Nov 12, 2007

18th Nov 2007 Screening : Satyajit Ray's Jana Aranya

Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.

Akira Kurosawa


A Film By

1975, India. 131 min., B/W
In Bengali with English subtitles
5.45 pm, 1
8h Nov 2007
Ashwin Hospital Auditorium, Ganapathy CBE

Somnath Banerjee is a sweetly handsome young man. At the outset, he is about to graduate from Calcutta University when he is victimized by a myopic instructor who cannot read his exam answers, depriving him of a graduation with honors. And so Ray starts out by offering a biting satire of a ludicrous educational bureaucracy. Yet all of Somnath's experiences while a student, and all of his book learning, have left him ill-prepared for the cruel realities he will face while attempting to enter the job market. Harsh fact first intrudes when he is told, "You're so young. It'll be ages before you're established." These words are prophetic.
At its core, Jana A
ranya is a story of tainted innocence. Its hero is an unsophisticated young man who is surrounded by depravity. None of the rogues in his midst are blatantly evil. Rather, their villainy is subtle, and they justify their unsavory ethics in the name of rat-race survival.

In Jana Aranya, Ray also explores a theme that is a constant in his work: familial relations, and the psychology that exists between parent and child. Somnath's obstacles are not all job-related, in that he is influenced by his widowed father's high expectations for him. The old man, lacking in understanding of the manner of the modern world, accordingly is alienated from Somnath.

Satyajit Ray creates a clever, highly engaging satire on capitalism and moral integrity in The Middleman. Using incongruous imagery and lyrical narrative, Ray depicts the hypocrisy of economic prosperity and professional success. Somnath's daily trips to the employment offices invariably take him through city streets riddled with homeless people and beggars, under a graffiti sign that reads: "1971 is the year of victory". Mr. Shaha's (Santosh Dutta) description of a luxurious British colonial mansion is juxtaposed against a hypnotic, frenetic tour of a dilapidated building. Ironically, the potential sale of optical whiteners proves to be Somnath's darkest hour. Note the minimal, candle lit scene where a disillusioned Somnath alludes to his unpalatable task.

The Middleman is a fascinating, contemporary parable on the corruption of the human soul, a poignant tale of an idealistic young man who stumbles into a corrupt world outside of his creation, and is swallowed into the chaos.

This is the final film of Ray’s trilogy known as the Calcutta Trilogy. The first two were Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970) and Seemabaddha (Company Limited, 1971). All the three films study the effect the big city of Calcutta has on the educated youth and the price it extracts from them.

( May 2, 1921 - April 23, 1992 )

Satyajit Ray is perhaps the most well known Indian filmmaker to the World and inarguably among the dozen or so great masters of world cinema.. Satyajit Ray was born in Calcutta into an exceptionally talented family
who were
prominent in Bengali arts and letters. His father died when he was an infant and his mother and her younger brother's family brought him up. After graduating from Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1940, he studied art at Rabindranath Tagore's University in Shantiniketan, West Bengal. The desire to learn about Indian arts to be successful as a commercial artist and the lure of Tagore, perhaps, were too strong to ignore.

Tagore had been a close friend of his grandfather and father. Trips to nearby villages for sketching exercises, were his first encounters with rural India for the city-bred Satyajit Ray. He took up commercial advertising and he also designed covers and illustrated books brought out by Signet Press. One of these books was an edition of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhya's novel, Pather Panchali, which was to become his first film.

In 1947 Ray established the Calcutta Film Society. During a six month trip to Europe in 1950, he managed to see 100 films, including Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief - 1948), which greatly inspired him. He returned convinced that it was possible to make realist cinema and with an amateur crew he endeavoured to prove this to the world.

In 1949, the great French master of cinema, Jean Renoir had come to Calcutta to scout locations for The River. Ray walked into the hotel where Renoir was staying and sought a meeting. Soon Ray was accompanying Renoir on his trips in search of locations to outskirts of Calcutta during the weekends. Seeing his enthusiasm and knowledge about cinema, Renoir asked him if he was thinking of becoming a filmmaker. To his own surprise, Ray said yes and gave Renoir a brief outlineof Pather Panchali, which he had recently illustrated.

In 1950, with absolutely no experience in moviemaking, Ray started working on "Pather Panchali" In 1955, after incredible financial hardship (shooting on the film stopped for over a year) his adaptation of Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) was completed. and on August 26, 1955. Pather Panchali was finally released in Calcutta. The film did only moderately well in the first two weeks but was a box-office hit later. The success of Pather Panchali gave Ray total control over his subsequent films. in all his numerous functions — as screenwriter, director, casting director, and composer. With 40 years of filmmaking, Ray of course have a lot to say and a lot more to know about.

Prior to the 1956 Cannes Festival, Indian Cinema was relatively unknown in the West, just as Japanese cinema had been prior to Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950). However, with Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray suddenly assumed great importance. The film went on to win numerous awards abroad including Best Human Document at Cannes. Pather Panchali's success launched an extraordinary international film career for Ray.

A prolific filmmaker, during his lifetime Ray directed 36 films, comprising of features, documentaries and short stories. These include the renowned Apu trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito [1956] and Apur Sansar [1959]), Jalsaghar (1958), Postmaster (1961), CharulataDays and Nights in the Forest (1969) and Pikoo (1980) along with a host of his lesser known works which themselves stand up as fine examples of story telling. His films encompass a diversity of moods, techniques, and genres: comedy, satire, fantasy and tragedy. Usually he made films in a realist mode, but he also experimented with surrealism and fantasy.

About forty years of filmmaking, with a film a year, was interrupted by his fragile health in the mid-1980s. Ray's Ghare-Baire (Home and the World, 1984) based on a novel by Rabindranath Tagore, was a return to his first screen adaptation. While shooting, he suffered two heart attacks and his son, Sandip Ray, completed the project from his detailed instructions.

Ill health kept Satyajit Ray away from active filmmaking for about four years. In 1989, he resumed making films with Ibsen's An Enemy of the People as the basis for his Ganashatru (Enemy of the People, 1989). This was followed with Shakha Prashakha (Branches of the Tree, 1990) and Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991).This series of three films were to be his last. Many film critics and film historians found these films a marked departure from his earlier work.

In 1992, He accepted a Lifetime Achievement Oscar from his sickbed in Calcutta through a special live satellite-television event and Bharat Ratna(the Jewel of India), the ultimate honour from India.

Beisde a film-maker, Satyajit Ray was an extra-ordinarily good story teller. Most of his books are written for children except few. He was the creator of many famous characters such as Professor Shonku, Felu-da, Tarinikhuro and so on. Fictions , short storires, illustrations etc. written by were fascinating. He gave life to Felu-da through two of his movies, "Sonar Kella" and "Joy Baba Felunath". Sandip Ray too is working on Felu-da movies even after he has passed away.

Satyajit Ray died on April 23, 1992.

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