An Introduction to Satyajit Ray, The Celebrated Movie Director With Synopses of His Masterpieces

I had already read something about movies of Satyajit Ray, doyen of Indian movies. The first film I saw was Pratitwandi (The adversary) in 1971. I was employed in an all India job and had the opportunity to work in all the metro cities of India. Wherever I went, I never missed to see Ray movies. It was a pleasant experience of life to watch his movies.

This article contains the impressions which the films created in me and I hope that readers will agree with my observation that he is a poet, artist and a sculpture among the film producers/directors. Also a synopsis of each film has also been given so that readers may have an understanding of the theme of the film under discussion.

However, a word of caution is that it requires a sense of appreciation of fine arts to enjoy movies of Ray. One should necessarily be a connoisseur to appreciate his movies. There are adverse critics also for some of his movies that he portrayed the poverty of India abroad. The fact is that he was bold enough to highlight which other producers were afraid to touch.

Synopses of some of his best movies in the chronological order of my viewing them are as follows:

1. Pratitwandi- The adversary:

Pratitwandi which means Adversary remains to be the first movie of Ray seen by me. It was a pleasant Sunday morning; the hall which screened the movie was most modern with high class equipment. The film Pratitwandi was a new release and the print of the film was very good. The moment the tiles started running on the screen, I was engrossed in the movie.

The story was about an educated, unemployed lad, whose mind was tilted to the path of violence gradually. The year 1971 witnessed a great exodus of refugees from Bangladesh (Erstwhile East Pakistan) to Calcutta. From South (Andhra Pradesh) a new violent movement called Naxalbari movement founded by Charu Majumdar started spreading and its loyalists were known as Naxalites.

Famous writer Sunil Gangobadhyaya wrote the story and Mr Ray portrayed it in an exemplary manner.

The hero’s name was Siddhartha. He was a calm and quiet lad whereas his younger brother chose the path of a naxalite, wedded to bomb culture.

The essential part of the film was to explain how Siddhartha’s mind was also tilted towards violence because of unemployment. He started brooding violence in his mind gradually and finally when a mob was seen mercilessly beating a cab driver responsible for an accident, he joined them in beating the driver even without knowing the reason.

“Individual Bengali is a poet, but a Bengali crowd is a violent mob”, this is a famous proverb and it was proved well by this scene.

The last scene was about an interview. Dozens of youth were called to attend. But there was no seating arrangement, no drinking water and only suffocation was there. One by one, the candidates started swooning for want of water and air and the hero entered the cabin with a bang. In a spate of anger he threw all the papers on the faces of interview board members and got out of the chamber. Naxalite thoughts were running over his mind along with portraits of Naxalite leaders..

‘That is how a naxalite is created’. This was the message of the film…

But the picture ended with positive note. He did not turn into a naxalite. He got a small assignment of a medical representative and he had a sweetheart who influenced him to be a normal youth, shunning the way of violence. There was place for love also in his life..

The Impressions: The directorial touches were excellent in various scenes. One important scene was about the naxalite turned brother. When he was an urchin he was unable to tolerate a chicken being killed by butcher, but later he used to kill mercilessly by throwing bombs. What a dramatic irony!

I could never forget the facial expression of the school child sitting inside the car, watching the violence with bewildered eyes, when the car driver was beaten to death by the mob.

After coming out of the hall, I was unable to go to my residence. The whole day, I was wandering around the city, the contents of the film lingering upon my mind.

No doubt, it is one the best pictures of Indian Cinema.

2. Teen Kanya- Stories of Three girls.

The next film I saw was Teen Kanya, a story of three girls. Three independent stories of three girls were clubbed into a single movie and perhaps might be the first such attempt in India. The names of the three stories are, ‘Post Master, Monihar and Samapti’ respectively. The story was by the great Poet Rabindra Nath Tagore. Though the film was produced in 1961, I saw it only in 1972. It was an old print and images were not clear. Yet I was able to appreciate the movie because of its rich contents.

First story: ‘Post Master’ was about a young person posted as the post master in a hamlet. The only fellow who was to help him was a young orphan girl child. Gradually good friendship blossomed between them He took personal interest to teach her to read and write. Alas, when she started learning something, he got a transfer and had to leave.

