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Weekend Reminiscences: The Legend of Satyajit Ray

In the annals of time and spaces of history, if someone definitively left his footprints behind, it was the phenomenon called Satyajit Ray. Small wonder then, the immortal song sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay stands vindicated by none other than the Colossus Satyajit Ray, ‘ Ami bajrer kache, mrityur majhe, rekhe jabo nishana, jharer kache rekhe gelam amar thikana'(Amidst lightning; in the midst of death, I will leave behind my footprints for the generations to relish and cherish; amidst the fiercest of storm, I will leave behind my legacy for the generations to follow in my footsteps).

My grooming in Kolkata, in no ambiguous term, has been a blessing bestowed upon me by the divine, for the Adda in every nook and corner of Calcutta then, today’s Kolkata, Kolkata, even though is attributed for spoiling the youth in their prime years, significantly contributed towards shaping my persona.

During the period of adolescence, marked by certain unique spectacle which Calcutta showcased then, had enough of fodder for the young man to be excited about them: whereas political sloganeering of foot soldiers of Communists ruling Bengal then, ‘ Kalo haat bhenge dao, ditey hobe, dite hobe, ‘chalbe na’, cholbe na’ ( break the black hand, a symbol of Congress party, you have to concede, it cannot go on and on) rent the air, with long processions thrilled the boy stepping into adolescence, the behemoth of Satyajit Ray too, in no smaller measures, bedazzled the young mind, seeking to unravel the multitudinous world through his infinitesimal intellect.

But then, the overwhelming significance of the intellectuality dished out by the genius of that age and era, intoxicated the mind which was persevering to unravel this fascinating world in his own ways. Moreover, the famous Adda where we all friends would collect, with outbreak of ruckus apart, would also reverberate with the names of such luminaries like Satyajit Ray, Mahanayak Uttam Kumar, versatile actor Soumitra Chatterjee, along with that of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra etc. So far, so good.

Movies by Satyajit Ray

It was during such time, I had chanced upon viewing Pather Panchali, the movie of Satyajit Ray, which was made in 1955, based on the novel of Brajbhusan Bandopadhyay. The uniqueness of the movie, centred upon the life style of the people living in countryside, aesthetically, was the toast of movie goers, who intended to have an insight into the struggling life of village folks.

The movie had revolutionised the Indian celluloid for all time to come. The grinding impoverishment depicted with incisiveness, indubitably gave an impression to the world community about the trappings of penury which had penetrated the lives of multitude, far withdrawn from the cushy drawing rooms of elites in Calcutta whose morning began with glimpses at The Statesman and C.R. Irani’s Caveat.

Indeed the movie was a shocker, which won Satyajit Ray the national and international awards, giving a much sought after impetus to his genius mind. Significantly, the movie portrayed the lives of people whose life began with struggles for survival and had no space for accommodating the aspirations which are bandied about in today’s so called aspirational India.

In fact, the movie which caught my overwhelming attention as it portrayed my own life: Apur Sansar (Satyajit Ray Movie), a boy’s discovery of the grand city called Calcutta through his own pair of countryside perspective. Looking at the sky scrappers, high rise mansions, boy Apu stood flabbergasted by the modernity which the great metropolis showcased in all its grandeur.

Indeed my own life, being born in Calcutta, subsequently taken to my village in Madhubani district, then returning again to the city, boarding the double decker bus at Howrah station, all appeared like a resplendent dream. Small wonder then, the way protagonist Apu, played in celluloid by Soumitra Chatterjee, enormously resonated with me, for Apu like me, was embarking on a journey to unravel the great metropolis.

The beauty of two worlds, the one Apu lived in the village, and the one he beheld in the lifestyle of metropolis, provided much of a template for elevating as well as revising the thought process of the boy whose cloistetered vision of village life stood diametrically in contrast with that of the life of metropolis. In fact, it was Nayak, another brilliant movie, where Satyajit Ray had worked with Mahanayak Uttam Kumar. Incidentally, Satyajit Ray had worked with Soumitra Chatterjee all along.

However, in the wake of his working with Uttam Kumar, both had poured encomia upon each other. The movie, Nayak, portrays the life of a struggling actor whose determination to excel in his profession was adequately self- manifest when Nayak in sheer frustration bursts forth, ‘ I will go at the top, at the top, at the top’. The great significance of that movie becomes explicit in the last scene: the heroine Sharmila Tagore, despite seeking his autograph inside the train, walks out, parting ways with him, even refusing to take the cognizance once the destination arrived. Indeed, the parting as strangers, despite developing some intimacy, in the wake of interaction in the train, smacks of the beauty of projection in the movie.

Shatranj ke Khiladi, indeed caught my attention for its subtle messaging: How the regents, Sanjeev Kumar and Sayed Jafari, were involved in playing chess, while reposing the full faith in the bigger regent than them: Amzad Khan. The movie was made against the backdrop of Awadh during British rule.

Interestingly, the breaking down of Amzad Khan, against his failure to protect the duo from the evil machination of British, portrayed the purity of thought process with sanctity attached to the responsibility. In fact, it was the first time, the maestro portrayed Munsi Premchand’s story of Shatranj ke Khiladi in celluloid. In Sonar Kella, the suspense thriller, entertains one and all when the child abducted, released, conveys that how the kidnappers had rued over the mistake they had committed: ‘ Mistake, mistake, mistake, thrice he repeated it in a spectacular way, shows Ray’s directorial brilliance.

Mahanagar, another masterstroke which depicts the middle class woman, Madhavi landing up with the sales woman’s job, had passed through ordeals, finally recommended her husband Anil Chatterjee for the job, yet she finally had to part with her job. The movie ends with the intellectually scintillating observation of Anil Chatterjee when Madhavi asked him, ‘ What will happen to them, now?’ Anil Chatterjee pensively responds, ‘ This great metropolis will surely take us to its beneficent bosom’.

Indeed the beauty of the conclusion left me gasping for my breath; my adolescent mind, despite not sufficiently matured to dissect the allegorical significance of the observation, yet I felt the phenomenal intellectuality inherent in that innate observation.

Agantuk, another brilliant movie, based on Ray’s own script of Atithi, is the piece of an intellectual finesse. How suddenly a guest arrived in a house of his niece, amidst suspicion and scepticism; impresses the hosts, yet fails to scupper their suspicion. He charms them with his sharp intellectual discourse. The delving deeper into the arena of intellectuality is the manifestation of Ray’s unparalleled brilliance.

The Legend of Satyajit Ray Movies
Satyajit Ray was honoured by the Academy in 1992. (Photo: Oscars/YouTube)

Satyajit Ray, unequivocally was the genius who lorded over the time and era. He won Oscar award in 1992 (Satyajit Ray Oscar Award Year), the only Indian to have reached the pedestal of glory in his life time. Moreover, the criticisms of selling Indian poverty for winning accolades notwithstanding, Ray’s intellectual brilliance in celluloid has no parallel. A self-acknowledged agnostic, however, had married his own cousin, which remained the only blemish, in otherwise a brilliant intellectual that nation has produced in Satyajit Ray.