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‘Ray’ review: A few hits and a miss in this tribute to the master

A still from ‘Ray’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Characters looking at themselves in a mirror is a common recurring image you would find in the four shorts of Ray. The mirror is a conscience keeper that shows the characters what they see in themselves, or rather, what they choose to see. It is presented as a tool to look within, to look into one’s soul, as the filmmakers would like to say. It is another thing that all four shorts are, in essence, about two characters who look inwardly and are constantly searching — sometimes for answers and sometimes for questions.

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Based on Satyajit Ray’s four short stories, the two primary characters of each of these films are destined and designed in such a way that their paths cross. Apart from these two recurring aspects, the shorts bear no common traits, except that each ends with a moral of the story.

A still from ‘Ray’

A still from ‘Ray’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Hitting the sweet spot

Srijit Mukerjee’s Forget Me Not is everything about memories and the workings of the mind. It is about a man (Ipsit Rama Nair played by Ali Fazal with a controlled swagger) who cannot afford to forget; has built an empire out of his memory bank. He even gets a tagline: “Ipsit Nair never forgets.” Mukerjee’s portion arrives out of a simple ‘what if’ case scenario. What if Ipsit Nair, the dynamic entrepreneur of the year, the man who has made a millions by memorising numbers and storing them in his memory the size of a supercomputer, doesn’t recall one particular day in his life? And the irony writes itself.

 

Forget Me Not begins right with this problem statement, when Ipsit Nair doesn’t remember Rhea Saran (Anindita Bose), nor having had a fling with her on his 30th birthday. Is she a vamp? Or is he suffering from retrograde amnesia? The entire narrative is constructed around this problem. By getting to Nair, we also get to know the people around that say a thing or two about his character. Like, for instance, Nair’s high school friend who has left the job to take up a role in Nair’s company. Or, his manager Maggie (Shweta Basu Prasad) who accompanies him for baby shopping, or his most-trusted aide who knows him in and out and has his personal details including credit cards and company passwords.

But then, there comes a twist and as they say, the devil is in the details. There is a sweet little touch when Nair and his family goes to a theatre to watch Drishyam, a film that dealt with pulling off a near-perfect crime based entirely on convincing others about a certain memory. This particular memory, which Nair does not remember happening, breaks his routine and begins to haunt him, yielding into the destruction of the empire he very dearly built; it is almost like the malfunctioning of a computer in the event of a virus attack. Forget Me Not has a gripping premise, though you could say that the final twist seemed a little too convenient for its own good. If that were the case, the resolution should have started to happen much earlier. But it does set the tone for the rest of the series.

A still from ‘Ray’

A still from ‘Ray’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Strangers on a train

Abhishek Chaubey’s Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is the cleanest film of the lot. It gets going when Musafir Ali (Manoj Bajpayee), a revered singer and a shayari exponent, boards a train where he comes across a stranger Baig (Gajraj Rao), whose face he is familiar with. Let me not spoil the fun, but let us say the two are mirror images with kleptomaniac tendencies. When they stumble onto each other years later, they come to terms with their destinies.

Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is a simple film and it remains grounded till the very end. For the most part of its runtime, the film does not try to do much which can be construed as a result of a clear-cut idea of what to avoid. Though it may have the aesthetics of a theatre production, it is anything but theatre-ish and has a perfect beginning, middle and end. The short is plot-driven and a classic example of a story for children about two characters and their redemptive arc. And it does end with a “moral of the story”. It is actually quite fun but makes you take it too seriously by the “serious” performances by Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao, who seem to revel in their “seriousness”. I like these sugary films.

Ray
  • Cast: Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad, Kay Kay Menon, Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao, Harshvardhan Kapoor and Radhika Madan
  • Director: Srijit Mukherji, Vasan Bala and Abhishek Chaubey
  • Duration: 60 minutes each

When the devil allures

In Bahrupiya, Indhrashish Shah (Kay Kay Menon) is a spiteful loner, an anti-hero who is bitter about his living condition. He is the textbook definition of the person rejected by “society”. Think of Taxi Driver. Think of the King of Comedy. Think of their copy, Joker. Humiliation follows him like a shadow wherever he goes. First comes the humiliation of love, when he goes down on his knee (Well, not exactly. Let’s say he’s made to) to propose to the actor he does make-up to and she slaps him with words that are meaner than the sense of rejection. Then there is humiliation at the workplace and from the house owner. Shah finds a sense of purpose when he is left behind a will and a book called Impersonation by his grandmother (also an artist who is into prosthetics). From being an almost faceless man, Shah becomes the devil with a thousand faces. “There is dirt on my face but I kept cleaning the mirror,” he tells someone. This transformation is the most interesting aspect of the short, although it does not provide the intended effect given the time constraint. Shah gets back at those who “neglected” him with an armour: his face.

It is not the revenge plot that makes Bahrupiya, my most favourite work in Ray, a compelling watch but the philosophical musings that come with it. Come to think of it, Shah is allured by the devil and when he succumbs to the temptations, he becomes the evil himself. Even the sex that he has is with someone with a mask on: of an actor who has verbal diarrhoea on social media. We are not sure if this was supposed to an unintended gag. By rejecting the idea of God and by impersonating other people, Shah begins to think of himself as the Supreme One who can change and rewrite destinies. Until he comes to know about Peer Baba, a Muslim fortune teller who “reads” into a person’s face. When Shah and Baba’s path crosses, it becomes an allegory between God and the Devil, at least their humble representatives. Though I really liked the idea of Bahrupiya, even if it ends up restoring faith in God, I wish it was the Devil that won. Moral tales are boring.

A still from ‘Ray’

A still from ‘Ray’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Lost in translation

Vasan Bala’s Spotlight starring Harshvardhan Kapoor who is made a scapegoat yet again and the butt of jokes about his supposedly non-existent acting chops (hello, Bhavesh Joshi fans do exist), is pitched as a satire. At least it claims to be, on paper and in theory. But as a film, it does not quite deliver the desired effect that was intended in the first place, though, yes, it does have a fascinating concept: the umbilical cord that runs between Bollywood and the Government. Although you could argue that Spotlight is not exactly that. Such a derivation, even if not implied, can be drawn from the two primary characters: a “one-look” rising star Vikram Arora (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Didi (Radhika Madan), the leader of a religious cult. More than Bollywood’s nexus with the State, the short is about the idea of a cult — of any kind.

The concept arises from a very simple idea of self-doubt: a celebrated superstar in the country, is troubled by questions of his personality cult, in the wake of another cult, let us say, that of a Prime Minister. I hope you’re aware that Spotlight isn’t about SRK and Modi but you get the drift, right? The self-referential jokes about everything Bollywood keep coming. In that sense, the short is both “Kafkaesque and Lynchian”. I am kidding, but I screamed when Harshvardhan said that. It is a sort of arid humour that Vasan Bala has made his own. And, of course, there is a Kamal Haasan reference. But there is something tonally off about Spotlight. It needed to be punchier, like a Mard…Instead, it meanders quite a bit. The film can be aptly described by Gajraj Rao’s demonstration of touching one’s ear in Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa: It goes in circles to arrive at its point.

Ray is currently streaming on Netflix

 


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 1:17:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/ray-review/article34962315.ece

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