New Delhi: “I have written all kinds of stories — humorous ones, for teenagers, for kids, and stories that border on the fantastical. But I particularly like to write about lonely people and things happening to them,” Satyajit Ray famously said in a 1989 interview to Pierre-André Boutang.
Any adaptation of Ray's work is bound to evoke extreme reactions. The makers Sayantan Mukherjee of this anthology were perhaps aware of that while taking on the challenge of reimagining the master storyteller's short stories that have had their cult following over decades.
'Ray' is a 4-part anthology web series on Netflix, based on a corresponding number of the eponymous Satyajit Ray's short stories. Each episode (Forget Me Not, Bahrupiya, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, Spotlight) is around 50-65 minutes long, and deals with issues like infidelity, chauvinism, pride, anonymity, kleptomania, religion and fame.
1. Forget Me Not adapted from Ray’s Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritibhrom
True to his penchant for thrillers and adaptations of popular Bengali fictional characters, Srijit picks a story about the hubris of a man with a phenomenal memory and arrogance to match.
Srijit Mukerjee’s Forget Me Not is everything about memories and the workings of the mind. It is about a man (Ipsit Rama Nair played by Ali Fazal with a controlled swagger), who cannot afford to forget, has built an empire out of his memory bank. He even gets a tagline: “Ipsit Nair never forgets.” Mukerjee’s portion arrives out of a simple ‘what if’ case scenario. What if Ipsit Nair, the dynamic entrepreneur of the year, the man who has made a millions by memorising numbers and storing them in his memory the size of a supercomputer, doesn’t recall one particular day in his life? And the irony writes itself.
Forget Me Not begins right with this problem statement, when Ipsit Nair doesn’t remember Rhea Saran (Anindita Bose), nor having had a fling with her on his 30th birthday. The entire narrative is constructed around this problem. By getting to Nair, we also get to know the people around that say a thing or two about his character. Like, for instance, Nair’s high school friend who has left the job to take up a role in Nair’s company or, his manager Maggie (Shweta Basu Prasad) who accompanies him for baby shopping or his most-trusted aide who knows him in and out and has his personal details including credit cards and company passwords.
But then, there comes a twist and as they say, the devil is in the details. There is a sweet little touch when Nair and his family goes to a theatre to watch Drishyam, a film that dealt with pulling off a near-perfect crime story based entirely on convincing others about a certain memory. This particular memory, which Nair does not remember, breaks his routine and begins to haunt him, yielding into the destruction of the empire he very dearly built; it is almost like the malfunctioning of a computer in the event of a virus attack.
Forget Me Not has a gripping premise, though you could say that the final twist seemed a little too convenient for its own good. If that were the case, the resolution should have started to happen much earlier. But it does set the tone for the rest of the series.
2. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa adapted from Barin Bhowmick-er Byaram
Abhishek Chaubey’s Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is a beautiful film out of the lot. It gets going when Musafir Ali (Manoj Bajpayee), a revered singer and a shayari exponent, boards a train where he comes across a stranger Baig (Gajraj Rao), whose face he is familiar with. Let me not spoil the fun, but let us say the two are mirror images with kleptomaniac tendencies. When they stumble onto each other, years later, they come to terms with their destinies.
Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is a simple film and it remains grounded till the very end. For the most part of its runtime, the film does not try to do much which can be construed as a result of a clear-cut idea of what to avoid. Though it may have the aesthetics of a theatre production, it is anything but theatre-ish and has a perfect beginning, middle and end. It is plot-driven and a classic example of a story for children about two characters and their redemptive arc. And it does end with a “moral of the story.” It is actually quite fun but makes you take it too seriously by the “serious” performances by Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao, who seem to revel in their seriousness. I like these sugary films.
3. Bahrupiya adapted from Bahurupi
Bahrupiya directed by Srijit Mukherji, the character Indhrashish Shah (Kay Kay Menon) is a spiteful loner, an anti-hero who is bitter about his living condition. He is a textbook definition of a person rejected by society. Think of movies like Taxi Driver, King of Comedy and their copy, Joker. Humiliation follows him like a shadow wherever he goes. First comes the humiliation of love, when he goes down on his knee (Well, not exactly. Let’s say he’s made to) to propose to the actor he does make-up to and she slaps him with words that are meaner than the sense of rejection. Then there is humiliation at the workplace and from the house owner. Shah finds a sense of purpose when he is left behind a will and a book called Impersonation by his grandmother (also an artist who is into prosthetics). From being an almost faceless man, Shah becomes the devil with a thousand faces.
“There is dirt on my face but I kept cleaning the mirror,” he tells someone. This transformation is the most interesting aspect of the short, although it does not provide the intended effect given the time constraint. Shah gets back at those who “neglected” him with armour: his face.
It is not the revenge plot that makes Bahrupiya, my most favourite work in Ray, a compelling watch but the philosophical musings that come with it. Come to think of it, Shah is allured by the devil and when he succumbs to the temptations, he becomes the evil himself. By rejecting the idea of God and by impersonating other people, Shah begins to think of himself as the supreme one who can change and rewrite destinies. Until he comes to know about Peer Baba, a Muslim fortune teller who “reads” into a person’s face. When Shah and Baba’s path crosses, it becomes an allegory between God and the Devil, at least their humble representatives. Though I really liked the idea of Bahrupiya, how it was shown in the series.
4. Spotlight adapted from Spotlight
Vasan Bala’s Spotlight starring Harshvardhan Kapoor who is made a scapegoat yet again and the butt of jokes about his supposedly non-existent acting chops (hello, Bhavesh Joshi fans do exist), is pitched as a satire. At least it claims to be, on paper and in theory. But as a film, it does not quite deliver the desired effect that was intended in the first place, though, yes, it does have a fascinating concept: the umbilical cord that runs between Bollywood and the government. Although you could argue that Spotlight is not exactly that. Such a derivation, even if not implied, can be drawn from the two primary characters: a “one-look” rising star Vikram Arora (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Didi (Radhika Madan), the leader of a religious cult. More than Bollywood’s nexus with the state, it is about the idea of a cult — of any kind.
The concept arises from a very simple idea of self-doubt: a celebrated superstar in the country is troubled by questions of his personality cult, in the wake of another cult. The self-referential jokes about everything Bollywood keep coming. In that sense, it is both “Kafkaesque and Lynchian.” I am kidding, but I screamed when Harshvardhan said that. It is a sort of arid humour that Vasan Bala has made his own. And, of course, there is a Kamal Haasan reference. But there is something totally off about Spotlight. It needed to be punchier. Instead, it meanders quite a bit.
A revolutionary film maker, an auteur, and the creator of the iconic Feluda series, Ray is also celebrated for writing some of the best short stories India has ever seen.
Watch it on Netflix