Living Satyajit Ray, Connoisseur of Indian Cinema
By Zayetta Dasgupta *
Tiff Bell Lightbox illuminates July–mid August, dedicating a month and a half to the world-renowned master storyteller of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray; an impressive writer and a creative director applauded for decades. Tiff Bell Lightbox, located at Reitman Square at the heart of Toronto is a cinema complex that is a home for film lovers. With never dying interest in Ray’s films around the world, July 2014 in Toronto was a treat- month for Satyajit Ray’s fans as they got to see his work in a way seldom seen today.
The comprehensive TIFF Cinematheque retrospective showcases 34 titles of Ray.
He has produced cinema with great depth by using simple narration in classical format, minutely detailed and operating at many levels of interpretation. The cinema fraternity is waiting for a talent like Ray to be reborn. His films evoke deep emotional response and every film he made is a treasure of Indian cinema today.
On July 11, an illuminating cinema series of Ray’s films began with introductions from University of Toronto Lecturer, Kathleen O'Connell. She presented Charulata and a brief note on Indian cinema and world cinema status. She highlighted the deep influence Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had on Ray. Michael Pogorzelski, Director of the Academy Film Archive (AFA) was the next presenter, on Three Daughters and The Chess Players. AFA has been restoring Ray’s work for the past two decades and that has led to renewed interest by the film fraternity to show his films.
His first film, released in 1955, was Pather Panchali (Song of the Road). It was a film that established his reputation as a creative film director. In 1955, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) had hosted the world premiere of Pather Panchali. Ray had to meet the MOMA deadline, so he worked with his team without any break until the last stage of post-production and finally Pather Panchali was ready on the night before dispatch to MOMA. There were no subtitles due to lack of time. A few weeks later, MOMA sent a letter to Ray congratulating him on how well the film had been accepted by the audience. Ray never looked back.
Released in 1977, Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari is based on Premchand’s short story by the same name. It is a noteworthy celluloid adaptation. The film depicts life and customs of 19th century India. The focus of the film is on events during the British Indian rule and the state of Awadh, the colonial expansion by the British East India Company and the Indian monarchs who soaked themselves in chess and made it their life, unaware and naïve about events surrounding them.
Ray directed comedy films as well, such as The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha in 1969. The film is based on a story by Ray’s grandfather, Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury. According to Ray, it was a made because his son requested him to make a movie for younger audiences. Ray adapted the story of ‘Goopy Bagha’ and wrote the screenplay. He also composed the songs and music for the film. The story revolves around an ambitious singer and a drummer who are forced to live outside their villages. They meet in the forest, share their situations and unwilling to give up their talent, decide to join hands to sing and drum to drive away the tigers in the forest. In the process they attract a group of ghosts who love their music. The film takes an interesting turn when the king of ghosts grants them three boons. It is Ray’s most commercially successful film and hugely popular to this day.
Released in 1964, was Charulata. It is till date praised as his most emotional and accomplished film portraying Indian women. Charulata, also known worldwide as ‘The Lonely Wife, is based on the novel ‘Nastanirh’ (The Broken Nest) written by Rabindranath Tagore. Ray said that he liked the western quality of the novel and the film shares it.
Many of Ray’s works deal with the emancipation of women. Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) released in 1984, portrays the subject. An Indian-Bengali romantic drama based on the novel, “Ghare Baire” by Tagore, the story travels to early 20th century India and shows the aftermath of Lord Curzon's partition of Bengal into Muslim and Hindu states. In midst of this partition is Western culture and a revolution to prevent it from penetrating India.
Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991) was his last film. TIFF Cinematheque retrospective was accompanied by Passages to India. It was about India as seen by outsiders. This was a provocative series that surveyed the work of eight European and American filmmakers who created films based on visions of India ranging from meditative documentary to delirious Orientalist artifice
* Zayetta Dasgupta is a marketing and communication strategist for digital and offline media with a deep interest in the arts.