Ray, the Renaissance Man: Growing up with the man of many talents

It was a Feluda film, ‘Sonar Kella’, that became my first encounter with Ray, the filmmaker. I was elated to see Feluda come alive on the big screen. Feluda in flesh and blood for the first time!

Ray, the Renaissance Man: Growing up with the man of many talents
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Rwita Dutta

My tryst with Satyajit Ray began not through his films but via his outstanding detective stories. The sharp-minded sleuth Feluda won my tender heart with his intense intelligence in solving any mystery. He was like demi-god to me. Feluda has been an all-time favourite till date. So has been the eccentric scientist, Professor Shonku.

Feluda, over the years, became one of the cultural icons of Bengal, later immortalized on screen by the late Soumitra Chatterjee. Every year, during Durga Puja, one of the stories of Feluda used to be published by one of the leading publication houses, Ananda Bazaar, in their children’s magazine, Anandamela. So, we used to wait eagerly to be a part of Feluda’s journey that year.

It was a Feluda film, Sonar Kella, that became my first encounter with Ray, the filmmaker. It was released in 1974 and then re-released in the late 80s in some of the local theatres. I was taken to the theatre by my father, an ardent film enthusiast of his generation. I was elated to see Feluda come alive on the big screen. Feluda in flesh and blood for the first time! Feluda, the thriller writer Jatayu and Feluda’s cousin and assistant Topshe became a hot topic of discussion for months to come in our house.

The second encounter with Ray was with Goopy Gayen Baagha Bayen (1969). To my younger self it was all fun and frolic but much later I got to understand the profound politics behind the film.

Then there is a 26-minute short film of Ray called Pikoo (1980). It was produced by a French television company, France 3 and was based on Ray’s own story Pikoor Diary in one of his books Pikoor Diary O Onyanyo (Pikoo’s Diary and Other Stories). It was considered to be a children’s film because it revolved around the world of a lonely child. Few of our parents understood, while taking us for this film, that it would actually open the floodgates of the adult world for us.

Much later, as a young person, I was highly moved by Ray’s city films. He succinctly captured the agony and trauma of a volatile period of the 70s and the young women and men falling prey to the treacherous times. Mahanagar (1963), Seemabaddha (1971), Jana Aranya (1975), Pratidwandi (1970)—those are the films that shaped my psyche as a young person. The influence has remained with me till now.

I feel that Ray, besides being a global phenomenon, was extremely rooted in Bengal and its intricacies. He, besides Rabindranath Tagore, left an indelible mark in shaping me as a person and I believe my comrades as well.

(Rwita Dutta is a film scholar and critic)

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