Kolkata overflows with enthusiasm over Ray birth anniversary

Satyajit Ray’s works have landscaped the childhood of an entire generation of the people of Bengal.

Satyajit Ray’s works have landscaped the childhood of an entire generation of the people of Bengal. | Photo Credit: Arpita Mandal

From sketches by him to sketches of him, from movies by him to movies on him, from iconic pictures of him to pictures of people posing with his son, from exhibitions to webinars — the city synonymous with Satyajit Ray continues to overflow with enthusiasm that marked his birth anniversary last Monday.

The filmmaker would have turned 100 last year, but since his birthday, on May 2, fell in the midst of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, there was hardly any celebration. This year, therefore, has witnessed an outpouring of tributes, in the virtual as well as physical spaces, at times so pronounced that some diehard fans — as also some of his favourite actors — are even shaking their heads in disapproval, saying that Ray’s works need to be celebrated rather than him being deified.

“Blind adulation isn’t the best way of paying homage to a great man. But that is the easiest, sometimes only, way many of us seem to know. That, and demonstrating how close we were to him,” Dhritiman Chaterji, who played the protagonist in Ray’s Pratidwandi, told The Hindu.

Civil servant Niramitra Sikdar, one of those from Kolkata who know their Ray, said, “To put up a pandal outside his home and erect a statue and pray to him as if he were God — that’s laughable and something that even Ray would have frowned upon. If you really want to celebrate an icon like him, you should make his works, especially his films that have been recently restored, accessible to the public. There are new prints available of Jalsaghar and Pratidwandi but how many are even aware of it?”

A city-based film writer who didn’t want to be named said that Ray’s birthday was now a new festival added to the long list of festivals celebrated in Kolkata. “Ray started off as an adman. Little did he know that someday he would himself become a commodity,” said the writer, pointing to the recent Bengali films depicting the celebrated director. “They not only have actors playing Ray but also, in the name of telling his story, recreate some of the iconic scenes. Such recreations are setting a wrong trend and, in my opinion, amount to copyright violation.”

But the overall enthusiasm, particularly on social media, is understandable and expected, considering that Ray’s works have landscaped the childhood of an entire generation of Bengalis — the generation that’s at its peak today. Mr. Sikdar said, “For me, Satyajit Ray was not only synonymous with childhood, but he was also synonymous with the word ‘influence’. He influenced my childhood, and I am sure countless other childhoods. As a child, I desperately wanted to be a part of the world created by his stories and films.”

Jamaica-based Arpita Mandal, an associate professor at the University of West Indies, is glad that she happens to be in her hometown Kolkata at a time when the city is showering adulation on its tallest filmmaker. “Like most Bengali children of my generation, I grew up reading his books, mainly the Adventures of Feluda. Ray’s writing was true to life; he used simple, lucid Bangla which even a child could relate to. The other day, I visited an exhibition on Ray. It was such a pleasant afternoon spent in the company of posters and clippings on his works. The best part was getting to see the Mitchell camera that was used to shoot Pather Panchali and the synthesiser used to compose the music of Ghare Baire. It is a different matter that most youngsters were busy clicking selfies rather than reading the information on display,” said Dr. Mandal.

Such selfies can also be seen as an acknowledgment of Ray’s stature by the young. And not all young admire him because it is considered fashionable to do so — many have read his stories and watched his films. Unlike Dr. Mandal who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, her family friend Aishi Bandyopadhyay was born in 1996, four years after Ray died, and yet she grew up in awe of him.

“I was only five or six when I was introduced to Ray through Sonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath. Feluda was the first detective character I ever encountered in my life; I was so impressed by him that I felt myself drawn to the genre itself. I then went on to read Ray’s stories in print. His style is fluent and uncomplicated, and his tales of mystery, macabre and the supernatural have sparked my imagination in ways unimaginable and have inspired me to write stories of my own,” said Ms. Bandyopadhyay, who recently authored a book titled Chills and Thrills.

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2022 4:23:54 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/kolkata-overflows-with-enthusiasm-over-ray-birth-anniversary/article65384764.ece