Ray (2021) Review

This dark tribute to Satyajit Ray is a crackling watch!

Rony Patra -

Ray (2021) Review
Platform
Netflix
Platform Icons Click To Stream
Format
Original Series Review
Movie Rated
16+
Genre
DRAMA,THRILLER
Language
Hindi

What is the story about?

Four short stories written by Satyajit Ray--Bipin Chowdhuryr Smritibhrom, Bahurupi, Barin Bhowmiker Byaram and Spotlight--are radically reinterpreted and cast in different settings in this anthology.

Analysis

We are all familiar with the directorial output of the late Satyajit Ray, but how many people outside Bengal know about his talents as a writer? The legendary director regularly churned out stories for children and adults in equal measure, and many generations have grown up with his writings. Yet, for some reason, apart from a few translations of his works, Ray’s works have not quite travelled far.
 
In that sense, Netflix’s Ray feels like a gamechanger. Creator Sayantan Mukherjee selects four unique short stories by the master for the screen. But do not be fooled: these are not proper adaptations. Mukherjee, in collaboration with his directors, Srijit Mukherji, Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala, takes each story away from its original focus on the young adult audience, and radically reinterprets the stories with a more sinister touch. Each reinterpretation is set in a different city and milieu. And yet, the anthology as a whole seems to be obsessed with the “God-complex” of certain men. All four films ask a common question—can man ever trump fate and consider himself akin to God? Each director brings their own voice and flavour to each adaptation, and that is why it is possible the audience may like individual films as compared to the entire anthology. In doing so, Ray becomes a storytelling triumph. I genuinely hope there’s a Season 2, because there are more stories by Ray just waiting to be discovered.
 
Srijit Mukherji opens the anthology with Forget Me Not, which is a reinterpretation of Ray’s story Bipin Chowdhuryr Smritibhrom. Apart from the decision to rename the protagonist as Ipsit, which is a genius move considering the story, Siraj Ahmed’s screenplay lets Mukherji play fast and loose with the original narrative, depicting the gradual psychological disintegration of a millionaire who prides himself on his memory, when he realizes he can’t remember something from this past. The treatment is terrifyingly real, and the ending, though novel, definitely carries echoes of the original story. This opening film definitely makes you sit up.
 
Mukherji and Ahmed come together on the second film, Bahrupiya, as well. Adapted from Bohurupi, the story takes on a darker tone as compared to the original story. Frustrated because of his mundane life, the protagonist, Indrashish, decides to change the direction of his life when his grandmother bequeaths a book of make-up secrets to him after her demise. The treatment of the story is terrifying, and even more so for people who have read the original story. However, this film is reliant on performances and not so much on craft, with a slightly underwhelming and clumsy ending.
 
Abhishek Chaubey opened his career as a director with the two Ishqiya films, and we saw how skilfully and lovingly he delved into the world of Urdu poetry in Dedh Ishqiya. In that sense, even though Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, a retelling of Barin Bhowmiker Byaram (Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment), is a Ray story at its core, you could be forgiven for thinking it to be a spiritual successor to Dedh Ishqiya. Niren Bhatt’s screenplay doesn’t tamper with the original story much, but transports the milieu of the story to Lucknow. This is lighter in tone compared to the first two films, with loving tributes to the work of Ghulam Ali and Akbar Allahabadi, but it is just as fascinated as the earlier films with the question of whether man can cheat his fate. The ending, too, is a pleasant surprise. On the whole, this film is perhaps the most accomplished of the lot.
 
The most adventurous, dazzling and confusing film comes from the mind of Vasan Bala. He and Bhatt take Ray’s original story, Spotlight, and decide to radically alter it. If the point of view belonged to a family holidaying in the Chhotanagpur plateau in the original story, Bhatt’s screenplay decides to place the viewers directly inside the mind of a fading film-star, Vikram, whose biggest filmmaking asset is his “divine look”. As Vikram wrestles with his insecurities, he is also jealous of how a godwoman, Didi, gets more importance than him when both of them stay in the same hotel. Bala runs riot with the narrative and direction, making this film not only a retelling of Ray’s story, but also his own personal, whacked-out tribute to Ray’s filmography. Even more daring is his intricate commentary on the sinister workings of the “star-system” in Hindi cinema, and how that perpetuates its own “God-complex” in various actors. However, the ending is deeply problematic and strikes as a false note in an otherwise-promising film. This is a deeply polarizing film, and definitely not meant for everyone.

