RAY ' Too Fast, Too Arrogant
Netflix series review
Satyajit Ray perhaps, is the first filmmaker to present us with a film anthology in Bengali with his Teen Kanya, a collection of three short stories by Rabindranath Tagore in 1960 in celebration of the centenary of Tagore.
The three stories, Postmaster, Monihara and Samapti were very different from each other in every way except that it had a girl /woman as the central character.
Ray’s literary talents have suddenly become the focus of filmmakers because we are caught in the wave of Ray’s centenary this year. Ray is the result of this haste to participate in a race to who “gets there first” among young filmmakers desperate to prove that they can not only do it but can do it well, their own way.
All that is fine but one only hopes that they were not is such a tearing hurry to put the anthology together and place it across on an OTT platform quite so soon.
Then comes the question of playing around with the original piece of literature while adapting it to cinema. Ray himself made several changes in the works he adapted from literature be it Parash Pathar or be it Postmaster or Charulata.
He was severely attacked by some Tagore scholars for these changes but he stuck to his argument that any adaptation of literature was not necessarily a translation but a transcreation or an interpretation.
The challenge of adaptation itself might excite the filmmaker that may inspire him to discover new techniques, new strategies, expand the narrative and psychological possibilities of his art.
Besides, the time when the story was written and the time when it was being adapted into a film would naturally demand the director to think in the time perspective in which he was making the film as he would not be able to visualize or imagine the perspective of the writer who belonged to a different time and societal framework altogether.
This is the argument Ray himself put forward in his article in Film Eye, Journal of Ruia College Film Society in his response to critics who attacked him for changing the end of Postmaster.
The four short stories by Satyajit Ray encapsuled in Ray are Forget Me Not (Bipin Choudhury’s Smritibhrom), Behrupiya (Bohurupee) both directed by our maverick director Srijit Mukherjee, followed by Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa (Barin Bhowmicker Byaram) directed by Abhishek Chaubey and last but not the least, Spotlight directed by Hasan Bala.
Had Ray been alive to witness these adaptations, he might have disagreed as a director with these young directors but he would never have objected to the way the directors have improvised on and contemporized the stories to fit into the present day for a present-day OTT audience.
Srijit Mukherjee’s Forget Me Not takes us on a roller coaster ride through a young and successful man with a phenomenal memory’s rapid slide to lunacy triggered by a seemingly simple incident. While he is enjoying his drink at a posh club, a very attractive young woman approaches him, says that she is Rhea and reminds him of the naughty little holiday they enjoyed together in Ranchi around a decade or so ago in celebration of his birthday.
An irritated Ipsit Rama Nair (Ali Fazal) dismisses her insisting that he had never ever been to Ranchi so how could he ever have met her? But this small lapse in memory which he insists is not true brings him sliding down through forgetting small things and big things and losing his famous grip on his memory and his top corporate position. As we see his sanity slipping slowly and surely till, we see him in a wheelchair not knowing what hit him, the hidden layers of his real character are brought across.
Ali Fazal has tried to give his best but could have done better. Srijit is in such a great hurry to rush to the climax that he forgets to flesh out the supporting characters who have conspired to place him where he ends up in. At the same time, one must admit that the film has an electric energy that keeps us glued to the screen.
Behrupiya is a completely different cup of tea from Srijit’s film on a man with a command in prosthetic make-up he already explored in Vinci Da. Indrashish (Kay Kay Menon) holds an ordinary job but is forever absent because he has to tend to his cancer-ridden grandmother whose son does not care for the mother.
But he also works as a make-up man sometimes and in both occupations, is disgusted with the very bad deal he gets from everyone around and blames God for placing him in this humiliating situation. He has an eye for a would-be actress and offers her a ring but she laughs at him and tells him to his face that a f,,ck is alright but a ring means nothing to her.
His grandmother dies leaving him a reasonably good amount of money along with her entire armoury of prosthetic make-up and books on make-up to him. He begins to study this book deeply and decides to use his expertise in prosthetic make-up on himself to take revenge on those who have wronged him including God because his grandmother had told him that a make-up artiste was like God.
He begins with prosthetics to put his angry boss in place by trapping him in a fraudulent financial deal. He fools the girl with Bollywood dreams and then, he decides to challenge a Peer Baba (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) who is famous for reading the character of a person by looking into his face.
