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Satyajit Ray: A true inspirational human being and my favourite writer cum movie director

July 25, 2013

The whole world knows Satyajit Ray as a great Indian filmmaker but his name first came to me not as a filmmaker rather as a great detective novel writer. Now I don’t remember the exact year but some time in early 90s, my father gave me a book as a birthday gift and I was very excited with the cover photo which looked very interesting to me. It was a Bengali detective novel for kids and its name was “Sonar Kella”. I read that book and you don’t believe how much excitement and pleasure that book gave me. That detective or private investigator’s name was Prodosh Chandra Mitra better known as Feluda. His nickname is Felu and da is the short form of dada which means big brother in Bengali because his cousin Tapesh served as a narrator and he used to call him Feluda. I was a kid and I immediately fall in love with Feluda. That time, the author name specially Satyajit Ray himself meant nothing important to me, I just wanted to read Feluda’s detective stories. Then I started insisting my father to buy more Feluda books. But I also couldn’t wait for long and therefore started asking my friends about Feluda’s books and I discovered that some of them also used to like Feluda. So, we exchanged a lot of Feluda books and then I insisted my father to allow me to get the membership of a local library. I successfully made him convinced that the subscription money for that local library would have been much cheaper than buying me new storybooks every now and then. So, one by one I almost finished all Feluda books. During that time, I also discovered that there was another interesting fictional character Professor Shonku who was also created by Satyajit Ray and this character Professor Shonku was a great scientist and his adventures were all based on science fiction and that was the first time I started to like science fiction stories.

There is a popular children’s magazine “Anandamela” and every year just before the biggest festival of Bengal “Durga Puja”, a special puja edition is published by ABP group, the leading media group and the publisher of the most popular and commonly read Bengali daily newspaper “Ananda Bazar Patrika”. Every year a new adventure of Professor Shonku was published in that special puja edition of “Anandamela” and every year I used to wait for that special puja edition. I think every Bengali kids even current generation’s kids love to read “Anandamela”. But “Anandamela” didn’t have Feluda stories instead it used to get published in another magazine “Desh” in its special puja edition which also belongs to the same ABP group. Now “Desh” is not a children’s magazine but readable for grown up persons. Despite being a teenager, I still managed to borrow some special puja editions of “Desh”. I also discovered that “Desh” was full of romantic and little adult kind of novels. So, that was how I came to know about love, sex and some secret human emotions and behaviours which I never experienced before. Now when I see young kids, I really surprises me how smart and intelligent they are now. By their age, we were quite simple and silly.

Another thing also astonished me that since Feluda was a fictional character created by Satyajit Ray especially for kids and teenagers then why did the ABP group used to publish Feluda novels in “Desh” instead of “Anandamela”? Satyajit Ray himself regularly published Feluda novels in another children’s magazine “Sandesh” under his own editorialship but it was not so popular in our times. Even today, “Anandamela” is still the most popular Children’s magazine in Bengali language.

Satyajit Ray was still alive by that time because I still remember that later I saw his death news in 1992. Even then I didn’t know much about Satyajit Ray. First I saw the news that he was hospitalised. But then he was awarded “Oscar” as a lifetime achievement honour. I still remember the TV footage that he was laying on a hospital bed holding the “Oscar” statuette on his chest by both of his hands and he was talking something on camera. I heard from my elders that he became the first Indian to receive such a prestigious award like “Oscar”. But his health condition was still deteriorating and then I saw the news on TV that he is no more. In India, the most popular and famous persons are either film starts or cricketers. Satyajit Ray was none of them yet I felt sad on his demise. I got the same feeling again when I saw the death news of Mother Teresa in 1997. I never got the opportunity to meet both Satyajit Ray and Mother Teresa face to face despite living in Kolkata suburbs but I saw Nelson Mandela from a long distance when he was received and honoured at Iden Gardens stadium in Kolkata by the govt. of West Bengal. It was 1990 and I have a vivid memory of that incident. I was present at Iden Gardens stadium with my parents in that great reception. Now we are hearing the news that Nelson Mandela is going through a critical health condition. I pray to God for his long life and good health.

