The great Satyajit Ray, while writing the review for Vittorio De Sica’s ‘The Bicycle Thief’ (1948), had once said – “For a popular medium, the best kind of inspiration should derive from life and have its roots in it. No amount of technical polish can make up for the artificiality of theme and dishonesty of treatment. The Indian filmmaker must turn to life, to reality. De Sica, and not De Mille, should be his ideal.” Keeping true to his words, three directors, belonging to three distinct styles of filmmaking, doff their hats to the master, in their inimitable ways in the Viacom 18 backed, Netflix‘s new show ‘Ray’ (2021). These are the modern-day re-telling or re-imagined darker versions of the tales that Ray had originally envisioned. There have been many films based on Ray’s original work by various directors including his son Sandip Ray, yet a very small fraction of these films has got the same adulation as their original creator. For me however, ‘Ray’ (2021) is a roaring success, because it presents Satyajit Ray in a way, that nobody would’ve dared to do. The show imbibes Ray in its soul, wearing the cloak of contemporary times. Thus the problems or the scenarios may seem superficial or the premises flimsy, yet they contain enough quirk for a satisfactory viewing. So if you’re a puritan at heart and consider Ray as the sacrosanct, well this show and this review ain’t for you! 

If one has to rank the episodes based on their merit, then Abhishek Choubey’s ‘Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa’ takes the top spot. Based on the short story ‘Barin Bhowmik Er Byaram’, stars Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao, Raghuvir Yadav and Manoj Pahwa. A chance meeting between a famous singer and his co-passenger on a train journey brings forth lots of memories for both of them, albeit not so nice ones. Layered with dollops of humour, this story is essentially about human beings and their inherent traits that refuse to leave them. The next best episode is ‘Spotlight’, directed by Vasan Bala. Based on the short story of the same name, it’s about a movie star and a god woman and their tryst to win people with their gifted ‘look’. Starring Harshvardhan Kapoor, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Akasha Ranjan and Radhika Madan in a smashing cameo, this episode dangerously oscillates between bizarre and self-conspicuous. Perhaps the quirkiest of the lot, this story is a trippy ride into people’s mind and their self-obsession. 

Srijit Mukherji directs two shorts – Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad and Anindita Bose starrer ‘Forget Me Not’ which is based on ‘Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritibhrom’, followed by ‘Bahurupiya’ based on ‘Bahurupi’, which stars Kay Kay Menon, Bidita Bag and Rajesh Sharma. ‘Forget Me Not’ is about a sharp brained, shrewd corporate honcho priding on his eidetic memory who all of a sudden, appears to lose his sanity about meeting a stranger who he somehow cannot recollect. Ali Fazal brilliantly plays this man who goes through a maelstrom of emotions, looking for a missing piece of memory. ‘Bahrupiya’ is the story of a lonely man, who acquires a makeup manual left by his late granny, that empowers him to change his face at will. In both stories, Srijit Mukherji leaves his indelible mark as a storyteller, in fact, ‘Bahurupiya’ is a call back to his own film ‘Vinci Da’ (2019) based on a similar premise, though Kay Kay Menon’s performance is much superior to Rudranil’s version in the original Bengali film. Kay Kay plays the pivotal character of Indrashish who decides to take on the gods with his newly acquired powers until he meets his match in the form of a peer baba.

Art and criticism go hand in hand, so naturally, there would be some for the show as well. As mentioned earlier, this show is not for the Ray puritans because it does not speak about Ray’s ideas or his sensibilities, the way people perceive it. The directors have taken the kernel of Ray’s original concept and weaved their tales around it. So blaming the directors to have distorted Ray’s vision, in my opinion, is blasphemous. You take out Ray’s name from the show and it would still garner eyeballs for attempting some of the audacious stories in a long, long time. Srijit’s episodes, at times, suffer from the conundrums of taking things too liberal. Although, his episodes are much enjoyable to watch as they offer a variety of suspense ranging from the degrees of outrageous to outright disbelief, plenty of loopholes also glare from the storylines. Similarly, ‘Spotlight’ also suffers from not having a solid actor at the forefront like a Vijay Verma or a Gulshan Devaiah to run the show. Harshavardhan Kapoor is a fine talent yet as a viewer, you seek someone else in the leading role, for the role demands an actor with a look to kill. Chandan Roy Sanyal is again another actor who in the right role, can give anyone a good run for their money. As the all-solving man-Friday Roby, he’s terrific. In fact, ‘Spotlight’ can be completely misunderstood if you don’t read between the lines. Only ‘Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa’ remains unblemished as it’s the perfect amalgamation of acting, direction, humour and slice of life. It’s a blessing to see stalwarts like Manoj Bajpayee and Gajrao Rao jostling with their respective talents. Even the brief appearances of Raghuvir Yadav and Manoj Pahwa are a treat to the eyes, for they bring the required authenticity to their characters. 

The directors adorn their respective episodes with a plethora of references to Ray’s work or ‘easter eggs’ as the millennials like to call them. ‘Forget Me Not’ shows the apartment dwellers name as the different characters from Ray’s films. ‘Spotlight’ has multiple references from Ray’s own works, the ghost from ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ (1968) uttering the names of his films. Ali Fazal’s character is darkly reminiscent of Arindam Mukherjee from ‘Nayak’ (1966) whose past finally catches up to him. Kay Kay’s character, much-ridiculed and ostracised from all quarters is very similar to Somnath from ‘Jana Aranya’ (1975). There’s a ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998) reference as well. Do look out for them!

Give ‘Ray’ (2021) a shot. As a viewer, one may not agree with the show or for that matter, aggressively dispute the fact that it may not be the true representation of his work. But one can never disregard the fact that Ray’s work still inspires countless filmmakers all around the world, in its unique way. And that is perhaps the greatest tribute ever to the master!

‘Ray’ is now streaming on Netflix worldwide. A total of 4 episodes, with each running for 50-60 mins. Episode 1, 2 and 4 rated adult for aggression and sexual violence. Episode 3 rated universal. 

The Cinemawala Review – 3/5

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