Bhaskar Chattopadhyay’s 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray is a collection of classic Bengali and Hindi short stories, that worked as Ray’s muse

Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali distinguished him as one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. The film was based on a novel by the same name, written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Ray’s genius of adapting classic literary texts to screen found expression in many of his other, well-known films, which Bangalore-based writer and translator Bhaskar Chattopadhyay has explored in his recent book, 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray.

The book is a collection of stories, translated from Bengali to English, such as Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee’s Devi, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room), Atithi and Pikoo’s Diary, both written by Ray, among others.

Bhaskar, a statistician and an MBA, spoke of what inspired him to write the book, which was launched recently in the city. “I have grown up watching Ray’s films and reading his literature. I thought why not take short stories, which inspired Ray’s films, and publish an anthology?”

Emphasising the genius of Ray, Bhaskar says, “The filmmaker in him knew how a particular text would appear in a film. He could see the cinema in the short story or novella. In Devi, Ray’s loyalty to the story is deep and the movie has come out from the pages of the book. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the original story is meant only for children and can be enjoyed only by them, but the film can be enjoyed by people from every age group. The Satyajit Ray touch is amazing. Parash Pathar is one of my favourite films. The cocktail party scene has been shot brilliantly.”

The debate on cinematic adaptations of works of literature is an endless one. Bhaskar says the two media are completely different. “In literature what reads well may not always be good to watch when translated to screen. Adapting text to screen is completely different. You can go back to a book after reading it, but in a film, you have to watch from start to finish. In literature, an author suggests things, from which you draw your own interpretations. In a film, the projection of the filmmaker’s interpretations is far stronger.” Bhaskar has translated two of Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s works, No Child’s Play and The House By The Lake.

“I would like to consider myself a writer. Translating is just one part of what I do. You don’t just translate words and phrases; you are also translating messages and emotions that are coloured in the local nuances of the culture it is written in. In Devi, for example, Chhabi Biswas looks at Sharmila Tagore and says ‘Ma’, which means goddess in Bengali. If I simply wrote it as “mother”, it wouldn’t have been enough. There’s a lot of meaning to that word, there are deep emotions attached to it. My job as a translator is to get as close to the original as possible in its spirit, and not just in its literal sense.”

Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Sadgati are two Hindi stories, written by Munshi Premchand, that were made into memorable films by Ray. Both stories have been included in the book.

“Ray made a lot of changes to Shatranj Ke Khiladi, he brought in the perspective of the British,” says Bhaskar, who runs in own company, ArtSquare, India’s largest online art gallery.

Included within the book are articles written by Ray, including a tribute to one of Bengal’s legendary actors, Chhabi Biswas, who acted in Ray’s Jalsaghar, Paras Pathar, Devi and Kanchenjunga and Bhaskar’s interviews with actor Dhritiman Chaterji, who acted in three of Ray’s films and Arup K. De, CEO of Satyajit Ray Society. The book also has an article written by Sharmila Tagore on her experiences working with Ray.

14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray is a Harper Collins publication, priced at Rs. 350.