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My introduction to the world of Satyajit Ray by Mallika Bhaumik

I was dutifully introduced to the world of Satyajit Ray by my father. He thought like many others of his generation that, good education and culture should be inculcated from an early age. Thus along with good books, Tagore songs, poetry and dance dramas we were encouraged to watch good movies and naturally Ray’s movies came as first choice. He was not only the pride of Bengal but also made movies which children loved and related to along with the adults. When I think in retrospect, I find that a serious filmmaker like Ray appealed to me a lot earlier than many of his talented contemporaries since he had kept a window of his creativity open for the young minds too. My love for movies of Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen grew later, at a more matured age and by that time I had almost finished reading all his detective and sci fi books and seen some of his movies which have remained fresh in appeal ,even after decades. Satyajit Ray, an 'auteur' in the true sense of the word, started out as a commercial artist and the idea of movie making lured him at the age of late twenties, when he was introduced to Jean Renoir and the magic of European humanist movies. His creative works are noted for the emotive interpretation of human life and impassioned telling of the most mundane facts of Indian culture. In an interview he said, “It is a poor film which draws attention to style rather than content.” His movies lacked any flashiness or pulsating scores contrary to Indian contemporary films but the stories were eloquently told representing ordinary life of ordinary people. His movies explored human emotions, inner conflicts, mundane struggles with an overall humanist approach. The children depicted by Ray in his movies transcended their celluloid boundaries and became one of our own due to the rare and deft handling of their characters by the master movie maker. From 'Pather Panchali' to 'Aguntuk' Ray handled children as children, not once did they behave or speak like adults neither did they overdo anything nor did they seem out of place ever. Ray’s grandfather Upendra Kishore Ray Chowdhury and father Sukumar Ray were well known names in children’s literature. Ray continued the legacy with twenty one novels and eleven short stories, most of them translated in many languages across the world. The two incredible and immortal characters Ray gifted his young readers were, Professor Shonku, the genius scientist and Feluda, the smart intelligent sleuth with a humane approach to life. My first Ray movie was 'Sonar Kella' and I would sit to watch it again with the same love and enthusiasm, even after decades. The detective genre was an unexplored area in Indian cinema and naturally 'Sonar Kella' became a path breaking film based on a detective story of the same title by Ray himself.

'Sonar Kella' introduced me to a new word 'jatiswar' (someone who can recall snatches of his/ her past life). This was a sensational idea to us, school goers. I remember my grandma too was wonderstruck on seeing a young jatiswar on screen. The child character Mukul used to remain engrossed in his own world, drawing peacocks and forts and kept reminiscing about his past life. He left for Rajasthan in search of a particular ‘Sonar Kella’ of his past life with a well -known parapsychologist, Dr Hazra . However a failed attempt of kidnapping of a neighbourhood boy of the same name as his son, prompted Mukul's father to engage Feluda to ensure his son’s safety. Feluda too left for Rajasthan along with his cousin Topshe and on the way they met the endearing character, Lalmohon Ganguly aka Jatayu, a popular thriller writer. Any cinephile in love with classical detective storytelling will become a fan of Ray after watching this thrilling and suspenseful mystery adventure.The child character, Mukul played by Kushal Chokrovorty said in an interview later that he was too young at the time of shooting to understand the larger than life persona of Ray. He recollected that , “His gift lay in that he never treated us like children. I would play chess with him and win every time. May be he allowed me to win though I did not realise that. This treatment of placing children on an equal platform helped us open up.”

Siddhartha Chatterjee, who played Feluda’s teenage cousin Topshe, maintained a diary during the shooting. He commented that the three fascinating features of Ray’s persona were his total control over any situation related directly or indirectly to his work, his ability to take speedy and instantaneous decisions and last but not the least, his time management. Feluda was the best thing to happen to a Bengali kid growing up and Soumitra Chatterjee's portrayal of this iconic character, made him a household name. He remarked much later in an interview, “I was ecstatic that I could be a part of a film that is made solely for the kishores (children ) ...we don't make many of those in Bengali cinema. “In later years other actors replaced Chatterjee and other directors (read Sandip Ray ~son of Satyajit Ray ) made Feluda movies but Soumitra Chatterjee's portrayal as a Charminar puffing lanky sleuth has remained etched in my memory.

