"Ek Din Achanak" (Suddenly One Day) is an intriguing film by Mrinal Sen. It can be interpreted as a singular character study. The basic structure of the film and especially the climax is unlike anything on the Indian scene.
Sen, indeed, is an interesting filmmaker, one who dares to experiment with form and technique, not conform to some staid style of filmmaking. Sreeram Lagoo, Aparna Sen, Uttara Baonkar, Shabana Azmi, Arjun Chakravorty formed the cast. Rupa Ganguly also played a significant role in the film. Anil Chaterji, closely associated with Mrinal Sen for a long time, however found making his first appearance in a Mrinal Sen film in "Ek Din Achanak". Lily Chakravorty, who featured in such films as Gulzar's Achanak, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Aalap and Satyajit Ray's Shakha Prosakha also made her debut in a Sen film in this work. "Ek Din Achanak" featured at the 12th International Film Festival in 1988 and not unlikely, was a prizewinner. "Ek Din Achanak" also got an award for the Best Supporting actress category at the National film awards.
"Ek Din Achanak" was based on a story by Ramapada Choudhury. It dealt with the pangs of a sensitive man in a cruel, insensitive and materialistic world. The protagonist of this film is an academically inclined Professor (Sreeram Lagoo). One rainy day, the Professor goes out of his house, and doesn't return at night. His wife (Uttara Baokar) and his two daughters (Shabana Azmi and Roopa Ganguly) are expectedly nervous at this. Around midnight, Shabana informs their close family friend (Anil Chaterji) and their dubious uncle (Manohar Singh) of the incident. Promptly, both come to the family's rescue.
Using flashback techniques throughout, the Director unfolds the family of the Professor before us. The wife (Uttara Baokar) is a typical housewife, and somewhat unhappy with her present status. In one sequence, she accuses her husband of being selfish, and of being immune to the family's needs and wants. The wife said the husband never spared a thought for the family, and never tried to find a job for her. The Professor is also unhappy with his only son (Arjun Chakravorty). He had high aspirations for his son and wanted him to follow in his footsteps and join his profession. The son, however, was inclined towards business. The professor considered his son of being a wastrel, and in one sequence when the son asked him for some money, the professor chided his son for being business-minded. When he was embarking to sign the cheque, out of anger the son leaves the house without taking the money from his father. The eldest daughter, Shabana Azmi, comes across as the strongest character. She is the bread-winner of the family, besides the amount of pension drawn by the Professor, and the money obtained from tenants in the house. She is also the one who was possibly closest to the father. Through some sequences of poignancy, the Director delves into this beautiful father-daughter relationship. Even when the daughter re-examines her father's capabilities and concludes that he was an average man, not an extraordinary person, she immediately feels very bad about it and confides to her sister that she has done a grave injustice to her father's memory by belittling him.
The younger daughter, Roopa Ganguly, is a college going girl, and has some of the lighter sequences, like when she comes running to break the news that she has secured first class in her exams to her mother and sister. Even she considered her father of being a very proud man.
After a few days of the disappearance, the family reconciles themselves somewhat with the incident. Shabana begins going to her office. Everyone seemed to have overcome the tragedy, but the Professor's wife cannot forget what has transpired.
Anjan Dutta, a Sen favorite, works in the same office of Shabana. An early sequence shows a death in a Calcutta street when a man is just run over by a mini-bus and the incident occurring right next to Shabana's office. Shabana jumps from her seat and runs towards the window fearing that it may be her father, and returns relieved when it turns out to be someone else.
Aparna Sen is a negative character in the film. Not that she is bad, she is actually a student of the Professor. The Professor develops some soft corner for her, revealed to us through a sketch drawing of Aparna by the Professor, discovered much after he has made his disappearance act. This sketch was discovered quite accidentally by the wife while browsing through the books of the Professor after the incident. The wife informs the eldest daughter (Shabana) of her findings. Both re-examines the relationship between the two individuals i.e. the Professor and his good-looking student Aparna. Aparna had a great respect for the literary abilities of the Professor and the discussion were usually on academic topics, in which the wife couldn't participate, whenever Aparna came to the Professor's house for study.
In one sequence, the vulnerability of the Professor's character is revealed to us when Aparna reads out certain literary criticism of the Professor's work by a reviewer at which the Professor started simmering. Perhaps Aparna too found flaws in the professor's writings. Her statement that the professor has possibly written the article in haste is a revelation of her skepticism. However that she was enamored of the professor is revealed when she decides to capture the various moods of her professor in photographs, by skillfully using her hobby of photography.
When Shabana comes to know of her father's soft corner for Aparna, she goes to meet Aparna in her flat. A lady opens the door and said Aparna had left the place and gone off elsewhere. Soon after, Aparna pays a visit to the Professor's house on hearing that Shabana had come to meet her. The wife opens the door and invites Aparna in. Gradually the wife discloses of her husband's secret cravings for Aparna and the sketch drawn by her husband. Unaware of the fact and caught in an awkward position before the wife and Shabana, Aparna jumps off her seat and out of the house, in order to save herself from more embarrassment.
Anjan Dutta plays Shabana Azmi's boyfriend and is generally seen around with her in some sequences. Mrinal Sen makes a dig at fake religious God-man in the film. When the wife had lost all hope of her husband's return and a neighbor (Lily Chakravorty) informs her of a religious man with miraculous capabilities, the wife goes to meet this sadhu.
When she reaches there, there is a huge crowd assembled there to meet the man with miraculous power. At that claustrophobic assemblage, people even fainted. That the God-man was a hoax was revealed to us when his followers began accepting money from rich people and secretly took them to the God-man through backdoor.
Anil Chaterji's Arunbabu is a depiction of a very practical person, who ties himself closely with the professor's family when he could foresee some benefits for him ( he had opened a tutorial coaching school and wanted the professor to take some classes in his school) but in the hour of distress of the family, he scarcely went to meet and console them.
The Professor's huge collection of books was arranged to be donated to a Public Library by the uncle (Manohar Singh), where it will be kept for public usage, and a mention of the donor will find a place somewhere where the books are going to be kept.
The ending sequence is particularly poignant. Exactly one year after the disappearance, the wife and the two daughters is shown recollecting memories about the Professor and discussing the void it had caused in their lives. Shabana Azmi reveals what her father had said to her once "That sadly we all live just once. The professor possibly longed for a second life as it would help him to perfect the mistakes he made in this life and achieve a higher level in his field." The film ends on this wistful note. Interestingly, the Director Mrinal Sen, had said in an interview that
on re-assessment of his corpus of work, he would have liked to start afresh from scratch. So, "Ek Din Achanak" is a very 'personal' work of Mrinal Sen embodying his feeling that a second life would help to achieve greater heights. "Ek Din Achanak" is possibly the most personal work of Mrinal Sen.
In the words of Mrinal Sen " I wish I could start from scratch. I have done good, bad and indifferent films. I wish I could erase it all and start afresh like the Professor of "Ek Din Achanak" who walked out on his family in a rainy day without even as much as informing anybody. One of the character says "one of the saddest things in life is that you live only one life." However famous you are, you are aware of your mediocrity in certain respects. When you realize that, you face a crisis that is insurmountable. Though I have an enviable position as a maker of good, bad and indifferent films, I cannot escape this feeling of mediocrity within. Perhaps it happens because we are too immersed in our own selves."
"Ek Din Achanak" got a special mention at the Venice International Film Festival. In 1989, at the Venice International Film Festival Mrinal Sen won the OCIC Award and a Honorable Mention for "Ek Din Achanak" (1989).
Interested readers may visit the writers site for more information on Mrinal Sen at the following link: