Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ray - 50 years on...and 5 picks

The year 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of Ray's first film, the brilliant 'Pather Panchali'. On the occasion, UK-based I B Tauris released Satyajit Ray-A Vision of Cinema.
The book, which celebrates the legendary filmmaker, features priceless photographs and anecdotes from Ray's life, as well his drawings and scripts. The book features several rare pictures from the makings of his many masterpieces.

The man was a genius. He was involved with every aspect of his cinema from screenplay to music to script to poster art. Such commitment and passion for cinema has rarely been witnessed. A luminary of his time, it was ironic that none of his films ever came close to winning an Academy Award. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Academy, while on his deathbed. The Satyajit Ray Film Institute in Kolkata was opened in his memory and master's work continues to serve as inspiration for the insititute's many students. His films are timeless in their study of human emotion and socio political influence on personality.

Listed below are 5 of my favourite Ray films.

1. Aparajito (Unvanquished) 1956: I have never figured this out. I have always liked this film better than the other films in the 'Apu' trilogy. Though Pather Panchali was hailed universally and is considered the best of the three, I found the treatment of the mother-son relationship and process of growth from boy to man, to be especially fascinating. The film also gives the viewer some hope that there could be a way out of abject poverty and also spreads the message of the importance of good education.

2. Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) 1974: The best children's film he made. I prefer this to even 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne'. The movie brought to life the capers of detective 'Feluda', a literary creation of Ray himself. Replete with memorable lines, the beautiful locales of Rajasthan and the funniest sidekick ever 'Jatayu' (Santosh Dutta). The film follows Feluda's pursuit of two small time crooks who have kidnapped a child, rumored to have memories of his past life as the son of a jeweler.

3. Devi (The Goddess) 1961: The film is set in 1860 at Chandipur, in rural Bengal, India. Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) and her husband Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) live with the wealthy patriarch, Kalikinkar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) who is an aging widower. The father has a revelation in a dream that his daughter-in-law is an incarnation of the goddess Kali. He insists she be worshiped. Then, a dying child is placed at her feet and he is miraculously cured. As the news spreads, the aged and the sick come in hundreds; seeking cure and comfort. Umaprasad attacks the tradition and tries to reason with his father and tells him that he has gone insane. The father is unmoved. Umaprasad tries to take her away, but to his surprise finds that she too has become convinced of her divine status. Doyamoyee's nephew, falls ill and is placed in her care. The child dies for lack of medical treatment in her arms. Her husband tries again to persuade her but it is too late. The child's death shatters her and she goes mad.

"Ray's feeling for the intoxicating beauty within the disintegrating way of life of the 19th century landowning class makes this one of the rare, honest films about decadence." - Pauline Kael.

4. Charulata (The Lonely Wife) 1964: Charulata (The Lonely Wife) was Ray's twelfth feature film. It was also the director's favorite. Ray described the film as the one which has the least defects. In an interview with 'Cineaste' magazine, when asked about his most satisfying film, Ray said, "Well, the one film that I would make the same way, if I had to do it again, is Charulata."
In Charulata, Ray explores the emergence of the modern woman in the upper-class of colonial India. Parallels have been drawn with Ibsen's A Doll's House. The film had brilliant performances from Madhabi Mukherjee and Soumitra Chatterjee.

5. Aguntuk (The Stranger) 1991: Based on a short story written by himself, this was Ray's last film. It was also the brilliant Utpal Dutt's last curtain call. A normal middle class family receives a letter that a long lost uncle is about to visit them. While the wife is sympathetic to the man, the husband is suspicious and believes that he is an imposter here to claim his share of the inheritance. He is repeatedly interviewed by the husband's friends in an effort to determine if he is truly a world traveler as he makes himself out to be. The film, in a classical way, questions urban and family values and materialism in today's world. A fascinating study into the human psyche.

There are so many more. 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne' (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha), 'Nayak' (The Hero), 'Ghare Baire'(The Home and the World), 'Jalsaghar'(The Music Room) and 'Satranj Ke Khiladi' (The Chess Players) are all gems of Indian cinema.

Here's some trivia about the great man and his films:

- His favourite actor was Soumitra Chatterjee, who worked with him in more than ten of this thirty odd films.
- His first few music directors were Ravi Shanker, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan. After 'Devi', he composed the music for all of his films.
- He allegedly refused to make a third 'Feluda' movie because he couldn't imagine anyone other than Santosh Dutta playing the role of 'Jatayu'.
- Ray claims that the one foreign film that influenced him the most is Vittorio De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves'.



Cogito said...

Don't ask me why but I liked "Apur Sansar" very much in the trilogy . Want to see other Ray movies but donno where to look for the DVD's ( Whatever is in NLB/NTU I have already seen !) .

I didn't know Ray composed music too ! Amazing man ! Thanks for "bicycle thieves" trivia,will add that to the "must see" list ....

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

yes Ray was another Tagore in terms of creative range. the man could do everything! true on the dvd/cd front..all i've come across here so far is the apu trilogy.

Ron said...

My favourite Ray films in no particluar order:

Goopy Gyaan Bagha Bayen (i loooovvvve the bhooter raja..he is soooo cute)
sonar kella(My first crush was the charecter of Feluda and I suspect Soumitro Chatterjee in this movie had lots to do with that...he is my favourite Bengali actor too)
joy baba felunath (the charecters of feluda and lal mohan babu were written with soumitro and sanotsh dutta in mind i think)
paather paanchali: its one of those rare movies that match the standards of the book i cried buckets for both movie and book.

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

a little more trivia
- the whole 'bhooter naach' sequence was concieved, costume designed, coreographed and set to music by Ray himself. he is the voice of the king of bhoots!
- ray is often credited with the script of ET, later made by speilberg. ray wrote it in his twenties, and the script was housed in a film library in america for a long time. speilberg denies knowledge of this script.

Ron said...

I knew about the bhoot sequence trivia..but had no idea about ET..these firangs I tell you!!!!

whitelight said...

i have not seen any of his films, but they fascinate me somehow.

Ce3k said...

Abhishek-Must applaud your great observations of Ray's art.Fully agree with you on the nuances of his work and also the sequence ranking of the films you have mentioned.Truly ,it is also so difficult to pinpoint which one is shades better than the other because all are masterpieces in their own dimensions.We should consider ourselves fortunate and lucky that we were contemporary to his art and times.Looking forward to hear from you more on the genius.---ce3k

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

ce3k - Thanks! A true genius indeed.