Actors Sharmila Tagore and Dhritiman Chatterjee joined the session virtually, as Asaduzzaman Noor (MP) presided over the session
Honouring the Oscar-winning cinema titan Satyajit Ray on his birth centenary, a seminar titled “Satyajit Ray: National as Global” was arranged at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, as a part of Dhaka International Film Festival 2021. Veteran actors Sharmila Tagore and Dhritiman Chatterjee, and Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed joined the session virtually.
Cultural activist and trustee of Bangladesh Liberation War Museum, Mofidul Hoque, presented the keynote paper. “It is important to understand how Ray has transcended the rural-urban dichotomy and made such portrayal of village life,” Mofidul Hoque mentioned in his paper. Drawing the trajectories of the titan’s inheritance of artistic expression from his family to his learnings from various medium, the paper presented montages of Rays’ eclectic achievements across literature, art, music, design.
He also shared anecdotes on the relationship with Satyajit Ray with renowned Bangladeshi photographer Amanul Haque. Ray was worried about his whereabouts during the 9 month liberation was of Bangladesh. He quoted a letter sent to Amanul Haque by Ray on January 20, 1972: “Dear Amanul, in the last six months I have asked about 50 people from your land. I was extremely worried as I did not get any convincing answer. I received your letter via Parvez last night. I do not have words to express how relieved I am.”
Following the keynote presentation, art critic and educator of Fine Art and Film Moinuddin Khaled presented brief analysis of Ray’s works. Focusing on the experience Ray gathered while studying at Santiniketan, Khaled mentions that he encountered rural life. He said it is also important to enunciate Jean Renior’s advice to Ray that he could turn away from Hollywood style of filmmaking.
Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed shared his personal take on Ray’s films. He pointed out the unique character of Ray as a filmmaker by quoting from Andrew Robinson the biographer of Ray --Taken together Ray’s films seem to encompass a whole culture that of the Bengalis; regardless of any artificial socio-political divide. Although Ray focused on making films in Bangla, Justrice Refaat pulled out examples of Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players) and Sadgati (Deliverance) and presented details of the script writing process of Ray as he ventured into films in other languages.
Satyajit Ray did not have the economic luxury of filmmaking. As an actor who began her film career with the maestro at the age of 13, Padma Bhushan Sharmila Tagore shared her memories of working with him. “He ventured in every aspect of filmmaking. In Aranyer Din Ratri, he also operated the camera,” she said. Fondly recalling the famous memory game she reckoned: “It was so intuitive like a musical rhythm.”
Satyajit Ray lovingly known as Manik Da never took a lunch break. Sharmila Tagore recalled him sitting next to his camera chewing onto his handkerchief during lunch breaks where he would only eat laal doi and fish fries. She mentioned: “He was always planning ahead and reflecting on his work. He kept on innovating, improvising. Subrata da and Manik da invented these bounce lights. We all got bound scripts which etchings of the frames. Despite his economic constrains, he competed with the rest of the world.”
Giving example of the film, Two, which had no dialogue, she said showed his craftsmanship. The film required English language and the proposition was non-negotiable. Ray, instead, eliminated dialogues and provided a musical treatment to the story of a statement against war.
Disagreeing to the claims that Ray made conscious decision of making films on urban or rural Bengal, actor Dhritiman Chatterjee said: “What he wanted to explore was the humane relationships. Sometimes it fell into the rural milieu. Nishchindipur was created in Boral which was a village at that time; it is now an urban suburb of Kolkata.
Dhritiman Chatterjee, who played politically active role in both Ray’s and Sen’s films, was subjected to a question he answered multiple times before- What is the difference between the approaches of the makers? Puling reference from the ongoing discussion, he said: “In terms of language, Ray did what was right for him, but for Mrinal da as we know, made films in different languages even in those that he didn’t understand. Mrinal Sen because of his background was more explicitly political, while Ray although he was very progressive his interest was more in the reaction, conviction and confusion of human beings.”
Sharmila Tagore, in the question answer round, discussed the strong female characters portrayed in Ray’s films with examples of Mahanagar and Devi. She aspired to be in every film of Satyajit Ray. She jokingly expressed regret that she could not be in Ashani Shanket because Ray chose Farida Akhtar Babita for the co-production film.
Former Minister of Cultural Affairs and veteran actor Asaduzzaman Noor (MP) presided over the session and during the closing remarks, shared anecdotes of how the master filmmaker’s work had an impact on him. He concluded the session by saying: “I have a confession. Although I walked miles to watch his films and will still do, I dearly miss his Feluda and Shoknu series. I miss him as a writer as well.”