The Ray Years

Build up
The issue on serious cinema is that it is serious. A penchant for serious cinema is hardly developed in the prime of youth especially during the teenage. My teenage cinema obsession started with soft porn in the shady allies of Kolkata. That was the natural instinct of the youth growing up in a non-internet era and without the resources to watch VCDs at home.
I always thought and still think that porn is therapeutic. And preventive. Especially for people not that close to companionship of other sexes. A lot of sexual crime perhaps could have been prevented if everyone subscribed to this view. But anyways at the age of 14-15 I was not thinking much. There was a lot more to do than think.
The shady seats in the broken halls in the shady corners of the city were the most sought after places for rowdy school-boys like me. On display used to be non-English European movies which were high on skin content. Sometime porn clips were inserted into otherwise clean movies. With police looking the other way in return for some tips the soft porn industry in the city was booming. And our sex education was happening on an accelerated albeit twisted route.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I never realized how the structure of good cinema had crept into my being. Through the window or a hidden corner somewhere. I started having judgments and started to understand my choices and preferences of the kind of cinema I wanted to watch. I remember an incident where I had a heated argument on the triangular freak show called Sayan when someone claimed that it was a more “mature” love-story than dil hai ki manta nahin. Both were bollywood potboilers. But one was a freak show which people today will laugh at. The other was a lift from one of the most engaging love-stories of all times. The very fact that I had a point of view was surprising. The fact that it was a year or 2 after watching Maine pyar kiya 7 times was shocking.
The east European cinema in the garb of soft porn had helped….
Something happened….
(Ray’s death and implications)
Something happened….
My life in bliss of academics, experimentation with dark elements and porn cinema was going along well enough as my higher secondary exams approached. A broken relationship and some bizarre experiences had shaken a bit of my equilibrium of existence. But overall it was a healthy existence in isolation with life rolling on towards the finite direction of engineering/medical entrance and college admissions. The HS exams went on as expected. And then something happened….
They say that when a big event happens the repercussions of the same is experienced by so many small common people which never gets noticed or accounted for. When Ray was holding his Oscar and communicating through the screen in the Oscar night I was sitting in front of TV with the realization of the hugeness of this person dawning on me for the first time. Till then he was this person who was a big filmmaker as per people around and everyone used to go gaga over his movies. I loved his Feluda and the GooGaBaBa series more. Had not seen much else.
Then this whole Oscar thing (Oscars till then was the biggest thing in movies for me) really gave me the perspective.
Ray died shortly after this. By then my exams were over. And for the first time I was free in life without any homework or any assignment to complete. The initial days of continuous TV watching exposed me to the world of ray with a 24/7 coverage of him, his life and his work. Kolkata and Bengal was like a melting pot flowing over with emotion in losing their last horseman of the famed Bengali renaissance. The last flag bearer of the great modern cultural upsurge for which Bengal was known for. And here I was sitting in front of the TV absorbing all of it and realizing how big the man was.
In the coming weeks my life was all about ray’s interviews, others talking about ray and most importantly the cinema of ray. While I ran around and started collecting every piece of document available on the man in magazines, newspapers and subsequently books, the most things which hit me about him was his cinema. DD Kolkata screened each and every piece of cinema which ray had made. Every day at 5pm. every day at 5pm my world around stopped. My world inside the world of ray came alive for those few hours. The world of apu, the world of Feluda, the world of arati, the world of bishwambhar roy, the world of paresh babu…..and so many others…
A few years later I had the fortune of watching a movie which was about a boy and an old man losing themselves in the joys of cinema in a rundown theatre somewhere in Italy. For me those days the 5pm appointments with the television were no less. It was that time of day everyday where life ahead of me was unfolding. Regardless of what profession I chose it was getting firmly cemented somewhere inside my being that cinema was going to be playing a very critical role in my life. As I had said in the beginning- when big events happen the repercussions travel far beyond the imagination of those events and people.
* * *
I am not here to write an autobiography. So I will end my indulgence into personal history here and now. I thought it was important to mention the impact which the person whose cinema I want to talk about had on my life and how. So that that and now we continue.
It’s funny. Who am I to talk about cinema of ray? Why should I have the audacity of actually writing about one of the greatest film makers the world has seen? Do I know or appreciate cinema better than him or even close to him? The answer to all these questions and doubts is obviously negative. after months of uncertainty and lack of clarity I have reconciled to the fact as mentioned in an earlier post- I write as a fan, a dreamy kid whose wonder world of fairy tales is woven around in the world of 35mm. ray for me has been and will always be the life-starter. In many ways I started living after ray happened. He happened through his death. Ironic…
Cinema of ray
The last few movies of ray talked about a world from which beauty was getting alienated. Shakha proshakha was about the disjointed family, ganashatru on Ibsen’s enemy of the people, and the final bow of the great man- Agantuk all dealt with the theme of social alienation. However the man started with a completely different approach to the world.
* * *
The trilogy
Pather panchali was not the first film which I saw of ray. In fact it was also not the first of the apu trilogy which I saw. Yet, when I ended up seeing pather panchali I was both shaken and stirred like the martini in the hand of Mr. Bond. After having seen many complicated “intelligent” forms of story-telling on screen the sheer straight-forwardness of ray in telling the original story of human-kind was enlightening. The characters in pather panchali could have been nova rich for all we cared. The story was really not about their struggle or their poverty. The story more was about the fact that life in any condition has its share of laughter, joy, sorrow, love and hatred. And that it ends. And that the same is not in our hands. And there is no point over-dramatizing the various facets of our lives.
Just like the scene where sarbajaya reveals durga’s death to harihar and pierces our heart without the use of a single dialogue, in the same way durga and apu’s discovery of the train for the first time brings out an unexpected thrill without any hi-tech complex plot-point. And the fact is that is the way life goes. A train of simple events which take a lifetime to complete. Before we make our passing. Dignity comes from accepting the same and making the best that we have. The beautiful trilogy of apu talks about a simple life of a simple man with simple dreams. And yet it makes such an engaging story.
The most endearing quality of Bibhutibhushan’s literature has been his celebration of the common man heroism. The common place thrill. His description of his first night in the jungle in aranyak was magical as it was like a kid seeing a fairytale for the first time. Bibhutibhusan throughout has been that kid. Discovering gems in everyday life. Gems of happiness, sadness, hatred love and so many other tapestries of human emotions and experiences.
There has been a section of critics who have criticized PP and other Ray films for show of poverty. They have thereby shown their ignorance and stupidity. For all anyone cares the characters of the trilogy could have been from middle or upper-middleclass, the reality of their lives would not have changed much. The story of apu was anything but poverty. It was the story of little nuggets of courage and heroism in adversity. And as I said- the fact the life keeps flowing in its own pace and direction and we humans just play our roles.
My favorite of the trilogy is aparajito. It is the least celebrated work in the trilogy, but it affected me the most. Perhaps because of the age I saw it. Aparajito was apu’s adolescence and journey into adulthood. The boy who loses his sister as a kid and his father before he can grow up. the boy who has the courage to move to the big city and then the boy who is torn between his urge to move on in life and his love and longing for his mother who has no strength left to go along. The final scene of the movie is liberating as well as devastating. The young soul torn between his need to grieve the loss of the last and the closest of his family and the realization that he is finally free. The cruelness of our options in life plays out in matter of fact simplicity and hypnotizes us into reflection of our own world and our choices.
Till date aparijito remains the ultimate growing up film for me. Urges of youth, the heartbreak of age all are too real and yet so serene.

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