There are few things that haven’t been written about filmmaker Satyajit Ray and his immense body of work. Ray’s genius, his famously contemplative frames, his ideology and his view of the world have all been subject to study. The third volume of The Satyajit Ray Centenary Show, however, draws you to the man that Ray was. It offers fresh glimpses into Ray’s inner world. Celebrating his birth centenary, the show is an opportunity to marvel at Ray anew.
The month-long show, curated by the Kolkata Centre for Creativity, and presented in association with the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, has rare collections of letters exchanged between Ray and the producer of his iconic 1977 Hindi film Shatranj ke Khilari, Suresh Jindal. It is evident that Ray took writing letters seriously; they seem earnest and without the airs of an accomplished calligraphist (he introduced a unique calligraphy to the Bengali text). While his letters to Jindal are in English, those to his long-time penfriend, Debjani Ray are in Bengali.
Debjani, a fan of Ray’s work, wrote to him on a whim, after watching his 1974-film Sonar Kella.
She did not expect Ray to reply, but he did and that was the start of an epistolary exchange that lasted over 16 years. While he talks about his films and his journeys in the letters, he also enquires about her life in detail. In response to her wedding invitation, Ray apologises that he wouldn’t be able to make it, but invites the couple home, if her husband did appreciate his work.
In his exchange with Jindal, Ray is friendly and casual, but professional at the same time. In a 1977-letter, he apologises to Jindal for a “showdown”. “No one is sorrier than I am that matters had to come to a point where a showdown was inevitable. One advantage, I think, is that we know each other a little better now…,” he writes. The correspondence between the two capture the entire journey of the making of Shatranj ke Khilari.
The ground floor of the gallery is a first-of-its-kind showcase of the original costumes used in the film. Sourced from Jindal himself, the costumes capture the creative process of screenwriter Shama Zaidi, who designed costumes for the film. Even a print of Zaidi’s moodboard is on display, which shows tiny patches of fabric pasted on it.
“The idea was not just to celebrate 100 years of Ray, but to make him more accessible to the masses, to appreciate his art/craft and to get to know him more personally,” says Siddharth Sivakumar, Head of Visual Arts and Publishing, Kolkata Centre for Creativity, an organisation that encourages participation in art, culture and creativity through a multi-disciplinary exchange. “Identifying galleries, talking to collectors, going through tons of material and curating was a process that was fun as well as one that filled us with nervous excitement,” adds Siddharth.
Photographs of Ray by Nemai Ghosh and Tarapada Banerjee capture him in various moods – the collection includes one in which Ray is lost in thought, holding a cigarette in his hand; another shows him taking a tracking shot with a camera mounted atop a car.
What really brings alive his films are a rare collection of vibrantly-coloured posters, press books and lobby cards (photographic images) of his films. Sourced from Kolkata-based Gallery Rasa’s collection, the lobby cards on show cover 22 years of Ray’s cinematic journey and cover 11 of his films.
The posters and pressbooks he designed, which stood out for their aesthetic value, are a highlight of the show. Blending Indian elements with a touch of pop art, the posters seem like art works on their own.
The Satyajit Ray Centenary Show Vol-III is on at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery till October 25.