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Influential Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray would have turned 100 on May 2 this year. Over the course of his career, which spanned the mid ’50s to his death in 1992, he made around 40 films. His oeuvre, mostly adaptations of various novels and short stories, was remarkable in the way it portrayed women — their inner and outer lives, their desires. They were the conscientious north star of his films, while the male characters struggled with moral questions, erred, and often forgot to repent. Where women were given agency, his men constantly battled with insecurities and amoralities. While Ray is well-known in the West for films like The Music Room (1958) and his Apu Trilogy, here are some of his less-discussed works, all streaming on the Criterion Channel and centering around portraits of flawed masculinity.
Nayak (The Hero), 1966
Bengali superstar Arindam Mukherjee (played by actual Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar) is a matinee idol who rose from humble beginnings. After a drunken brawl, he travels to Delhi both to receive an award and as a PR exercise to fix his public image. The story, inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), sees Mukherjee suffer disturbing dreams that bring out his worst insecurities about losing his stardom. So during his train journey, he opens up to co-passenger Aditi (Sharmila Tagore), a self-assured feminist journalist. What could’ve been her biggest “scoop” turns into the rehabilitation of his sense of being.
Watch it here.
Kapurush (The Coward), 1965
Stranded in a remote town in north Bengal, scriptwriter Amitabha (Soumitra Chatterjee) has a chance run-in with former lover Karuna (Madhabi Mukherjee), who is now married to a prosperous but garrulous tea planter, Bimal (Haradhan Bandopadhyay). The encounter forces Amitabha to confront his inability to give her the life she wanted. Her blissful life in the little hilly town, far away from the crowded buses and streets of Calcutta, affronts his self-worth. As Karuna holds on to her steadfast morality, refusing to give him back the power he once held over her, he battles his hurt ego and loss of control.
Watch it here.
Mahapurush (The Holy Man), 1965
Birinchi Baba (Charuprakash Ghosh) appears in Calcutta, claiming to have been around since the beginning of time. He says he’s on a first-name basis with both Buddha and Christ, and that he even taught Einstein the theory of relativity. In no time, he finds himself a bevy of followers, all hungering to be richer, happier, more prosperous. Preying on their greed, Birinchi Baba becomes Ray’s critique of organized religion. It comes undone only when the holy man’s sidekick Satya (Satindra Bhattacharya) takes it upon himself to expose him as part of a bid to win the heroine’s heart. What’s religious power compared to the fastidious morality of a Ray woman?
Watch it here.
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