The year 2021 marks the centenary of Satyajit Ray, and Netflix’s new anthology Ray is a tribute to the maestro. Based on short stories written by Ray, the anthology is a collection of four films created by Sayantan Mukherjee. Two of them are helmed by Srijit Mukherji, the other two directed by Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala respectively.
If one is familiar with Ray’s cinema then we know there is a certain sensibility and humanism that we have come to associate with him. Minimalistic in his style, Satyajit Ray's ability to portray the depth of complex human emotions with all nuances is something that continues to inspire generations of filmmakers . His command over the craft is magnificent.
At first glance, Ray might seem nothing like what one would expect it to be, given that it’s based on the auteur‘s works.
While for purists it could prove to be too much to take in, almost sacrilegious in the way some stories have been adapted, it nevertheless is fascinating to see how fearlessly the three filmmakers have interpreted them.
It's a huge risk, but unencumbered by the need to toe a line or limit themselves to a certain zone , they have stayed true to their individualistic style and not pulled any punches. It is this honesty and conviction that adds texture to their storytelling.
Take, for instance, Srijit Mukherji, who has taken Ray ‘s story into a completely dark territory, something that wasn’t even present in the original. The first in the anthology is Forget me Not, based on Bipin Choudhurir Smritibhram. It's a revenge drama that centre’s around Ipsit (Ali Fazal), a successful entrepreneur with a brilliant memory, a trait he is proud of. But soon, things spiral out of control when Ipsit encounters a woman he has no memory of meeting.
The second story by Mukherji is Bahrupiya, inspired by the short story Bahuroopi. The screenplays for both these films have been written by Siraj Ahmed. A disturbing psychological thriller, where Indrashish (Kay Kay Menon) decides to confront those who he feels have wronged him. With makeup and prosthetics he manages to create a different identity for himself, but his hubris proves to be his ultimate undoing. In both the films, the protagonists are pushed to a frighting brink, unable to get a hold on themselves.
The mood and tonality changes completely with Hungama hai kyun Barpa, the best short in this anthology .
Abhishek Chaubey, who has films like Ishqiya , Udta Punjab and Sonchiriya to his credit, adapts Ray’s Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment. The humour is intrinsic to the screenplay, and the fable-like quality in the storytelling comes closest to that of Ray’s. Musafir Ali, a ghazal singer, and Aslam
Baig, a sports journalist, are travelling together in a train. The conversation soon turns to an alluring pocket-watch Khushbakht. Time is a great leveller, they say, and the said watch apparently has a role to play in it. Exuberant performances by Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao and the ensemble, along with very aptly used music, keep the proceedings buoyant .
The final film starts with a quote by Satyajit Ray -“There is always some room for improvisation". We see a lot of that in true Vasan Bala style. Bala, who previously made the quirky Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, has directed Spotlight, based on the story by the same name. Wacky and over-the-top, the film nudges us to look at the flip side of living under constant public gaze and spotlight. Does one become a victim of one's own image ? Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor plays a big film star, Vikram Arora, who is creatively unsatisfied. His anxieties and insecurities get the better of him when he meets Didi (Radhika Madan), a revered cult leader, whose clout seems to threaten and overshadow his fame. Vik’s manager, played by a brilliant Chandan Roy Sanyal, tries to salvage the situation for him. Peppered with many Ray references, hat tip to the maestro’s films and characters, Spotlight is a trippy retelling of Ray’s story .
So the final verdict ? Some stories in an anthology work better than the rest. Ray, in that sense is a mixed bag, but the fearless re-telling of the maestro ‘s short stories is definitely worth a watch.
Our rating: 3 Quints out of 5