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The Humdinger Who Inspires Me

The Humdinger Who Inspires Me

We share this story on the eve of Satyajit Ray’s birth anniversary where the author speaks about the Humdinger who inspired him through his works.

By Somashis Gupta    |   Illustrations by Indro Ganguli & Sid Ghosh 

Floccinaucinihilipilification’, the longest word in English dictionary, means ‘a little or no value’. But this same word transformed its meaning to a new dimension, when Satyajit Ray used it in his film Agantuk. Such was the ability of the humdinger.

Satyajit Ray illustration by Indro Ganguli
“Ray” by Indro Ganguli

Why just Agantuk? I would say, all of Ray’s works is permeated with a mysterious allure which hopelessly enchants us to read them, view them or listen to them again and again. They have the ability to make us think, make us aware and help us to develop as an individual.

My earliest memory of Ray’s works was reading stories of Feluda as a child. My parents had subscribed to magazines which published these stories. Later finding my profound interest they bought me a collection of Satyajit Roy’s stories. I remember my bedtime tales were always Nepoleoner Chithi, Darjeeling Shorgorom, Feludar Goendagiri or the stories of Tarini Khuro or Professor Shonku.

Much later, during a visit to Calcutta, an opportunity to witness the miraculous Hirok Rajar Deshe came up. Perhaps it was this movie that helped me to understand ‘oppression’ and how it is important to revolt against oppressors. I remember singing ‘Kotoi Rongo Dekhi Duniai’ along with ‘We don’t need No education’ in one of the Teachers’ Day function.

It was sometime in 1995 when I hung my hat in Calcutta, I got the opportunity to see a range of world class cinema.  Being a frequenter to the Cine Club, I could see the works of Vittorio De Sica, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, etc. Besides the international film makers, I was also exposed to a great deal of Indian film-makers like Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Rituparno Ghosh, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Jahnu Barua, Shyam Benegal, Kundan Shah etc. But the man who fascinated me the most with his creations was Satyajit Ray.  I ended up watching all his 36 movies, short films, and documentaries not once but numerous times.

What I could find in his movies is, they are always relatable to our day-to-day life. He blended realism with fantasy in the finest way. For instance in the Gopi Bagha stories which is an absolute fiction, he could bring in element of realism by showing the sociopolitical situation of the world. Moreover one can get a glimpse of his creative excellence in Hirok Rajar Deshe which uses only verse to narrate the story.

Satyajit Ray by illustrator Indro Ganguli
Satyajit Ray by illustrator Indro Ganguli

One of the major elements in Ray’s movies is information on variety of subjects like history, geography, science and what not. Somewhere he speaks about the Renaissance period while on the other he speaks on solar and lunar eclipse. Somewhere he talks about Machu Picchu and talks about the history behind the name Bharat’ on the other. I personally consider him‘a living encyclopedia’.

When it comes to cinematic adoption of a book in a movie, I often find it not as spellbinding as the book itself. But when I saw the Apu Trilogy, I could not say the same. I feel if anyone could have made a movie from Bibhutibabu’s book, it was one and only Ray.  Not just the trilogy, similarly he had shown immense perfection in adopting Sunil Gongopadhyay’s book Aranyer Din Ratri or Sankar’s Shimaboddho, or even Tagore’s Ghore Baire.

Another major influence in me from Ray is his usage of hyper narrative factors. Movies like Kapurush o Mahapurush and Teen Kanya taught me the art of linking different stories in one. I also learnt how suspense can be built up in a story or the way to maintain the flow in a story from Ray.

Many may be aware about a short film Ray made titled ‘Two’. In this movie his usage of schadenfreude is just mind-blowing. The movie is without any dialog but he had successfully showed us class discrimination with just two child actors.

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Artist with Muzaffar Ali and Pragati Agarwal

Ray had a great casting sense. He never believed in stardom but used the actor’s ability which befits the specific character. He knew whom to cast and when to cast. In Nayak he used Uttam Kumar instead of Soumitra Chatterjee. I can vouch, it was not because of his stardom but because Uttam Babu fits into the character the most. Similarly, he chose Amitabh Bachchan in Shatranj Ke Khilari for narration.

Satyajit Ray was a natural epicure. This gets reflected in all his movies. For people who knew Ray personally, knew him as a perfect gentleman. If something was not to his liking, he used to show his disapproval in the finest way. Let me share an interesting story-

Satyajit Ray portrait in simple lines by Indro Ganguli
A simple line sketch of Ray by Indro Ganguli

During the shooting of Shimaboddho, Barun Chanda’s wife was visiting the sets. When Ray saw this he intervened.  He never asked her not to come directly. His ‘Brahmo’ upbringing wouldn’t allow him to do that. He just dropped a broad hint saying,“Deepa doesn’t come to the sets when Soumitra is shooting.”Deepa happened to be Soumitra Chatterjee’s wife. That was enough for others to understand his mind.

Frankly I can go on and on speaking about Ray. His music, his illustrations, writings, the list is endless. Overall, Satyajit Ray has influenced me, inspired me to be what I am today. Interestingly my first article which I wrote for East India Story was on Satyajit Ray. Today on the eve of his birth anniversary, I share with you once again my thoughts on the maestro.

Maharaja Tomare Salam!

Illustrations by Indro Ganguli
Indroneel GanguliIndraneel Ganguli is a Brand Builder and a Marketing Professional, actively involved in supporting enterprises globally. He is a regular columnist with THE HINDU and is an emerging illustrator for several books and periodicals.
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