Ray was drawn into a child’s world while illustrating books like ‘Pagla Dashu’ ‘ Haw-jaw- naw-raw-law’ the famous book of nonsense rhymes by his father, Sukumar Ray. It grew when he revived the then extinct children’s fortnightly magazine, ‘Sandesh’ and started editing and illustrating the magazine with Leela Mazumdar, that was originally started by his grandfather Upendrakishore in 1913. The next Feluda movie, 'Joy baba Felunath' came after a five years wait, in 1979. Here the viewers got introduced to a 'Probashi' Bengali family, the Ghoshal family, which had lost a valuable golden Ganesha statue, all of three inches and Feluda was entrusted with the job of finding the culprit. This movie showcased the gutsy antagonist of the plot, Maganlal Meghraj, played by the none other than the thespian, Utpal Dutt. Few would ever forget the knife throwing scene at his den as a means to threaten the detective to opt out of the case along with the bait of ₹2000 in those days. Jatayu was harassed in a subtle yet spine chilling style and the whole scene was breathtaking, to say the least. Benaras too, had seldom been captured through such soulful cinematography as it had been in, 'Joy Baba Felunath.'

The film unwrapped the hidden layers of the characters apart from the lust and greed of Maganlal, the businessman with no sense of ethics and also the cautionary foresight by the patriarch of the family to save the priceless heirloom. Ray forayed into Indian fantasy comedy films with ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ based on a story by his grandfather Upendrakishore. It was a fantasy musical and the lyrics were written by Ray himself. The two characters, Goopi and Bagha made their first appearance in the Sandesh magazine. Ray was mulling to make a movie with these two lovable characters and was partly compelled by his son, Sandip to make the movie. The film released in 1969 at a time when special effects was unheard of in our country. Ray was an acclaimed film maker by then yet he had to face financial crunch as his financer backed out, being unsure of the movie’s fate. The movie released to a great critical and commercial reception which held the record for longest continuous run of a Bengali language movie in Bengal, as it ran for fifty one straight weeks. This movie revealed Ray’s penchant for humour and music as well. The ghost dance scene was remarkable considering the budget and Ray thanked S V Rau(Rauko ) calling it a 'technical feat.'

Phil Hall remarked that the film came as a ‘delightful surprise’. The critical response, though positive was about its length as The Observer wrote that “perhaps it would appeal to singularly un-fidgety children.” However it went on to win National award for Best Feature Film and Direction and also bagged some prestigious awards abroad as well. Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne might have been a children’s film, but it had an underlying message on war and peace, issues which is relevant today when the country is currently riding high on nationalism. Ray through his wonderful tale of two pure, endearing human beings, Goopi and Bagha and soulful music showed the futility of war very subtly and the importance of a full meal, when Goopi Bagha stalled a famished Halla army with plates full of food. The sequel to Gopi Bagha story titled "Hirak Rajar Deshe' came in 1980. In this movie everyone talked in rhyme except the school teacher, played by Soumitra Chatterjee, since he was the only person with free flowing thoughts. The movie had an undertone of political message with the tagline, 'Dori dhore maro taan/ raja hobe khan khan' roughly translated as, 'Pull the rope hard / the king will fall into pieces.'

Anup Ghoshal ,the playback singer for the character Goopi Gayen,won the National award for Best Male Playback voice. The music and lyrics were composed by Ray which won him the National Award for Best Music Direction for this movie.This movie was followed by 'Goopi Bagha Phire Elo' in 1992. The story and music was by Satyajit Ray while his son directed the film.

After Ray’s demise, Gautam Ghosh was handpicked by his widow, Bijoya Ray to make a documentary on the master. Ghosh recalled, “In the sixties people like James Beverage and B D Garg and Shyam Benegal in the eighties had made documentaries on Ray, but no one had done anything after his death. So I was frantically looking for a spine to start work.” Ghosh found his spine in the ‘kheror khata’( accounts’ book ), a red notebook, which revealed an intriguing aspect of the creative mind at work. It represented his doubts and sense of wonders along with other things and might be the best ‘emotional link’ to Ray’s creativity. Satyajit Ray’s fascinating oeuvre is something one can marvel at and as a movie enthusiast I have carried the legacy of my father by introducing my children to the great body of work of this master movie maker.

Mallika Bhaumik is a widely published poet with two poetry books to her credit. Her poems, short stories, travelogue, article, interviews have been published in many well-known magazines, journals and anthologies like Cafe Dissensus, Harbinger Asylum, Get Bengal, Shot Glass Journal, In Parentheses Journal, Kitaab, Pangolin Review, Narrow Road Journal, The Bengaluru Review, Oddball Magazine, Mad Swirl, Madras Courier, The Grey Sparrow Journal, The Alipore Post, to name a few.

Her first book,'Echoes'by Authorspress, has won the Reuel International Award for the best debut book,2018. Her second book 'How not to remember' was published by Hawakal Publisher, (2019).

She is also a nominee for the Pushcart Prize for poetry, 2019. Three of her poems from 'How not to remember' are included in the Post Graduate syllabus of BBKM University, Dhanbad, 2020 She lives and writes from Kolkata,India.

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