Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Light of Ray Shines On Bollywood



Few things from my childhood I can recall emotionally, but one that I can is watching the Academy Awards.  The year: 1992.  I had no real interest in who won or lost--truth be told I didn't have a clear idea of what these awards meant, only that it was something on television.

Audrey Hepburn comes to present a special award.  I didn't know who she was, but I thought even at her age, she was particularly beautiful.   She was going to give an Honorary Oscar to Satyajit Ray.  I loved the way she said that name.  After a few remarks, we got to see a short film about his films.

Perhaps it is blasphemy to say this, but it was to my mind a bit like how Paul had the scales fall from his eyes at the end of the sequence.  I can say that I had never seen anything like that footage before in my life.  As a lower-middle class Hispanic kid from Texas, I obviously wasn't watching Indian films.  However, by the end of that sequence, I sat with my mouth opened, stunned at the sheer genius that I had just been shown. 

In short, I was simply amazed by the visual majesty and power of Satyajit Ray's films.  I will never forget the final clip: the King of Ghosts tells two men their dreams will come true.  The camera pulls back to reveal this demon-like creature sitting before a star that lit up in sequence while he chanted in a strange voice and moved his neck left right left right.  I later learned this was from the film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (which can be translated extremely loosely as The Adventures of Goopy & Bagha).  I later saw more of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, and what I saw amazed me: the Ghost Dance--a daring montage of various dances in all styles that is visually stunning.

I can't say to be an expert on Ray or know many of his films, but I do know that visually, he melded the uniqueness of the Indian culture with the sensibilities of the Western film.  If anything, Ray rejected how many Indian (aka Bollywood) films were, in particular how the music was not integrated into the film itself.  Ray did bring a humanity to his stories, touching on the shared connection between those of varied cultures to where the stories (be the comic or tragic) were things a person outside the subcontinent could relate to.

Right now I revel in the chance to expand my understanding of Satyajit Ray and his films.  Let's face it: not many are available in the States.  Still, what there is available (especially in YouTube) is worth an exploration.

This sadly is how I remember Ray: an old man, clutching his Oscar, on his literal deathbed.  Better late than never I suppose.  Even from what little I know of Satyajit Ray, I think him among the best filmmakers we've had.

Continue exploring The Great Directors with me as I continue to expand on those filmmakers who have shaped cinema in the United States and around the world.

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