There is a scene well into Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room) in which the protagonist, a reclusive and close-to-bankrupt zamindar named Bishwambar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) stands outside his crumbling palace and looks out towards the riverbank, where his elephant Moti—his only asset worth anything—is standing. Bishwambar Roy’s stance, the squared shoulders, the raised chin, shows his pride: his pride in the elephant, his pride in the many generations of wealthy aristocracy that he can lay claim to, his pride—as he tells someone in another scene—in his blood.
Even as he looks out at his elephant, a truck, with the name of Ganguli (Roy’s wealthy, ‘self-made man’ neighbour) on it comes along. It’s heading towards the riverbank too, and as it proceeds, it raises clouds of dust, obscuring the river, the land, and the elephant. Blocking out Bishwambar Roy’s view of that last vestige of his wealth, and prompting him to take what turns out to be a decision that will prove a turning point in the story.
Satyajit Ray is a name that appears inevitably on any list of great Indian film directors. And often enough (or at least, it should, as far as I’m concerned) on lists of great film directors, regardless of nation or language. For me, half the joy of watching a Satyajit Ray film is not in in the breathtaking beauty of camera angles or the performances he managed to coax out of actors; it’s in the stories he told through his films. Stories very varied, stories that range all the way from whodunits to romances, to tales of human frailty, injustice, and more. You can never say of Satyajit Ray’s films that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
This Satyajit Ray film had been lying in my to-watch pile for a long time. Then, I learnt a few days back that the Indian government had finally decided to award a Dadasaheb Phalke to Soumitra Chatterjee for his contribution to Indian cinema. Better late than never, I guess (even though a number of people have said that it’s too late). The announcement, however, did give me a solid reason to watch Charulata (aka The Lonely Wife). And I ended up wanting to hit myself for not having seen this masterpiece earlier.
Sharmi has been reviewing one brilliant Bengali film after the other over at her blog. I ended up begging her to slow down, because I can’t possibly keep pace when it comes to obtaining—with subtitles, mind you—and watching so many great films. So what do I do? I watch and review a Bengali film of my own.
Chiriakhana (‘The Zoo’) is based on the famous crime novel of the same name by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. It features the detective Byomkesh Bakshi (which those of you who watched Doordarshan during the early 1990’s might remember from the superb TV series starring Rajit Kapur). The film was directed by Satyajit Ray, and though most feel that this is Ray’s worst film, it isn’t as bad as all that. It even won Ray a Golden Lotus at the National Film Awards.
There are some films that offer deep, mind-searing insights into human life. There are some that allow one to escape for a couple of hours into a world of make believe where good and beautiful people always win and the bad always come to a sorry end.
And there are films like this one, which I seriously think should be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne) isn’t among Satyajit Ray’s most profound works—it’s not in the same league, perhaps, as the Apur trilogy or Nayak. It is, however, one of the most charming films ever made in India, and a sure cure for the blues. I adore this film. Every delightful little bit of it.