Impressions: Words could not explain the despair in the girl’s eyes, when the post Master left the hamlet.

Two scenes are worth mentioning. The post master got severe fever. When he was hesitant to swallow the tablet, the urchin grabbed the tablet and started chewing on his behalf to demonstrate how easy to swallow a tablet. In another scene, he had an encounter with horrible mad fellow. The whole night he was sitting before him sleepless out of fear. But, the next morning, when the girl visited him she just shouted ‘go, go’ and the ‘horrible’ lunatic ran away.

The second story was about a beautiful, rich and married lady who had an un-natural death and haunted a villa. Unfortunately, this portion was not available to view.

The third story was about an un-willing young bridegroom wedded to an immature girl who was not aware of marital relationships. How she came in term with her husband and started loving him was told in a jovial manner. This episode was later produced as a full length Hindi movie.

3. Pather Panchali- The Roadside Song:

Pather Panchali was the first film produced by Ray (in 1955) with the financial support of Government of West Bengal. But it took five years for me to view that film after I saw first a Ray film. I could vouchsafe that it was an experience of life. The recognition and awards given to the film were too little compared to the greatness of the movie.

The original story was written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, a famous Bengali author and the screenplay was by Ray himself. The music was scored by Pandit Ravisankar, a famous sitar player.

The story revolved around a poor family of five from a village viz: The family head

Harihar, his widowed sister, wife, daughter Durga and son Apu. The film was about their poverty and yet they used to find pleasure in enjoying the small pleasures Nature provided them with. The children walked kilometres from the village to watch a moving train. The scene could easily be compared to the train scene of Dr Zhivago.

Mother had the weakness of stealing coconuts from the neighbour’s garden. One day the neighbourhood lady lost her bead necklace and the blame fell on the daughter. But she firmly refuted the charge. The father left the village and went to an unknown town for betterment of his livelihood. The family entered into utter poverty. The girl Durga fully drenched in rain water was severely attacked with viral fever and without getting any medical relief she was dead. The house is in utter ruins.

After some years, the father chose to return to the village. He was shocked to see the ruins of the house. However, he started showing the valuables, he brought from town. When he was in search of Durga his wife fell to his feet and started crying. He also started crying after realising that his daughter was no more alive.

They decide to leave the village for good and started moving in a bullock cart.

The film ended with a totally touching scene. When clearing the old vessels. Apu found the neighbour’s once lost necklace from a mud pot. For one second he was perplexed, but the next moment, he threw it into the pond and joined the bullock cart.

No doubt, the film richly deserves the ‘Best Human document’ award in the Cannes film festival of 1956 and it remains to be one of the best films of the world. This is first of the three films known as Apu Trilogy.

4. Charulata, The lonely wife:

This is the story of a young married girl. The lonely wife was disillusioned with her husband who was a workaholic, always busy with his publishing works, not finding time to take care of her. The bewildered wife got solace in the company of brother of her husband and fell in love with him. Because of the extreme love and affection, the brother had for his elder brother, he gently rejected her love and nothing untoward happened. However, when the husband knew about the intention of his wife, the couple were psychologically separated.

Impressions: The woman watching the innocent brother in law from a swing was a very popular scene known as ‘the swing scene’ and the change in her mind from affection to love was very powerfully depicted. In India, a sister in law (brother’s wife) is considered equivalent to mother. It is very difficult to portray a woman otherwise which Ray did powerfully.

The story was by Rabindranath Tagore and reported to be a reflection of some incidents in his life.

5. Ghare Baire, Home and the world:

It is an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s story with the same title which means Home and the world. It powerfully exposes the pseudo patriots (swadeshis), who cheat local Indians saying that they are fighting imperialism and promote local economy.

The story was about a broad minded vicar who gave total freedom to his wife. He invited his friend, supposed to be a ‘Swadeshi’ (Patriotic Indian leader) but really not so. The leader, by his cunning ways won the heart of vicar’s wife who wished to take part in the freedom struggle. When a communal fight with huge violence (involving local Hindu-Muslim population) occurred in the village, the leader fails to face the situation, whereas, the vicar, supposed to be a selfish rich man, went and met the violent crowd. There was a sound of distant gunshot indicating that he sacrificed his life. His wife got disillusioned and it was too late. The screenplay was in a flashback narrated from her angle.

