Ray Review: Vasan Bala, Srijit Mukherji add their own touch to Satyajit Ray's short stories while Abhishek Chaubey tries to stay close
I remember a recent conversation with my mother where I was raving about Satyajit Ray and his writing prowess. As I kept talking about how his writings have a brilliant quality in them, my mother quipped that we (as in Bengalis) have had better. True, Bengal has produced geniuses, but there is no denying that Satyajit Ray catered to the sensibilities of every kind of people that one would come across. Satyajit Ray the filmmaker is another level, but Satyajit Ray the writer has been no less. Even if we keep aside the entire Feluda series, he was a genius whose short stories have every element of greatness- be it exploring the human complexities, or keeping you hooked with the classic twist in the tale. The biggest thing- there are no sides that you would be able to take by the end. While Satyajit Ray the filmmaker is known to everyone around the world, there is no doubt that Satyajit Ray the writer needs more recognition outside Bengal. Netflix's Ray was an attempt at that. But was it a successful attempt? The answer is both yes and no! Yes, because the audience not just pan India but across the globe gets a hint of what Satyajit Ray wrote! No, because in quite a few, the essence has been lost.
The first two films, Forget Me Not and Bahrupiya, adapted from Ray's Bpinin Chowdhury's Smritibhrom and Bahurupi, have been directed by Srijit Mukherji. Mukherji uses the two stories as materials and puts his own signature touch to the films. The material, which has been made grim and dark, takes the basics from the story. However, there is one thing missing- the delving into the human psyche which was the most important factor in the stories. What's more- you would feel that the protagonist Ipsit, played by the impeccable Ali Fazal has been painted negatively in Forget Me Not and therefore you begin to take sides. Do you sympathise with all the characters?- no! For Bahrupiya as well, you miss what is driving the story's lead character Indrashish to do what he is doing? Is it heartbreak? Is it trauma? What was the point of the first scene in the film? Both the films exude a lot more Mukherji than Ray. Those who are a fan of his films like Baishe Shrabon or Dwitiyo Purush would find the similarity at how Mukherji handles the material. So anyone unaware of the original short story would definitely find it intriguing, but those aware would be a tad bit disappointed.
However, what needs to be lauded are the performances in both films. Ali Fazal does a fantastic job as the man with the memory of a computer, who suddenly finds himself unable to place a person. He completely breaks down and Ali Fazal shows that vulnerability beautifully. Kay Kay Menon shoulders Bahrupiya, and he lends a certain Joker-like vibe into his character. He plays his character Indrasish with brilliance. Equally good was Dibyendu Bhattacharya as the peer baba. This is a dark grim story that really needed to tie more ends and taken the audience into the psyche of the lead.
If there is one film that remains close to Ray's story, then it has to be Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa by Abhishek Chaubey. He presents the story as it is, and very effectively puts the conversation that the protagonist has in his mind in Ray's 'Barin Bhowmick e Byaram' on the screen. What's better- Manoj Bajpayee as Musafir Ali and Gajraj Rao as Aslam Baig. While the retelling was adapted very well, a person aware of the story would miss the work of the guilty conscience that Ray had so well depicted in the story. However, the audience does get a large part of it. Manoj Bajpayee plays the ghazal singer, who has battled kleptomania and recovered from it only after he got (read stole) his 'Khushbakt' from a co-passenger. Coincidentally, destiny brings them together at the same spot almost a decade later. What I loved about the segment was Chaubey using an imaginative audience for the protagonist to show his conversation with himself. The original story's copy too has been deftly placed in a frame in the film. This would by far be the most honest adaptation in the series.
Next comes Vasan Bala's Spotlight, who, like Srijit Mukherji puts his own nuances and understanding into the story. It has the classic usage of pop culture, something we have seen in Bala's films, and heavily in his last outing Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. While Ray is predominantly used, Bala doesn't stop there, In fact, it has quite a shift from the original material of the same name, and delightfully so! He puts a lot here- from exploring existential crisis to understanding fame to conversation around religion and godman/godwoman. However, it all comes together brilliantly. Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor is the surprise package here, and man he delivers a performance. He plays the actor Vik, who had enticed the nation with his 'look'. He has the divine look and that apparently that's all that he posses. He has been cast as type and he does such a perfect job. This boy definitely is talented. As he questions whether he is a true artist, he finds the spotlight shifting from him to a godwoman- Didi, played by Radhika Madan. Radhika appears for just a few minutes in the hour-long film, but her presence broods throughout the runtime. In the few minutes that she is on-screen, she rules it. Vasan Bala also very cleverly uses things that any fan would at once associate with Ray- be it Vik's tees, or his mother suddenly appearing in Bhooter Raja style and naming every film of Ray's. This is a mishmash, and we love how Bala uses everything but gets into the depths of his characters. Also, the music is like a character in the film, heightening the effect.
This one is perfect for a binge watch and something that you definitely shouldn't miss.