2 Satyajit Ray Masterpieces That Have Stood The Test Of Time And Must Be Watched Again

Posted by Rimli Bhattacharya in Culture-Vulture, Society
February 1, 2018

“When I write an original story, I write about people I know first-hand and situations I’m familiar with. I don’t write stories about the 19th century.”Satyajit Ray

When you are a hero, you do not need to beat the drums and keep reminding people to look at your works and be inspired. Google can very well do that on your behalf. The legendary Satyajit Ray could also have done this.

He didn’t have social media where he could have flaunted himself. But, what he had in him was something else – a spark to ignite minds, which should do the logical thinking, and also trigger your thought processes to help make an impact on you and society through art, films, books and other such forms.

Born on May 2, 1921, Ray quit the theatre of life on April 23, 1992. His father, Sukumar Ray, was an eminent and humorous Bengali poet, author and playwright who focused on children stories. In my opinion, thinking with the mind of a child and penning your thoughts down, accordingly, is one of the toughest things to do.

I had grown up reading “Abol Tabol” (by Sukumar Ray), when my parents gifted me another book on one of my birthdays. It was “Joy Baba Felunath” written by Satyajit Ray. I instantly liked the book. It was written very eloquently and was a crime thriller. I read it in one go and also watched the movie which had been directed by none other than Ray himself.

Here, I do not want to write about Satyajit Ray the person. People can easily look him up on the internet. Instead, I intend to pen my thoughts on two of his films which had a major impact on my mind when I watched them. In fact, I think it is time that we watched these movies again.

“Sadgati” (1981)

This low-budget movie had a message which was strong enough to shake the society up. The film remorseless portrays the notorious Indian caste system and the practice of ‘untouchability’ which still prevails in our society, even though we have supposedly progressed.

In short, the story is about a poor shoemaker Dukhi (played by Om Puri) whose life revolves around his wife Jhuria (played by Smita Patil) and his little daughter. Dukhi approaches the village Brahmin priest (played by Mohan Agashe) to get a date for his daughter’s wedding.

As Dukhi is an ‘untouchable’, the staunch Brahmin agrees to give him the date after consulting his ‘touchable’ books. However, in exchange, he demands that Dukhi should do the chores in his household. Even though Dukhi is unwell and weak (due to a recent ailment), he starts cleaning the house and the stable. He observes the Brahmin entertaining all other visitors and sharing his wisdom that if one loses his wife, then it is a must for the man to remarry to satiate his sexual urges. The Brahmin also confirms that he had married thrice – a fact he says without remorse.

Dukhi remains hungry while the priest gorges on food – in front of him. Dukhi pleads several times just for a date, and the priest ignores him. The final blow comes when Dukhi is asked to chop a huge log of wood. Frustrated, hungry and scorched by the sun, a bereaved Dukhi vents out his anger on that log and dies.

The dead body lies untouched and becomes a road-block for the Brahmins who take that path to reach the well. Dukhi’s community refuses to touch the body fearing a police interrogation. Ultimately, left with no choice, the Brahmin, in the middle of the night, avoiding public glare, ties a rope on the feet of the deceased and moves the body out of the city limits. He then sprinkles holy water on Dukhi’s corpse, for fear that he may become an ‘untouchable’ himself. This is how the movie ends by showing how cruel a human can be.

A question to the society – what has really changed in the current scenario? In my opinion, it’s still almost the same. The story was based on a novel by Munshi Premchand and Ray directed it in 1981, for which he got a special jury award.

Years have rolled by – and still we divide ourselves in the name of caste, ‘untouchability’ and religion. Such bigoted practices still exist.

“Aranyer Din Ratri” (1970)

Based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay, the story revolves around four educated friends who share a deep bond but have conflicting ideologies. Asim (played by Soumitra Chatterjee), is affluent and enjoys the company of women. But he also keeps a watch on how women perceive him. Sanjoy (played by Subhendu Chatterjee) is a labour executive, but his heart lies in literature. Hari (played by Samit Bhanja) is a cricketer who wants to get over a heartbreak he’s suffering from. Shekhar (played by Rabi Ghosh) is jobless.

