A Handful of Stories

Reportage on health, science and politics. And some meditations on film

Kharij: The Killing of a ‘Servant Boy’

Mrinal Sen’s clear-eyed unpeeling of the cruelty of the great Indian middle class

A young, upper-middle class family, Anjan and Mamata Sen, hire a boy ‘servant’ not much older than their own son in 1980s Calcutta, administered by a Communist government, in the film Kharij. The ‘servant’ boy dies one night, possibly due to a gas leak in the kitchen, where he is given a place to sleep at night. This happens early in the film. In the ensuing investigation, we see the boy’s father occasionally but mostly, we see the refined affluent couple and realise that they are not nice at all as the open secrets of domestic slavery are laid out on screen. In the film, director Mrinal Sen uses the real first names of his actors, and his own surname. The message couldn’t be clearer—these people in the film are us, the privileged.

The Sens could so easily have given the boy a separate room in their large house like they offer the boy’s father when he comes to collect his son’s belongings and answer the questions in police case. We see how uncomfortable the couple are with the lower middle-class political goondas who come by to tell them off about mistreating their staff. Towards the end, when the boy’s father comes up to take the husband Anjan’s leave and raises his hand, Anjan thinks he is going to be slapped. But the man is only folding his hands in a namaskar. Yet by then, we know that Anjan deserves the slap.

Kharij (1982) is streaming on the Hoi Choi app
Director: Mrinal Sen
Starring: Mamata Shankar, Anjan Dutt, Sreela Majumdar