It’s been just over a week that Netflix’s ‘Ray,’ an anthology of four short stories written by the Satyajit Ray, has gone on air. And already, it has polarised opinions sharply in the city of the iconic auteur - while there is outrage on one hand as many feel his creations has been desecrated, the other half feels that the effort to revisit his writings through a contemporary lens has been quite a successful cinematic experiment.
Srijit Mukherji, who began his career with Bengali feature film ‘Autograph’ - again inspired by Ray’s ‘Nayak’ (The Hero), Vasan Bala and Abhishek Chaubey had taken up the challenge to portray four of Ray’s short stories – Spotlight (Bala), Bahurupi (Bahrupiya, Mukherji), Barin Bhowmik-er Byaram (Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, Chaubey) and Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritibhrom (Forget Me Not, Mukherji) for the anthology.
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The purists, who have grown up reading Ray’s short stories are calling it a waste of time, but the Mukherjee loyalists are ecstatic about what they feel are dark, intriguing masterpieces which comply with idiom of filmmaking on OTT platforms. Sandip Ray, his son and a senior filmmaker himself, has shied away from passing a judgement on the anthology - admitting he is apprehensive as he doesn’t know what to expect from the films.
It’s not easy to be in Ray Jr’s shoes. The venture by Netflix India has been to pay a tribute to Ray on his ongoing 100th birth anniversary year and once he has agreed on a professional agreement over filming rights of the stories, there can be no interference on the creative process. Ray Jr has admitted in an interview that he wasn’t consulted on the script, while the jury is still out if the short films have missed out on the soul of Ray’s stories altogether.
Any criticism of a film, ideally, should focus on it’s worthiness of cinematic experience - rather than how faithfully it has been able to adhere to the storyline even if it’s a Ray work. However, there has been historically a certain level of intolerance in Bengal whenever any creative liberties were taken with the works of two of the biggest Renaissance figures from the state in the last two centuries - Rabindranath Tagore and Ray.
Talk about Rabindrasangeet, the treasure trove of songs written by Nobel laureate Tagore, which were the intellectual property of Vishwa Bharati - the university in Shantiniketan founded by him till as late as 2002. Any recording of the Tagore songs had to adhere to the rigid notation of Vishwa Bharati and even the hugely popular Debabrata Biswas was barred from singing Rabindrasangeet on charges that he flouted the notation. It's only after that period when the copyright rules were eased that experiments have begun to render the songs with greater instrumentation.
The hyper-sensitivity over handling of Ray’s stories, hence, is not unexpected - especially when often a tenuous storyline is kept but the social mileau has been changed, characters have been added, swear words are on free flow alongwith the sexuality. This is not the world Ray inhabited, and hence, the controversy is an expected one.
Ironically enough, Ray himself has been often criticised for taking liberties with well-known literary work during his journey - be it with the final scene of Charulata (The Lonely Wife) or the dark ending of Jana Aranya (The Middleman). The saving grace was that all such work had transcended to pure cinema.
The final verdict rests with the audience - and the way the anthology is trending on social media, the curiosity value is certainly on an upward swing!