Ray, based on the short stories by legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray and currently streaming on Netflix, is a stylishly shot compendium of four standalone long shorts. These adaptations situate the narratives within a contemporary setup and emphasize a society dominated by selfishness, injustice, betrayal, corruption, and materialism. The primary characters have to confront situations where they not only feel powerless but also victims of unbalanced situations to a degree that reveals their vulnerability. But the three contemporary filmmakers, while unafraid to subvert the formulaic style of narration, dull the edge and essence of the original material thereby making for disappointing viewing.
The ‘series’ (Netflix says this is Season 1) kicks off with Forget Me Not that narrates the plight of a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, Ipsit Nair (Ali Afzal). He is smart and confident enough to profitably guide the trajectory of his business from funding and strategy to resource allocation. His biggest asset is his computer-like memory. But an unpleasant meeting by chance with a woman, Rhea Saran (Anindita Bose), transforms his mind into a place of deep anxiety. In terms of technicalities, there are no complaints. The alliance between the cinematographer (Swapnil Sonawane) and the production design (Anasuya Sengupta) works alongside each other to create the appealing world of our protagonist while Nitin Baid’s edit is in complete harmony with the stylized treatment of the theme by the director, Srijit Mukherjee. But sadly, Mukherjee’s direction fails to create an emotive articulation of the combative spirit of Ipsit for whom his memory is paramount. Moreover, a narrative of such intensity required a strong performance from the protagonist, But Ali Afzal fails to sensitively depict the trauma faced by an individual in search of his identity in relation to his professional and personal life. Even a talented performer like Shweta Basu Prasad, who plays Maggie, Ipsit’s secretary, had also been grossly underused for a role that had scope for much depth and a range of emotional intricacies. Not quite the perfect start this.
Mukherjee also directs the second episode, Bahrupiya, and this time locates his narrative in a middle-class locality in the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata. The protagonist in this tale, Indrashish Shah (Kay Kay Menon), has taken too many leaves of absence from his office to look after his grandmother, who is suffering from cancer. This has created a rift between him and his senior official, Suresh Sharma (Rakesh Sharma). Shah also works as a part-time make-up artist and harbors feeling for an ambitious and promiscuous actress, Bidita Bag, who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. After the demise of his grandmother, he inherits seventy-five lakh rupees and most importantly, a book about make-up from her. He follows the instructions mentioned in the book and connivingly uses prosthetics to square up to people who have enraged him. But the consequences of his actions do not always reap benefits and the segment ends with a gory climax. The premise of Bahrupiya has similarities with Mukherjee’s earlier Vinci Da (2019) but does not match up this time around, making it an unsatisfying 2/2 for him. That said, there are some positives. The cinematography (Arkodem Mukherjee) and production design (Shibaji Pal) effectively capture the feel of the background, setting, and atmosphere of the milieu. Among the actors, Kay Kay Menon delivers an evocative, restrained performance as a simple man, who learns his lessons in life the hard way. Dibyendu Bhattacharya gives a delectable and minimalistic yet stark and moving performance as the spiritual guide, Peer Baba, who can reveal one’s secrets by just looking at one’s face. Rakesh Sharma and Bidita Bag too have performed their role with enough convictions. Overall, this segment works patchily in bits and parts and relies heavily on the strength of the performances of its actors.
The third episode, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, is directed by Abhishek Chaubey takes the viewers literally on a journey. The narrative is mostly set within the private compartment of a train and told through flashbacks. A popular ghazal singer, Musafir Ali (Manoj Bajpayee), meets his co-passenger Aslam Baig (Gajraj Rao) while traveling from Kolkata to Delhi. Memories keep flooding back as Musafir recalls a lousy and dishonest act he had committed against the not-so-innocent Aslam. This one, fortunately, has the director in command. Chaubey’s creative, cinematic craft pervades in all its ramifications throughout the film especially in creating well-calibrated and remarkably understated performances from both Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao. The framings by cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan expertly creates a claustrophobic space where the two characters are confined in the company of one another reminiscing past times. Manas Mittal’s editing unravels the story with a keen pace juxtaposing between events from the past and present. The transitions from reality to dream-like situations offer an imaginative touch to the narrative. However, the length of the film tells and there are times it overstays its welcome.
The final episode, Spotlight, is a fanciful tale that depicts the plight of an uber-cool actor, Vik (Harshvardhan Kapoor) whose current film is setting cash counters ringing at the box office. But he is not creatively satisfied with the success of his film and wants more out of his life. He is also extremely conscious about his stardom but his persona is beginning to fade due to the repetitiveness of his ‘look’ and critics pulverizing his abilities as an actor. To add insult to injury, Vik comes across a Godwoman, Didi (Radhika Madan), whose popularity overpowers his revere as an actor. Directed by Vasan Bala, the film takes a smart dig at two of the most powerful opiums of the masses in India – religion and superstar actor fandom. Along with his cinematographer Eeshit Narain, Vasan puts plenty of deft subtle touches within the frame through the use of light, shade and colors. But he goes all over the place with his ‘jazzy’ directorial effort. While Harshvardhan tries to sink his teeth into the character but just doesn’t seem convincing enough, Chandan Roy Sanyal as Viks’ manager, Roby Ghosh, portrays his role with sensitivity, exuberance, and ease. But it is the stellar performance by Radhika Madan, who makes her appearance towards the end of the film, and steals the show. She has etched out a performance that is grounded and at the same time is disarmingly spontaneous.
Overall, what can one say except that for those individuals who have grown up reading the stories of Manik Babu, Ray is likely to be an unfulfilling experience. And as for those not familiar with the original stories, they, too, would be better off reading them instead.
Hindi, Series, Drama, Color