on the soundtrack is said to have placed Mukherjee with problems of copyright from some foreign tune. But over time, it has survived most competitions with its haunting, eerie effect complemented with the brilliant cinematography. In fact, Mukherjee used the same tune as Yeh Nayan Dare Dare in Hindi in his production, Kohra (1964) to good effect. Bijoy Bose’s art direction and Tarun Dutta’s editing offer solid support to the film. There are repeated references to Tagore through his entire collection of poems, Sanchayita, Radha falls back on and even gifts to a patient on his wedding. Jyoti Laha and Anil Gupta’s cinematography reveals a beautiful encapsulation of this technical mode that does a beautiful balancing act between Suchitra Sen’s magnificent close-ups and the shot-breaks that span everything from very slow panning shots to silhouetted shots to shots taken in semi-darkness, to long-angle shots and even an overhead crane shot that is the opening frame of the film. Some shots show Suchitra Sen backlight with the halo her screen image was famous for.
Deep Jele Jai has survived the onslaughts of time, technology and evolution to remain one of the best films directed by Asit Sen. He would go on to remake the film in Hindi as Khamoshi (1969), which also received critical acclaim, and had fine performances by Waheeda Rehman and Rajesh Khanna in the central roles. but it has to be said that Khamoshi is a distant runner-up to the original on practically all counts.
Bengali, Drama, Black & White