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Ray’s 12-Minute Masterpiece, Two

Ray’s 12-Minute Masterpiece, Two

Two – a 12-minute silent short from the legendary Satyajit Ray is probably one of his most understated films, yet speaks volumes about his craft

Article Compiled by Anubhav Das

The name Satyajit Ray is synonymous with films like Panther Panchali, Charulata, Gupy Gyne Bagha Byne, Sonar Kella and so many more. With a filmography comprising 30 films spanning over 40 years, Ray’s versatility speaks for itself. From science fiction to detective thrillers to horror comedy, Ray hasn’t left a single genre untapped.

But one film which often gets overlooked by Ray’s own filmography, and lies waiting to be discovered, is the short film Two. Asked to make an English film set in Kolkata, Ray decided to make a silent film instead under the banner of ISSO World Theatre.

The film explores the relationship between two young boys – a wealthy one and a poor child. Separated by a window, the two showcase the toys that they each have – each trying to outdo the other till one falls silent. Two is a parable with a powerful narrative of the attitudes between haves and have-nots and made more poignant without a single word being exchanged between the two.

Rich boy of TWO

The Poor Boy of TWO

In an interview with Gideon Bachmann (as quoted by Soorajit Mukherjee, WBAI Radio station, New York) Ray had once mentioned that how even on “a medium like celluloid, dialogue still remains a pivotal element in engaging the audience.” In Two however, Ray deliberately stays away from dialogue in order to pay a tribute to silent cinema. He therefore relies heavily on visual indicators and with cinematographer Soumendu Roy is able to achieve what he had set out to do.

Each scene is meticulously composed, with details and references to unpack. Drama and tension are created solely using camera movements. The blend between static shots and slow/crash zooms strikes the right balance between drama, tension and emptiness. The ending shot especially encapsulates the whole theme of the film in the matter of seconds.

The role of the wind is subtle but keeps building overtime. The wind keeps the composition dynamic in subsequent shots and creates the mood of emptiness. Narratively, the wind knocks down the soft toy and seals the conflict for triumph once and for all. From the get go, these details go a long way in staging the premise and help in building the conflict.

For a time when Steadicams hadn’t been discovered, the blocking of the scenes is really impressive. As we see the rich boy toying with the matchsticks and then move to the window, the camera follows. It gives us clear perspective in shots and remains static when it needs to.

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In the words of a film critic, “In terms of film theories, this short tale was written and directed during the Vietnamese war and many cinephile believe that the film sheds light on the growth of capitalism in U.S and the impact it had on Asian countries. Consumerism is one of the central themes of the film. Some even believe that the film makes a powerful statement on the cold war and the debate between capitalism and socialism. While these are just mere theories, the Coca Cola bottle and the Mickey mouse reference does spark a lot of thought.”

The music has been composed by Ray himself, and it does a good job of adding to overall mood and tone of the film. The brewing conflict is complemented by flute as it downplays the rich boy’s toy. Having made several features before Two, this wasn’t the first time that Ray was composing his own music. In his words, producing his own music gives him the freedom to experiment with the blend of the music.

The film is available on Oscar’s You Tube channel, which gives insights about the preservation process: “Throughout his career, Ray worked exclusively on 35mm however, Two may have been filmed on 16mm, as it was created specifically for television. There is very little information online about the process behind the film. What we do know is that in an attempt to preserve the film, three 16mm prints were found. From the 16mm print with the least wear and tear, courtesy the Austrian Film Museum, a preservation negative was struck. Two was then digitally scanned and what followed was a process of clean-up. The 16mm film’s audio was also restored.”

While information about the film still remains limited what Ray was able to achieve with the film is nothing short of incredible. At the end Two stays with you for hours and maybe even days despite a run-time of 12 minutes.

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