Impressions: It requires lot of boldness to write and to portray such an off-beat story exposing pseudo leaders. This film received sharp criticism from local leaders (Naturally).

6. Devi:

The story: A father in law got a peculiar dream that his daughter in law was none other than Devi (Durga, The Goddess) and started worshiping her. Soon people in and around the neighbouring villages started pouring in to worship her. When her husband returned from studies, she never allowed him to touch her since she was afraid of offending the Divine power. However, finally he was able to convince her that she was only a human and they were able to escape the village to go to a faraway place and live a normal life.

Impressions: The scenes, when people were converting her as God incarnate and she herself believing it are worth remembering.

7. Ashani shankat (Distant Thunder)

Ashani Shankat is another movie depicting the 1942 famine in Bengal taken in the style of Pather Panchali. This is a 1973 movie, in colour. It is a powerful depiction of human psychology subjected to poverty and hunger.

8. Seemapadha (company Limited).

This film, though only in black and white, is one of the most modern themes of Ray. It portrayed how an executive did all the cunning tricks in getting a coveted promotion. He engineered even an internal strike by creating artificial fight. He was ruthless, made one of his poor staff getting physically hurt to get a strike proposal materialise. Finally he got the promotion by hook and crook.

But in this process, he lost the great respect and appreciation his young and beautiful sister in law had for him who was disillusioned with her brother in law that he would stoop down to any level to get his promotion. A realistic approach indeed!

9. Jalsa Ghar (merriment room)

The story: Jalsa Ghar means a house or a hall reserved for merriment. The story revolves around a Zamindar (landlord, vicar) who lost all his wealth in independent India to be taken over by the Government. Unfortunately he lost his only son also in a ship wreck. What he retained was only his palatial building and a faithful servant and lived only in the past spending most of the time in the empty Jalsa Ghar in the palace which was a permanent reminder of his hay days.

But, a friend of him, who was a mediocre, became a millionaire by political influence and getting huge contracts. He invited the vicar also to join him in the business to mint money but he firmly refused considering his past prestige. The respect shown by the friend reduced day by day and finally he refused even to recognise his presence.

Enraged by this, the land lord ordered his servant to sell his personal belongings, renovate the Jalsa Ghar and ordered to have a merriment day at least once to celebrate the past memoirs. On that day, fully drunk, he drove the horse to beach side, lost control and fell down to death.

The servant took a drop of his blood from his forehead and cries “Khoon” meaning that ‘finally the blood is same red for all’.

Impressions: The picture very powerfully portrayed the feelings and emotions of a king who lost his power and lived in past glory, ingratitude of the Government, the cunning ways of politicians, and finally the tragic end of a ruler who wished to have his past glory at least for a single day and to have his Swan song. To some extent it portrayed the situation prevailing in post Independent India wherein ex-rulers were thrown into mud and Neo-politicians took their position by crooked means.

The story was by Sri Tarashankar Bandopadhyay and the lead role was powerfully played by Chabhi Biswas.

I was able to recognise the feelings of the ruler and emotions and my heartfelt sympathies went with him.

This film remains to be my most liked movie of Ray.:

I have recorded my impressions of 9 movies produced and directed by Mr Ray. There are some more films which impressed me very much. Some of them are:

Shatranj Ke kiladi (Chess players) the only Hindi movie,

Nayak (The Hero),

Aranyer Din Rat (Day and night in a forest) with typical Ray touch.

Kanchan Junga (A Himalayan Peak)

Since they have themes of fantasy, they were not recorded here.

Now I will record the tribute I paid him. I have never attended the funeral of any political leader nor film personality though there were several deaths in places where I lived. But I broke the rule and in 1992, when Ray breathed his last, in Calcutta I went to the place where his body was kept, waited in the queue for hours and paid my last respects.

This is the greatest tribute a common man like me would be able to pay to an artist whom he admired most.

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