Ray Review: Not quite a Ray of sunshine
Ray is an anthology of four short films "inspired" by Satyajit Ray’s literary works. It has its high points, but somehow stuff gets lost in translation — both literally and figuratively
Indians outside of Bengal (except expat Bengalis) have heard of Satyajit Ray, but not too many of them (other than the chattering classes) have kept track of his body of work. He was a filmmaker, who made only one Hindi film (Shatranj Ke Khiladi) and one telefilm (Sadgati), but, otherwise, he was a man who made “movies in Bengali”. Very good ones — after all, he’s India’s “greatest filmmaker”, internationally acclaimed, the only director who’s been bestowed with an Oscar — but still… These same people probably do not know that Ray was also an author in his own right, an editor, a music composer, an illustrator — he wore many hats.
In Ray, the Netflix series that debuted recently in the year of the auteur’s birth centenary, there is an attempt to rectify that. It is an anthology of four shorts — each an episode in the limited series — “inspired” by short stories penned by the man who gave the world celluloid masterpieces such as the Apu trilogy and Charulata, but peppered liberally with “millennial” twists.
Let me insert with a disclaimer at this point. I’ve not read any of these stories, so I did not become a spectator with a bias. What adds more spice to the mix, I thought, was all four films seemed to have a slightly twisted edge — as was evidenced in its very compelling trailer.
If you’ve watched the trailer as many times as I did, you’re going to be disappointed. Classic case of over-promise and under-delivery. There are great moments, delicious twirls and some good acting chops are on display. But alongside, there is a series of banalities and, what I thought, an over-the-top effort to be needlessly ‘current generational’, especially with language.
All four stories have “flawed” men leading the charge — but that’s fine really since there’s nothing deliberately misogynistic. The Manoj Bajpayee one (Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa) has been hailed critically, but I thought it was over-long and would have worked better in a shorter avatar. Kay Kay Menon has a warped role in Bahrupiya, something he’d do brilliantly I’d assumed, but he just seems so hackneyed: good in bits but flags most of the time. Strangely enough, the one that has been panned the most — Forget Me Not — was perhaps the best, narrative-wise, of the lot, though it kind of loses potency towards the end.
All four — including the excessively loud and somewhat pointless Spotlight, which must have been way more nuanced in Ray’s work — are shot beautifully. The first two, both directed by Srijit, capture Mumbai and Kolkata (respectively) in their essence.
My recommendation: go ahead and give it a shot anyway. If you read between the lines of the visual feasts, you may be able to capture the DNA of what made Ray who he was.