Carrying a Ray Legacy

Legacy is a heavy albatross. It gets compounded if it were left  by a parent for furtherance by the progeny. And if that parent happens to be one Satyajit Ray, then you can but sympathize with his son, film-maker Sandip Ray (Babu-da to those who know him well. I don’t). But wait – should one sympathize with someone who has conciously chosen to not only carry forward the same trade but also base his career on his father’s works?

Sandip is best known for his films that has a connection with his father. These films are either from stories written by the senior Ray – like Fatikchand, junior Ray’s first film – or themes that Satyajit created, like Goopy Bahgha Phire Elo (The Return of Goopy & Bagha) that completed the Goopy-Bagha trilogy. Interestingly, his works can be divided into the period his father was alive – and would usually compose music for Sandip’s films – and those that Sandip made after the demise of Satyajit Ray in 1992. And that is when the burden of legacy seemed to creep up on him and take a vice like grip on his creativity

Creating a movie script from a novel is not an easy task – sometimes directors take the liberty to stretch the literature in its celluloid form. Take Gautam Ghosh’s “Paar” (The Crossing) for example. Adopted from a two page short story called “Paari” by Samaresh Basu, it had to create dialogs and interactions that the author obviously did not include in the story. Thus it does sound extremely jarring – besides reeking of laziness – when Sandip Ray inserts into his scripts the exact same words that his father used in his stories. The senior Ray made three films from his own stories including two Feluda films. His first, the iconic Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) had classic dialogs like “Eita ki chadmobesh?” (Felu asking Jayatu if his suit was part of a disguise.  The “chadmabesh” word does exist in Bengali but was uttered in its hindi pronunciation. Felu was mimicking the thriller-novelist-comic-relief Jatayu’s earlier attempt at speaking hindi) and “Kanta ki era benche khaye?” (Jatayu asking Felu if camels first sort the thorns before eating wild bushes – the obvious reference is to how a bengali sorts fish-bones before eating). Speak to any Felu or Ray aficionado and they’d gush over these lines yet the same lines are conspicuous by their absence in the book. In “Joy Baba Felunath” (Glory to Lord Felu) the book, Felu identifies a stumbling figure to be the stabbed Sashi-babu by looking through the telephoto lens of his camera. However dramatic that representation is, Sashi-babu, dagger in his spine,  just falls over Felu in the film adaptation of the sequence. Satyajit Ray was not burdened by his own legacy

In all honesty, neither should have been Sandip Ray. In fact in his first film – “Fatikchand” – he remained quite detached from the story (I am sure the temptation to use Haroon’s pre-show jingle “Come, comma-com, wonder-wonder, Haroon Rashid khel khiladi…” was quite difficult to overcome). Things started going pear shaped from Goopy Bagha Phire Elo, where in the opening song sequence (“Koto kal pore mora eshechi abar”) he took inspiration copied frame by frame the picturisation of the song “Aha ki ananda akashe batashe” in Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Diamond Kingdom). After that things just spiralled downhill. It was painful for us – who almost know Satyajit’s Felu stories by heart – to sit through his films and run one step ahead of the script in terms of dialogs

I think I mentioned earlier the aspect of laziness on Sandip Ray’s part and my belief is that he takes the easy way out in scripting. He has his occasional brilliance though. Consider this in the climax of his latest Felu film Royal Bengal Rahashya (which I hold to be his best yet) where Jatayu loses consciousness perched on a tree trunk seeing the tiger. Later when Felu jibes him about it, he retorts “Keno, Halum obdhi toh chilum” (“Why? I was around till the tiger’s roar”. Please note that this is a pathetic translation with language phonetics playing up the humor in this sentence when spoken in bengali). For someone who carries the legacy of the most industrious art maker in modern creative art, such laziness is unpardonable. Satyajit ray made Felu films – Sandip Ray merely follows a reportorial approach of documenting Felu novels written by his father

Image Courtesy – glamsham

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