In this 1989 Bengali-language film, the director and screenwriter Satyajit Ray presents an arresting contemporary reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People. In Chandipur, India, Dr. Ashoke Gupta treats an increasing number of patients with hepatitis and jaundice. After some patients die, Dr. Gupta fears that the town could succumb to an epidemic. A water quality report reveals that bacteria contaminate local sources, and that the pollution lies in the town’s most populous area. Further complicating the crisis is Dr. Gupta’s determination that the holy water distributed at a new Hindu temple is culpable for sickening visitors. Eager to publish the findings in a local newspaper and advocate for the closure of the temple (a major pilgrimage destination) until the contamination is abated, Dr. Gupta must contend with his younger brother, Nisith, and other municipal bureaucrats and journalists who suppress his findings to protect the tourism revenue. The physician struggles to communicate medical information to a population deluded by religious superstition and deceived by avaricious leaders.


Ray presents a deeply sinister retelling of Ibsen’s original plot. In Ibsen’s play, Dr. Thomas Stockmann finds that his town’s public baths are contaminated, causing illness among tourists. Like Ray’s Dr. Gupta, Ibsen’s Dr. Stockmann fights to address the pollution but is opposed by greedy authorities whose business interests include the lucrative baths. Writing over a century apart, both Ibsen and Ray depict physicians who struggle to share scientific truth under the weight of public vilification and skullduggery. The poignancy of Ray’s cinematic adaptation of the play stems from the film’s religious dimension. By locating the contaminated water at a holy site, Ray injects into his retelling of Ibsen’s narrative a religious element that complicates the community’s outrage. For example, locals believe that the tulsi leaves added to the temple’s water will purge harmful pollutants. Due to the superstition and piety of the town’s Hindu population, Dr. Gupta’s admonitions to close the temple are dismissed as the ravings of an irreligious and arrogant scientist. Ray’s film resonates eerily in this age of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly through the figure of the publicly reviled and distrusted physician who is hushed by political opponents with every motive but the physical wellbeing of the communities they serve.

Primary Source

The Criterion Collection, Inc.




National Film Development Corporation of India

Running Time (in minutes)