Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik (1958) is loosely based on the eponymous short story written by Subodh Ghosh. The plot revolves around Bimal and his relationship with his almost dilapidated Chevrolet which he lovingly calls Jagaddal (Jagaddal literally means immovable in Bengali). The story is set around the Chotanagpur area of present-day Jharkhand, where Bimal works as a taxi driver. Although almost everyone is of the opinion that Bimal’s car is falling apart and that it should be discarded, Bimal is firmly against the idea. A lot of people tease Bimal for his obsession with the car.
The film opens with a sequence in which a man and his niece are in dire need of a taxi to get them to the niece’s wedding on time. Other drivers refuse to take them as the roads are dangerous during rainfall, with more than one overflowing stream on the way. Bimal is infuriated when the passengers underestimate Jagaddal. Jagaddal, however, performs quite well and reaches the destination well ahead of time. The entire film shows many such journeys undertaken by Bimal and Jagaddal with a varied host of characters, like an old man running late for a train, or a newlywed couple with a group of merry revellers who stuff themselves into the car, prompting Bimal to compare Jagaddal with a kangaroo’s pouch.
In each of these journeys, the passengers are not impressed with the condition of the car and believe that it might break down. To their surprise, Jagaddal successfully completes these journeys. As they traverse the roads, Bimal and Jagaddal’s relationship unfolds on the screen. Bimal often talks to Jagaddal, asks him questions and cheers him on. Jagaddal also reciprocates in a language only Bimal can comprehend. Bimal believes that Jagaddal will be with him forever.
As fate would have it, Jagaddal eventually breaks down and refuses to move even after Bimal’s entreaties. Refusing to take his car out for a month, Bimal is finally forced to sell Jagaddal as scrap. As Jagaddal is dismantled, it appears to Bimal that the car is screaming in pain.