I have read a lot of novels of Sherlock Holmes who was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also acknowledged as the greatest detective novel character in the world. But if you also read Feluda novels, you’ll find that Feluda stories are not less thrilling and entertaining than that of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Both Sherlock Holmes and Feluda are considered as a very very wise person and both got the ability to see and explain things and clues that a normal person can’t. Satyajit Ray also added two characters in Feluda stories and they are Tapesh or Topshe as called by Feluda and Jatayu or Lalmohon Ganguli. Tapesh serves as a narrator and we see and experience all the Feluda adventures from his eyes. Most of the adventures of Feluda took place outside Kolkata and give readers a good taste of traveling and adventure. But the story telling and the suspense factor are little different than other detective stories. It is not the climax scene when you will identify the culprit, but within the first phase of the story, you’ll know who actually did the crime. But how Feluda unfolds clues one by one, beats him just by his intelligence and ultimately traps and catches him, that is the fun you will enjoy the most. On the other hand, Professor Shonku stories are full of adventures and science fiction. It’s like a diary in which Professor Shonku has written all his adventures. More interesting elements are the innovations and ideas of Professor Shonku which are all based on science fiction. All these Feluda and Professor Shonku stories are very very interesting to read again and again. Moreover Satyajit Ray’s stories are basically fatless but healthy which means neither less nor extra words or sentences are found in his writings.

Feluda / Professor Shanku

Satyajit Ray himself directed couple of Feluda movies based on his own novels “Sonar Kella” (The Fortress) and “Joy Baba Felunath” (The Elephant God) and both of them gave so much entertainment to kids. But the most entertaining children’s movie was “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha). Every Bengali kids still love that movie. Later Satyajit Ray made its sequel “Hirak Rajar Deshe” (The Kingdom of Diamonds). But the most beautiful movie that influenced and touched me a lot, was “Pather Panchali”. That time the only television channel in India was state sponsored “Doordarshan” and sometime in the middle of 90s, I watched a Bengali black and white movie “Pather Panchali” on “Doordarshan”. Bengalis in nature, are emotional and sensitive and every Bengali sentiment was depicted exceptionally well by Satyajit Ray in that movie. Then I realised how talented he was and automatically deserved my utmost respect. I believe that the whole world also recognized Satyajit Ray and his talents by this particular film “Pather Panchali” (A Song of the Little Road) for the first time in history which he directed in 1955. In that movie, there was two children characters “Apu” and his elder sister “Durga”. Apu was more or less as same age as me and I felt connected with him like a friend or brother. I enjoyed their affection, their life and I also felt that somehow I became a part of their life. Then one day “Durga” became ill and then died. But I felt the pain of “Apu” and I thought that I had also lost my elder sister. I have no siblings and I never experienced that type of love and affection in my life but that emotion and pain of losing somebody close to you like your sister, remained in my mind for long time. It was merely a movie but how real and sensitive a movie might become and how a movie would affect your life, Satyajit Ray showed us very easily. He also made sequels of “Pather Panchali” as “Aparajito” (The Unvanquished) and “Apur Sansar” (The World of Apu). Satyajit Ray himself was a music composer as well and he actually did some music direction in his own movies. I think other great Indian classical music maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan etc. also composed music for Satyajit Ray in his movies. I don’t know anything about Indian classical music but I think you’ll find a simple yet emotional and sensitive musical pattern in all the background scores which he used in his movies. All are different yet there is a secret similarity of musical phenomenon in his movies which I can’t explain. He was a genius.

Later I saw most of his movies. But right now if you ask me to talk about all of his movies, I can’t do that because frankly speaking I really don’t remember all of them but I can still talk about some of them. In his film “Ganashatru” (An Enemy of the People), he showed us how politics and personal interests can make a simple man's life bitter. He showed us how complex the relations among close family members might be, in “Shakha Proshakha” (The Branches of the Tree), “Kanchanjangha” etc. There is an old phrase “A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets” and Satyajit Ray successfully depicted all female mental characteristics in his movies like “Ghare Baire” (The Home and The World) and especially in “Charulata” (The Lonely Wife). In “Charulata”, Madhabi Mukherjee acted so beautifully. All her face expressions, body gestures and moods were fantastically shown in that movie. Sometimes Madhabi Mukherjee didn’t even speak a word but told a lot of things just by her facial and eye expressions. I have seen some other movies acted by this same Madhabi Mukherjee but I thought I didn’t see that kind of acting any more. I might be wrong because I haven’t seen all her movies. If I did, now I don’t remember most of them in which Madhabi Mukherjee acted in a lead or supporting role. So, you can consider that as my general perception.

Pather Panchali / Charulata

24 July was the death anniversary of Uttam Kumar who was the most favourite and popular Bengali Movie actor in Kolkata film industry. Even today, after many years of his death, his popularity is still going high. But Satyajit Ray and Uttam Kumar worked together in 2 films which are “Chiriyakhana” (The Zoo) and “Nayak” (The Hero). I didn’t watch “Chiriyakhana” but enjoyed a lot watching “Nayak”. It seems like Uttam Kumar’s own life story. Soumitra Chatterjee, another popular and lead actor in Kolkata film industry worked in most of the films directed by Satyajit Ray. His son Sandip Ray is now walking on his father's footsteps. He is not that experimental like his father but he has also directed some good movies based on his father’s novels specially Feluda series and probably is now working on to start a new project based on Professor Shonku series.

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