Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Cinematic Genius

Noted Malayalam writer, MK Chandrasekharan, has written a book on the life and career of Satyajit Ray

Photos: Satyajit Ray; MK Chandrasekharan

By Shevlin Sebastian

When author MK Chandrasekharan was growing up in Muvattupuzha he would read articles about the great Bengali film director Satyajit Ray in Malayalam newspapers and magazines. So, one day, in 1956, when he came to know that Ray's film, 'Pather Panchali', was going to be shown at Laxmi theatre, he got excited.

However, when the 15-year-old reached the hall on the second day, the film had been removed. “Since it was a Bengali film, there was hardly anyone to see it,” says Chandrasekharan. It would take another 15 years before he would see the film at Kochi. But, in the intervening years, he saw, many other Ray films, like 'Jalsaghar', 'Apur Sansar', and 'Devi'.

In 1969, Chandrasekharan went to Kolkata, for a few days,
en route to Bhubaneshwar, where he had to sit for an exam. While there, he saw Ray's popular children's film, 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne'. The next afternoon, the hotel manager told Chandrasekharan that Ray had also been present for the same show. A disappointed Chandrasekharan decided to go to Ray's home to meet him. But when he went there, he was told that Ray had left for Rajasthan. Nevertheless, Chandrasekharan continued to see numerous films of Ray, as well as read articles on and by him.

In 2011, Chandrasekharan had gone to Kolkata to do research on a book on Mother Teresa. And that was when he got the idea to write a book on Satyajit Ray.

The book, ‘Satyajit Ray – Cinema and Life', published by Green Books, has just been released in Malayalam.

The book discusses Ray's films, as well as recounts events from his life. These include the difficulties of getting the finance to make his first film, 'Pather Panchali'. Ray managed to shoot three-fourths of the film. Then he ran out of money. In desperation, he approached the then Chief Minister BC Roy, who happened to know his mother.

When Roy heard the script, he asked the director whether there could be a happy ending,” says Chandrasekharan. “But Ray said that the script is based on a popular novel by writer Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and readers will get very angry if there is a change.” In the end, the Public Works Department granted a loan for a documentary about roads. The words, 'Pather Panchali' means, 'A song of the little road'.

When the film was released, it had an instant worldwide impact, especially when it was screened at the Cannes film festival in 1956, where it won the 'Human Document' Award. Today, it is regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema.

Asked about the qualities of Ray as a director, Chandrasekharan says, “He shows the true India. There are no stunts or fights. His films are accessible to the common man. You need patience to see films by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kumar Shahani, and other art-film directors, but there is always a good pace in Ray's films. We never get bored.”

The book explores the different phases of Ray's film career. So Chandrasekharan focuses on the Kolkata films: 'Pratithdwandi', 'Seemabhadda' and 'Jana Aranya; on films based on the stories of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore: 'Teen Kanya', Charulata', and 'Ghare Baire', the Apu Trilogy and the Hindi films, 'Shatranj Ke Khilari' and 'Sadgati'.

Chadrasekharan also trains a spotlight on Ray's affair with his leading actress Madhabi Mukerjee. “They broke up after a while, because Ray felt it was not right,” says Chandrasekharan. Ray's wife is his first cousin, Bijoya, whom he married after a nine-year courtship. “To me, Ray is one of India's greatest film-makers,” says Chandrasekharan. “After all, he has won the Bharat Ratna and is the only Indian to win an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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