Cinema

Ray at Cannes

1955. The coveted Cannes Film Festival was on in full swing. Present were Sir David Lean, Vittorio De Sica, Ingmar Bergman and other stalwarts of international cinema. All of them noticed a six feet two inches tall director from India who had come with his debut film, Pather Panchali (Song Of The Road). It was a full-length Bengali feature film made at a minimum cost. Pather Panchali was screened at a night show and renowned critic Francois Truffaut walked out of the auditorium, severely criticising the film. The Cannes authorities did notice brilliance in the film and a second show was held during the afternoon, a day later. The film received a standing ovation from all present and won the prestigious Best Human Document Film Award. Later, even Truffaut was very apologetic about his criticism of the film.

Satyajit Ray became an internationally reputed director with his very first film which was considered among the best in the world. No other Indian filmmaker prior to him with the exception of Chetan Anand won any award at Cannes. Ray eclipsed even Chetan Anand with his cinematic excellence.

The next two films of the Apu Trilogy, Aparajito and Apur Sansar, however, did not make it to Cannes. Ray was back with Devi in 1960 and it competed for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm). Viewing Devi, Ingmar Bergman asked Ray from where he discovered its heroine Sharmila Tagore, as her eyes haunted Bergman even in his dreams. Though highly appreciated, Devi missed the bull's eye. William Wyler and Elia Kazan described Devi as poetry on celluloid.

Ray and Tagore's work

Ray's tryst with Tagore's short stories, “Post Master”, “Monihara” and “Samapti”, formed the basis for Teen Kanya which received accolades at Cannes in 1961. His best satire, Paras Pathar, however, was not that much appreciated though the likes of Akira Kurosawa and Truffaut hailed it for its cinematic language.

Charulata, Ray's masterpiece based on Tagore's “Nastanir”, was rejected at Cannes. This hurt Ray deeply, though he never expressed his discontent in public. There were protests from Sir David Lean, Ingmar Bergman and Robert Mulligan as to why Charulata was rejected. Very few know it is an all-time favourite with the French neo wave high priest, Jean Luc Goddard.

Once in the late 60s, Ray was invited to be a member of the jury at Cannes. Since he was given an economy class air ticket, he refused to go. His later films such as Nayak, Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen, Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha and Jana Aranya never made it to Cannes.

All these years, he did maintain the best of relations with the Festival authorities who held him in high esteem. In 1982, Ray directed his first telefilm “Sadgati” in Hindi based on the Munshi Premchand classic. A Doordarshan production, it was specially taken by French television and was in the Cannes director's section, winning encomiums.

Ganaghatru did not create much of a ripple at Cannes. But French President Giscard d'Estaing did fly all the way down to Kolkata to present Ray the Legion D' Honour, the highest French civic award. A select few of world cinema have received equal honours.

The maestro's last two films, Sakha Prasakha and Agantuk, were very well received at Cannes. Even today almost two decades since he passed away, Cannes remembers him like no other filmmaker from India. His cut-outs are a must every year at the Festival and India is still referred to as the land of Ray and Apu.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 11:00:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Ray-at-Cannes/article14906744.ece

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