Performances

Forget Me Not shines because of Ali Fazal's mercurial turn as Ipsit Nair. A sharp man who cuts with his words as much as his intellect, Nair revels in his arrogance, and Fazal plays him well, especially in the portions where he starts losing his mind. Shweta Basu Prasad excels as his secretary Maggie, who has her own secrets which impact the story. Anindita Bose decently plays the mysterious Rhea Saran, who kickstarts Ipsit's descent into madness, while Shruthy Menon is all right as Ipsit's wife Amala.
 
Bahrupiya rides on Kay Kay Menon's coattails. As Indrashish, the waif-like man who becomes a monster thanks to the wonders of make-up, Menon is a knockout. Dibyendu Bhattacharya deftly plays Peer Baba, who is a stand-in for the Sadhu baba in the original story. Bidita Bag plays Debashree, a theatre actress and the object of Indrashish's desire. Rajesh Sharma is solid as his abusive boss, while Aloknanda Roy is lovely in a cameo.
 
Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao effortlessly anchor Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa. Both actors are in ridiculously fine form as Musafir Ali and Baig, with impeccable comic timing. Raghubir Yadav and Manoj Pahwa are terrific in their cameos, while Priyanka Setia is lovely in a blink-and-miss role.
 
Spotlight would not have even half its energy without Harshvardhan Kapoor. We got a glimpse of how ridiculous he could be in AK vs AK, but here Kapoor plays the arrogant man-child actor Vikram to the hilt, infusing his cockiness with some unexpected vulnerability. Chandan Roy Sanyal plays his manager Roby with relish. Akansha Ranjan Kapoor is all right as Anu, Vikram's girlfriend. But the actor who runs away with the film with just one long, fabulous sequence is Radhika Madan as the mysterious Didi. 

Music & Other Departments

Watch out for the opening title sequence. Created by Improper Design and Animation and set to a theme composed by Delhi-based rock band Peter Cat Recording Co., the sequence is a sublime tribute to Ray's work as an illustrator and music composer.
 
Swapnil Sonawane's greyish cinematography grounds Forget Me Not in its twisted avatar. Peter Cat Recording Co.'s background score for this film lends a sinister character, while Anasuya Sengupta's production design underlines Ipsit's world of desire and deceit.

Arkadeb Mukherjee's cinematography in Bahrupiya is awash with greens and a sepia tone, which works well to camouflage the low-budget aesthetic of the film. Shibaji Pal's production design and Sagar Kapoor's background score give the film its bite.

Anuj Rakesh Dhawan's sepia-tinted cinematography and Aditya Kanwar's production design give a magical touch to Hungama Hai Kyon BarpaThough Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor's score is all right, it's Chaubey's use of Ghulam Ali's iconic track, from which the film borrows its name, that stays with you.
 
Spotlight gets its clouded, hazy look thanks to Eeshit Narain's astute camerawork and Dhara Jain's production design, with an okay score by Rahul KambleNain Matakka, the track composed by Sneha Khanwalkar for the MTV series Sound Trippin, gets a fresh lease of life here in the climax.

Highlights

My favourite moments in the anthology are:-
  • The climax of Forget Me Not.
  • Both sequences between Indrashish and Peer Baba in Bahrupiya.
  • The sequences between Musafir Ali and Baig, and the sequence featuring Musafir Ali in the pawn shop, in Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa.
  • Vikram's drug-induced haze where he also has a conversation with his look, and his conversation with Didi, in Spotlight.

Drawbacks

The climax of Bahrupiyathough a brilliant callback to the original story, feels rushed and unconvincing. You feel as if Mukherji could have given a couple of minutes more to the sequence in order for it to land with more punch.
 
While watching Spotlight, you get the feeling that Bala probably tends to go overboard with the tribute to Ray. However, the climax is the real drawback, where you are not sure what exactly happened.

Did I enjoy it?

The anthology is engrossing as a whole, catering to different tastes. My picks would be Forget Me Not and Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa.

Do I recommend it?

Yes. You should definitely check this out.



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