Ganashatru-The enemy of the people

Tussle between science and the lack of a scientific temperament of the people is at the centre of this film made in 1990. It was ahead of its time and in 2021 is immensely relatable and relevant

Ganashatru-The enemy of the people
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Nilosree Biswas

Satyajit Ray was sometimes criticised for being less responsive to immediate social situations unlike his peers Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. But on scrutiny, the criticism does not seem to be valid. There is a definitive graph to how he responded to social happenings just five years onto his filmmaking career and the change was noticeable.

With Mahanagar (The Big City) in 1963, Ray for the first time lensed the urban middle class, their predicaments, and even Calcutta as one of his characters. This was the beginning of a distinct shift of Satyajit Ray as a filmmaker who continued to react to social issues more frequently throughout the tumultuous seventies in Bengal. His city trilogy, Seemabadha (The Company Limited), Pratidwandi (The Adversary) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman) in the 1970s, which till date is considered as his most politically intense creation, is reflective of individual crisis in the stark backdrop of the ongoing political upheavals.

Although scholarly understandings saw Ray’s tryst with the ‘society’ or the more political as short termed and limited to the late seventies, what was happening was more futuristic, postmodern. Ray was expanding the word ‘political’ in his cinematic narrative and this was to take a more ‘personal’ bearing in sync with what he believed as an individual, an extension of his belief system that overlapped his storytelling.

The case in point is Ganashatru (Enemy of the People) released in 1990. Ganashatru is an adaptation of Norwegian play wright Henrik Ibsen`s 1882 drama titled ‘An Enemy of The People’.

Drawn from the original plot of a doctor, being heckled by the influential upon revelation of contaminated water source, in a newly inaugurated bathing complex, Ray takes the seed idea and plants the story in a fictitious town Chandipur in West Bengal, where a senior doctor finds similar contaminated water sources, leading to innumerable cases of water borne illnesses.


From here, the powerful screenplay takes a complex turn with almost every stakeholder (municipal commissioner – brother of the lead character, editor, publisher of the popular local newspaper and other socially well-placed individuals) turning against Dr. Ashok Gupta, the protagonist. The rest of the script is about the crusade of a scientific minded doctor and his detractors woven in a taut narrative.

The story emphasises on the invariable tussle of science and lack of scientific temperament of the people of the small town, who are shown to be in denial, gripped in superstition, blinded by faith for the water source is related to a ritual held at a local temple.

The film concludes with justice delivered for Dr. Gupta’s mission.

Fast Forward 2021 – as we embattle a threatening, seemingly unending pandemic, Ganshatru, the film, seems prophetic and timeless. While science is still trying to decode the mystery of the ways of spread of Covid 19 and also understand its preventive measures, which even after eighteen months remain ever evolving with variants, posing more challenges to the medical fraternity, millions continue to believe and practice unscientific ways to combat this highly communicable disease.

Often one encounters unverified content on WhatsApp and social media at large, propagating random cures like consumption of coconut water, turmeric milk or munching onions to ward off the coronavirus. As such a multitude of people fall prey to this misinformation and end up losing precious time and lives. The same attitude propels tens of thousands to not comply when it comes to wearing a mask, unless a punitive measure is taken. This even leads to vaccine hesitancy, triggered by baseless rumours and unverified social media content.

The road to acknowledging science and as well as acquiring a scientific temperament is a long and an arduous one but surely a beneficial one at that.

Ray’s Ganashatru, therefore remains a flagbearer to these grim times!

(Nilosree Biswas is an author and a filmmaker)

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Published: 02 May 2021, 9:30 AM