Art for Ray's sake
APRIL 23 was the sixteenth death anniversary of Satyajit Ray. The extraordinary talent of Satyajit Ray came to mean a great deal of pride and honour for anyone born in the sub-continent. What started as a daring exposure of life under rural poverty in Pather Panchali, Ray continued in his long journey and went on to open up new vistas in the difficult task of cinematic art. To this world of art, however, Ray was a relative newcomer. But, such was the power of his creative genius that he met with success almost from the very start.
Like a boy peeping in wonder through the key-hole, Ray put his eyes on the camera only to discover outside a world full of pathos and poverty, struggle and starvation. But the pangs and conflicts of the middle class and the rich were also created by him with equal ease and perfection.
Life supported on eked out existence however, did never lose its meaning to him. Humanity to him was more important than affluence, values more sacred than abundance. Ray's overriding concern was for human suffering matched only by his abiding interest and faith in human values and human capacities.
His works are to be seen in reality and not in the surreal. He was searching truthfully, through the camera, to portray life as it is and the world that really exists. In so doing, he laid bare the stark reality that shakes and then crushes a man, but never destroys him completely.
He takes us almost on a guided tour into the lives of the people, into the thatched huts and also into their ballrooms and parlours. Every bit of it is created with care, compassion and skill, and with an unequalled mastery.
Watching Ray's films is like getting involved in them. It is impossible not to get deeply and passionately addicted to his works. One would walk out of his movies almost a new man, enriched with a hitherto unknown emotional experience.
In each of his films, Ray would delve deep into unknown fathoms of the human mind to bring out the various intricacies in human relationships. He would also discover music and poetry; beauty and colour in the meadows, in the grass, in the woods and in the skies, which an ordinary eye would overlook.
He would make us see the difference between a character and a comic, between the real and the fake. In the celluloid world of make-belief, Ray told his stories with unpretentious simplicity, making no effort to either hide or show more than what was necessary.
With the sensitivity of the great artist that he was, Ray portrays in the cinema what in different circumstances would appear in a good painting or poetry. In other words, he was creating in film such an art form that it raised itself to a sublime level.
Ray was an intellectual and an artist. To him life was a mistake or, at best, an accident, but must be lived on, however futile. The rural landscape finds expression in Ray's films like never before.
With the sensitive eye of an artist, each of his films goes to extraordinary lengths in recreating nature that is. The beauty of the night breaking into a wintry dawn, for example, is photographed with amazing and incredible accuracy, placing the camera at the most impossible angles.
Ray had two main advantages. First, the Indian, now the sub-continental, cultured society starved of good films, and secondly, the Bengali intellectual tradition. The class of erudite gentry that was reared in the true tradition of Tagore and partly Nazrul gave lead to a quiet yet powerful neo-realist movement that continued to inspire Ray in making his films.
He searched the materials of his marvels from the contemporary society that was locked in a grim battle for survival and in crisis of values.
Never did he have to look outside to collect his elements; nor was poverty his primary or only concern. With a Bengali intellectual class ready and eager to see a new form of art, Ray did not have to worry much about the reception of his creations.
The educated and non educated cine-goers were there all the time, waiting, perhaps, for a Ray to appear in the celluloid world and show what they had already been enjoying in literature, poetry and, of course, paintings and music.
What sets Ray apart from others is probably his uncanny perception of life and people. The recreation of the faces, sometimes with suffering and age writ large on them, the characters and nature that we see around us, is done with such superb craft that they assume special significance. We are made to see and often forced to agree with the massage that lies underneath all his works, not so subtly.
Satyajit has left a priceless heritage in the field of art. The many international laurels, such as the Legion of Honour personally conferred by late French President Mitterrand and, finally, the Oscar that he won, are only a modest realisation of his unique qualities. For such a person, seventy is certainly too early to die. The world today is so much the poorer. How one wishes he had lived longer.