He turned a frock-clad school going teen Sharmila Tagore into Aparna – Apu’s wife. The cliché concept of all-evil in silver screen villains bored him. Javed Akhtar once said, “While Hindi films have ferocious villains who only evoked hatred, you actually felt sad for Ray’s negative character. Such was the sensitivity of the man”. He gave Bengali cinemas’ most real and grounded hero – Soumitra Chatterjee who turned into his blue-eyed boy. He used real comedians in humour, he transformed his characters into all time legends – APU (Soumitra Chatterjee), APARNA (Sharmila Tagore) CHARULATA (Madhabi Mukherjee), NAYAK (Uttam Kumar), had a unique eye for creating child characters, the man who created the iconic FELUDA.
One of Indian cinema’s most influential filmmaker it won’t be an exaggeration if I say Asian cinema or world cinema in that matter – Satyajit Ray if by any reasons or circumstances couldn’t make it as a filmmaker, the genius would have been the world’s most influential casting director for sure.
Amitava Nag’s book SATYAJIT RAY’S HEROES & HEROINES is an enigmatic insight on how the genius searched for his characters and found actors who can make them unforgettable. It was sheer magic.
Picture this – A school going teen Sharmila Tagore clad in frock, visits Ray’s home. Ray instantly notices the spark; his search for Aparna has finally ended after going through around a thousand pictures of young teenage girls received through an advertisement for the role. The frock is changed into a sari by Ray’s wife Bijoya and hair knotted into a bun and bingo a miracle has happened!!. Apu’s world gets Aparna and Bollywood gets Sharmila Tagore later in KASHMIR KI KALI.
Opening with a foreword from Soumita Chatterjee who hails his mentor Ray (Manik – Da) for having an incredible eye for details. Amitava Nag’s book is a personal observation, which reflects the author’s undying love for Ray and that in fact acts as a boon for readers. The book published by Rupa Publication is titled SATYAJIT RAY'S HEROES & HEROINES (may be for catching eye balls) as in my personal opinion, Ray’s cinema was all about characters and their struggle with their behavior and circumstances surrounding them. It was beyond the cliché understanding of heroism in cinema and his characters had a voice, shared an opinion that came with layers.
Throwing light upon the working style of Ray, Nag’s book helps the readers in getting deeper into the thought process of Ray with chapters dedicated to Sharmila Tagore, Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Uttam Kumar and of course humour, the Chaplin influence and his unmatched ability to write stories centered around kids that made the biggest impact on grownups around the globe – PATHER PANCHALI, THE WORLD OF APU (APUR SANSAR).
It’s a sad irony that Hindi cinema’s greatest icon Amitabh Bachchan could lend only his voice to Ray’s only Hindi film – SHATRANJ KE KHILARI (1977), Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi and Farooq Shaikh where more lucky. The masterpiece SHATRANJ KE KHILARI could have spearheaded Ray’s journey in Hindi cinema but that sadly didn’t happened.
Father of Asian cinema Akira Kurosawa who gave the world SEVEN SAMURAI which inspired Hollywood’s MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN and Bollywood’s SHOLAY, IKIRU (inspiration behind Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ANAND and RASHOMON (which remains an influence in many thriller dramas across the globe) said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon”.
Such was the genius of Satyajit Ray – the Indian filmmaker, screenwriter, music composer, graphic artist, lyricist and author who began as a commercial artist and after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing Vittorio De Sica's Italian neorealist film BICYCLE THIEVES developed a passion to turn into a filmmaker.
Some of the greatest stories in world cinema is told through children – Vittorio De Sica's BICYCLE THIEVES, Chaplin’s THE KID and Satyajit Ray’s PATHER PANCHALI to name a few, in all these movies children played an important role but these movies where never ‘children’s film’. Iranian maestro Majid Majidi understood this brilliantly.
Satyajit Ray wrote stories for children made movies for adults and was the Moon who gave light to the stars (his characters, actors), which turned memorable.
Amitava Nag ‘s SATYAJIT RAY'S HEROES & HEROINES is an intriguingly enigmatic s study for the lovers of Ray, Bengali cinema in particular and aficionados of world cinema. An enriching experience, a heartfelt tribute to the genius of Satyajit Ray.
(Extracts SATYAJIT RAY'S HEROES & HEROINES by Amitava Nag used with permission from Rupa Publications)
The collage of image used is courtesy Firstpost.