By then, Indrashish has become a megalomaniac and dons the face of a wanted rapist and killer who looks like him to try and fool the Peer Baba. But Peer Baba sees through his disguise and as he insists that he is who he says he is, the Peer Baba says “so be it”. The mask this time, becomes his face and when people mistake him for the rapist-killer, he finds that he cannot take the make-up off and begins to cut into his face.
We see blood streaking down his eyes as the chasers keep trying to break the door open. The pacing of this film is just right to begin with, Indrashish’s looks, oily and combed hair adding a touch of authenticity to his persona. But soon, the pace quickens so fast that you do not know what is happening and why.
Dibyendu is wonderful as Peer Baba but Kay Kay is trapped in a role that soon slipped beyond his control. Alakananda Roy in a brief cameo of the grandmother and Bidita Baug as the would-be actress who is easy on the casting couch are very good as is Rajesh Sharma as the boss.
Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa (Barin Bhowmick-er Byaram) directed by Abhishek Chaubey is the best of the lot. This is possible not only because it features the scintillating Manoj Bajpai in a scintillating performance matched frame for frame with Gajaraj Rao as his co-passenger in the luxury compartment of a train running from Bhopal to Delhi, but also because Chaubey treats the film with the delicacy it demands.
The end result thus, is as delicate and as fragile as the ghazals the singer Musafir Ali (Manoj Bajpai) sings with the right dose of intelligent humour, sauciness and caustic commentary on the vagaries of human nature. You could also compare the film with a half-filled goblet of champagne, waiting for its owner to clink it to the other person’s glass and say “cheers” in a duet. The title is borrowed from the opening line of a Ghulam Ali ghazal.
Musafir Ali (note the emphasis on the name “musafir” which means traveller) which our young man has assumed as part of his professional identity of a noted singer of ghazals and similar Urdu songs, meets his co-passenger the middle-aged Aslam Baig (Gajraj Rao) who used to be a winning wrestler now reduced to a sports journalist as he was felled by Dara Singh in a wrestling match and had to bid goodbye to his wrestling forever.
Both Musafir and Baig feel they have met earlier but cannot place when, why or under what circumstances. The truth comes through Baig’s outpourings on destiny and time with the example of an antique pocket chain watch which changed his fortune for the better which changed again when he lost the clock.
Musafir remembers that they had met in another train journey many years ago much before he became a singer and had flicked the pocket watch from a much younger Baig. The pocket watch had truly changed his destiny for the better and had also rid him of his light-fingered illness with a name no one could pronounce. Musafir feels so guilty about having flicked the watch that he confesses this to Baig who, strangely, is not surprised.
Why he is not surprised comes out in the final twist when Musafir visits a shop of stolen goods Baig had asked him to go to with the guilty watch.
The entire story takes place in the luxury compartment of a long-distance train, adding to the claustrophobic ambience in which two different people belonging to different backgrounds and occupations are placed in a no-exit situation they actually begin to enjoy.
The bright lighting within the corridors, the luxurious positioning of the coupe in which the two passengers are thrown together, the use of the mirror as an agency of conscience for Musafir and the pocket watch dangling at the end of its golden chain bridge the gap between imagination and reality, between guilt and the absolving of guilt. The sound of the speeding wheels of the train reminds us of Ray’s Nayak.
All this however, would never have been possible without the beautiful nazakat in the performances of the two stellar actors and one can place bets on choosing which of the two is better. The Urdu and Muslim ambience function as a sharp contrast to the two films that went before harking back to the beautiful Muslim etiquette, we have all but forgotten.
As for Spotlight, my cerebral capacities were so challenged that after a point of time, I did not feel like wasting my brain or my hearing and eyesight on a narcissistic film star throwing his weight about in every which way he could reduced to an intellectual dwarf when facing a religious head everyone swoons over as “didi” who is actually a wronged young girl trying to capitalize on her victim-identity and rising above it.
The best thing about the film is the sterling performance of Chandan Roy Sanyal as the hero’s manager, suave, sarcastic and funny.
Except for Chaubey’s film, the rest of Ray remains limited by their race to reach an imaginary “finish” that does not exist and in doing so, allowing their work to be subsumed by their arrogance.
All said and done, Ray proves what a great writer of short stories filmmaker Satyajit Ray was.