Omnibus – The Cinema Of Satyajit Ray (1988)
When Satyajit Ray dwelled in the world of Apu through the Apu trilogy, he had never missed a trivial and mundane chore or object in the lives of the characters, and he even used them to represent the invisible, giant, rumbling churning machine called life. The scene in which a neighbor storms into Sarbajaya’s, mother of Durga and Apu, courtyard accusing Durga of stealing her daughter’s bead necklace stands as a good example. Even though Sarbajaya defends her daughter, she spanks and drags Durga by the hair afterward, and the necklace never resurfaces for some time.
Later, as every tiny and irrelevant object in a Ray film, the necklace reappears when Apu and his family packing their household things for leaving for the city. Apu accidently discovers the necklace somewhere in the attic and the scene reverberates with a piercing pain as Durga is no more by then. As soon as Apu identifies the controversial necklace, he runs out with it and throws it into the pond nearby. The blanket weed in the pond makes a cleft like opening and closes it as soon as the necklace goes down into the depths and the pond remains as if nothing had happened.
Such poignant scenes that encapsulate the absurd, surreal, painful and ironical nature of life make Ray a master of poetic realism. Nevertheless, no other Indian filmmaker had been gone through and dealt with the altercation of different perceptions of the eastern and western audiences. The BBC documentary directed by Adam Low address this dilemma through some sharp face-to-face interactions with Ray and exemplifying them with some carefully chosen footage from Pather Panchali.
The documentary sheds light on the fact that Ray and his rich imagery were perceived in two different ways by two different cultures and Ray himself accepts the fact that his primary audience was the Bengali people. When two cultures view a filmmaker’s work with two different perspectives, he lands in a dilemma of aesthetic and formal abstractions. The documentary inquires how Ray overcame and leveled this huge gap and addressed the anomaly with his arresting visuals and poetic realism.
When Pather Panchali took home the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Ray was not a well-known filmmaking personality for the larger part of India. And it took some years, thanks to the revolutionary film society movement in the 70s, for Ray to become the auteur who defied the stereotypes and clichés of Indian mainstream cinema. The documentary digs into this complex process of transformation with interesting questions like, “Do you feel Indian enough?” “Well, I can be Indian enough if the need arises,” Ray replies with a witty smile.
Written By: Ragesh Dipu