Satyajit Ray remains Indian cinema’s most recognised icon.
An important reason for this can be that the nation of 1.2 billion has still not been able to discover a moviemaker of Ray’s brilliance and stature. So, India continues, after all these years, to bask in Ray’s glory.
On Aug 28 as the 70th edition of the world’s oldest film festival begins to unroll on the island of Lido, off Venice, the much sought after section on classics will include Ray’s Mahapurush (The Holy Man) and Kapurush (The Coward). Both movies will be screened in their digitally restored versions.
While Mahapurush is one of the master’s most significant works on godmen and their wile ways of fooling the community, Kapurush is a powerful look at man’s selfishness. Both works were critically acclaimed and proved to be roaring boxoffice successes in the mid-1960s.
I have seen some of the restored editions of Ray’s masterpieces like Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road) and Charulata (The Lonely Wife) at Cannes. Also Mrinal Sen’s Khandar (The Ruins). All these sparkle as if they have just popped out of the lab, and what a delight they are to watch!
Venezia Classics is a section that the Festival introduced in 2012 and is devoted to restored features and documentaries. It comprises a choice of the finest classic film restorations – the rediscovery of neglected or underrated movies of the past – completed over the past year by cinema libraries, cultural institutions or production companies the world over.
Sorcerer (1977), the masterpiece by the Golden Lion winner for lifetime achievement, William Friedkin, will open Venezia Classics. Warner Brothers has restored the film for the special occasion.
Sorcerer is a gripping tale of outcasts working in a South American oil drill who are forced to choose between freedom and slavery, but the path to an unshackled life is dangerously dynamited.
Coming back to Ray, it is not just Venice but even Britain which will celebrate one of the greatest auteurs the world has ever known.
The British Film Institute will release a superbly restored version of Ray’s Mahanagar (The Big City) to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie. A moving story of a middleclass family’s struggle to come to terms with changing equations in husband-wife relationship in a big city like Kolkata of the 1960s.
“Satyajit Ray’s wonderfully enjoyable portrait of mid-1950s Calcutta, a society still adjusting to Independence, infuses warmth, wit and genuine insight into its large, multi-generational cast of characters, including Arati’s conservative old father-in-law, her studious teenage sister-in-law, and her benevolently despotic boss,” says Margaret Deriaz of the British Film Institute.
She adds: “The Big City, with its emphasis on conflicting social values – and most particularly on the role of women – feels as fresh and relevant as ever.”
Mahanagar won Ray a Silver Bear for Best Direction at the Berlin Film Festival in 1964. It features Madhabi Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee in wonderfully etched out lead roles.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic, who has covered the Venice Film Festival for 15 years. He will be back there again, and may be emailed at [email protected]