Rupa and Company
Price: Rs. 95
At last Satyajit Ray becomes part of the list of personalities in Rupa’s Charitravali Series. The series, which profiles prominent Indians, has done a fairly satisfactory job of the rather huge task it set out to accomplish. While some on the series have managed to provide a feel of the subject, perhaps some others have not been as successful for differing reasons.
Within cinema, books on legends like MG Ramachandran, Shivaji Ganesan, Bhupen Hazarika, Suchitra Sen right up to Aamir Khan have already been published. Where this book perhaps fails is due to the sheer scope of the subject- writing on Ray and work. Ray was such a multi-faceted person and achieved so much that to encapsulate him in a mere 10,000-odd words it would be a daunting task for any biographer.
This little volume does attempt to cover his entire life and work. It starts with providing a background to his grandfather and father and also delves into his life as a child. Where perhaps the book falters most is when his films and music are discussed.
Just the sheer volume and quality of his cinema ensures that almost each one of his films can have a book written on it, and the author could have done well to devote some more space to the section, as this is the legacy Ray is best remembered for. There is a brief note on the experience of shooting Pather Panchali a mention of the Apu trilogy. His skill in delineating women characters and handling children is mentioned, during which five other films find mention. But that’s about all!
The chapter on his art is far more satisfactory and some instances of his early work as well as sketches used in his films are showcased. The next section, on writing, has some good examples of his calligraphic skills. An interesting statement from Ray on his artistic skills. “Since I consider myself primarily to be a film-maker and, secondarily to be a writer of stories for young people, I have never taken my graphic work seriously, and I never certainly consider it worthy of being exposed to the public.”
Ray’s writing has a special place in Bangla literature and that comes out in the section on writing. All the literary names associated with him – Sandesh, Feluda, Professor Shonku and his first story, Bonku Babur Bondhu and many others are introduced to those not acquainted with them.
There is a brief discussion on Ray’s legacy and how easy he found it to deal with questions like ‘how could he accomplish so much?’ Reference is made to his contemporary filmmakers and his reasons for sticking to Calcutta despite invitations from just about everywhere.
Another area where the book suffers in a major way is in its production. One chapter actually ends with the sentence incomplete, despite enough space to fit in more words. Typographical errors and layout problems also find their place into the book. The book has eight ruled but otherwise blank pages at the end, which surely could have been put to better use. The filmography could have been arranged far more concisely. The Landmarks section could have been more detailed too.
Given the attention Ray gave to the smallest detail, surely a book on him can take care of at least the basics.