The Middleman, or Jana Aranya (The Human Jungle), is a wonderful movie by Indian director Satyajit Ray. Ray is mostly known for his masterful Apu Trilogy, and The Middleman is generally known as one of his more obscure works. The Middleman is part of Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy, which takes a look at the toll the city imposes on its youth. The Calcutta Trilogy includes Company Limited (Seemabaddha), The Middleman (Jana Aranya) and The Adversary (Pratidwandi). In my opinion, after watching the whole trilogy, The Middleman is the best of the three.
The subject matter of The Middleman is corruption. It’s a look at the way a person can succumb to corruption, often reluctantly. The main character is Somnath. Somnath is a bright, intelligent guy who misses out on Honors on his exam by a few points because of a mistake by his teacher. The exam was important, as it determines the type of job he will get. After filing hundreds of application, and being asked pointless questions in interviews, Somnath decides to give up and instead try his luck in business. His father is not happy with this decision but reluctantly agrees.
Somnath is involved in the business of order-supplying. He takes a order from a company, buys the product and supplies the order to the company. The job involves being out all day, but Somnath doesn’t mind. He is pleased with the money he is earning. One day a big order reaches his hands, but the manager of the company is a tough cookie. Somnath hires a public relations expert to find out how he can convince the manager of the company to give him the order. The public relations expert tells him that all Somnath has to do is deliver a prostitute to the manager and the order is his. Somnath is now in a moral dilemma. Does he forget the order and continue to make a honest living or does he bring the prostitute to the manager and follow the corrupt path? This dilemma is the focus of The Middleman.
Satyajit Ray called The Middleman his bleakest movie. The movie takes place during the 60s when unemployment and crime were rampant in Calcutta. It shows the abject poverty the people live in and the feeling of hopelessness in the youth of the city. The movie is shot in stark black and white in a neo-realist fashion. Every character delivers a perfect performance and the dialogues are exceptionally witty, exposing both the rampant corruption in the city and the decadent values of the middle-class. The Middleman is one of Satyajit Ray’s greatest works and is a must watch.