The city life takes a toll on them and they go to a land (Palamau in Bihar) where people from tribal communities live. They have all heard that women from tribal communities are bold, simple and beautiful. Therefore, they decide to break the rules imposed by their urban lives. They bribe a caretaker to stay in a house in the forest, and visit the local country liquor shop for a drink. There, Hari meets Duli, a woman from the Santhal community (played by Simi Garewal), as she approaches them for a drink.

However, their decision to lead a bohemian life crumbles when they meet two urban women – Aparna (played by Sharmila Tagore) and Jaya, Aparana’s sister-in-law (played by Kaberi Bose). Asim, with his Casanova nature, tries to flirt with Aparna – but Aparana appears to be far more intellectual than him. Later in the night, the four again go for a drink – and Hari gets upset as he cannot see Duli. They return drunk and oversleep, missing their breakfast only to find a packet of food lying outside their room (which was sent by Aparna).

That night however, the tension peaks when the four find their own way to the village fair. Shekhar gambles with hopes of making some money. Hari makes love to Duli in the middle of the forest. Aparna appears composed, and points out to Asim that no one has bothered to ask about the caretaker’s wife, who is ailing. Sanjoy keeps a grip on himself and refuses Jaya’s bold advances, though he cannot deny the fact he had fallen in love with Jaya. He chooses a lonely path, contemplating only about himself.

The next morning, all four men leave for Kolkata with new dreams and a lot more enlightened in their own way. Shekhar’s eyes gleams as he sees a can of boiled eggs sent by Jaya for them. The movie ends with the caretaker feeling relieved and simply closing the door to mark the end to the forest adventure.

Here again, Ray has ventured into an area which, in my opinion, is bound to provoke your thoughts. At times, the city life does become unbearable for us. In such times, we all need a break – and if required, we even bend our rules to gain wisdom.

This movie is also notable for Ray’s brilliant depiction of a woman from the Santhal community. She’s not portrayed as an object of sex. Instead, she’s a simple woman but is bold enough to handle the advances of men. She drinks with Hari, has sex with him – but ultimately, Hari falls in love with her, simply for her natural beauty.

I spoke about two movies which, to me, do not seem interrelated. One of these movies deals with caste differences, bigoted practices and the beastly treatment by upper-class staunch Brahmins who are actually debauch and play with the emotions of women and poor people from the lower classes.

This is not the independence we fought for. We should be equal. So, the next time we see any such discrimination, we must raise our voices and we should never fall victim to priests who misuse and abuse religion.

On the other hand, the other movie dealt with human emotions. Four friends with conflicting ideologies break the rules, go for an adventure in the forest, rediscover themselves and return to the city, refreshed. Likewise, perhaps, we too would do good to escape from our urban lives from time to time.

Also, the fact that Aparna keeps her poise without the men taking undue advantage of her seems to be a message to the people to behave properly in the presence of women, even if you may be drunk. Furthermore, there is no harm when a woman drinks – and you do not need to look at her as if she’s an alien if she does drink. She is free to do whatever she likes. Lastly, like in Duli’s case, the importance of simplicity and boldness in our lives cannot be understated.

As I said before, my aim was not to write about Satyajit Ray. The purpose behind writing this is to gently appeal to the society to please revisit these two films, as we drown ourselves in incidents of racial discrimination, hate, violence, rape and bigoted practices.

Nowadays, a majority of box office hits have gravity-defying stunts and songs, with the protagonists flying over mountains, hanging on trees and more such stunts which simply seem silly to me. This time, however, let us break the stereotype by watch these two films. Maybe we can even share our contribution to the society by learning the appropriate lessons from these great movies and implementing them.