Sunday, May 11, 2008

Satyajit Ray and our days of romance

Those were the days in the 80’s Kolkata when Satyajit Ray was hale and hearty. The maestro was busy working on his cinema, prose, music and illustrations, and inspiring the whole generation of educated middle class Bengalis.

His presence was felt almost everywhere in Kolkata; from coffee house to university campus, from cultural and political gatherings to social functions. As he was a keen listener and connoisseur of Western Classical Music, lot of us started listening Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. We started to study the structure of western compositions, were curious to understand the 'sonata form' as Ray in many of his interviews spoke about the relation of this form and his cinema. The film societies were similarly influenced and regularly publishing important articles on his cinema in their house journals. The top class little magazine Ekshan was publishing his full film scripts and every issue of Ekshan was a collectors item. Many of us loved to dream about unexpectedly discovering a lot of old issues of Ekshan while browsing the collection of an old book shop in College Street.

By inspecting the works of Satyajit Ray we learned to see differently and started to value other branches of art forms which we did not took seriously before. Just take the example of his book designs, bengali lettering and illustrations. Through him we started to comprehend the aesthetic fragrance of book designing, we came to know how lettering can express and visualize a theme, how illustrations can be minimalist yet sensitive. Here we must also acknowledge that Purnendu Patri, the real torch bearer from Ray in Bengali book designing, opened many of our eyes on Ray’s forte by his lucid articles.

Satyajit Ray was an institution by himself. A keen observer of human life and society, a man of versatile interests. In his last film Agantuk he spoke through his protagonist Manomohan about the present decline of human society and brilliantly raised vital socio-political issues. In the film we hear him bitterly say that even if he wanted to convert into a primitive who he thinks is far better a human being than the present man, he cannot. He had already been molded by Marx, Freud, Shakespeare and Tagore. He cannot disregard that fact.

We cannot disregard that fact either.