Sujoy Ghosh's short film Anukul demonstrates Satyajit Ray's influence on the Kahaani director

Suryasarathi Bhattacharya

Oct 11, 2017 11:20:08 IST

The famous American historian and novelist, Henry Adams had once said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." This line holds true for Satyajit Ray, filmmaker extraordinaire, whose works still form a great source of inspiration for modern-day filmmakers.

 Sujoy Ghoshs short film Anukul demonstrates Satyajit Rays influence on the Kahaani director

Still from Sujoy Ghosh's short film, Anukul (top); Sujoy Ghosh (bottom-left) and Satyajit Ray (bottom-right). Images courtesy: Facebook

One of them happens to be director Sujoy Ghosh, who in his latest short-film Anukul, has tried to venture into the creative realm of Ray's literary works. Starring Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee (who has worked with Ghosh earlier in Kahaani) and Saurabh Shukla, Anukul is based on a short story of the same name, written by Ray in the year 1976.

The story is set in a dystopian future when humans coexist with anthropomorphic robots. However, Ray didn't set the story in a futuristic timeline; he chose to build the entire narrative in a contemporary settings. And that is where the story excels and its effect remains unmarred by the strands of irrelevance or obsolescence.

A Hindi school teacher, Nikunj Chaturvedi (played by Shukla) buys an android named Anukul (played by Chatterjee) from a corporate agency based in Chowringee, Kolkata. The robot, programmed to do any human task without "overtime" and "holidays", thus becomes a part of Nikunj's household as a housekeeper and starts observing things and people around. Eventually, after some dramatic set of events, his relationship with his master changes in many ways and levels.

Ray's influence on Ghosh wasn't just evident during the making of Anukul; the latter has, time and again, imbibed nuances, styles and sensibilities from numerous works of Ray — both in cinema and literature.

In an interview with Rajeev Masand, Ghosh explains the influence of Ray on him. He says, "When I started understanding films, when I started learning about films, it's his (Ray) films I learnt from. If you see any of my films, be it Jhankaar Beats (2003), Home Delivery (2005), Aladin (2009), Kahaani (2012), Kahaani 2 (2016) whatever, it's all Ray."

Unarguably, the 2012 Vidya Balan starrer Kahaani is widely considered as Ghosh's best film so far. Upon its release, the film proved to be a major commercial and critical success and earned a bevy of awards and accolades that year. The film was conceptualised in Ghosh's mind and was an original story — but there are many moments in the film which might come across as brush strokes from Ray's inimitable filmmaking palette.

The film is about Vidya Balan's character; she is the heart and soul of the film. And Ghosh engages the audience with the protagonist by making them feel that they too are part of the film. The camera angles and shots are made in a way that gives an effect of being by the side of the actor in the film. One immediately feels that one is wandering the streets of Kolkata along with a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Balan's character in the film) in the pursuit of her missing husband. That adds a lot to the feel and connect that an audience is expected to associate with the story, especially a thriller like Kahaani.

This cinematic device was used long back by Ray in Aranyer Din Ratri (1970). The film is a story of four urban working-class men (played by Soumitra Chatterjee, Shubhendu Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh and Samit Bhanja) from Kolkata who head out for a short trip in the wilderness. They also meet another group of travellers (of women including Sharmila Tagore and Kaberi Bose). It is there, out in the forest where they meet, that each of these characters undergoes life-changing experiences. Aranyer Din Ratri is considered one of Ray's most-close-to-being-perfect films, on the technical front. Some of the most iconic sequences which are even taught in film schools across the globe — the opening credit, view of the forest from the car, guest house entry and the most celebrated "Memory Game" scene — had a masterly usage of many POV (point-of-view) and OTS (over-the-shoulder) shots to make the audience an active participant in the storytelling.

In fact, Ray used the forest not just as a mere setting but also as a character in the film, much like Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950). Similarly, Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani shows Kolkata as a live character, more so because the story unfolds during the Durga Puja celebrations. Ghosh's Kolkata was beyond the Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial, and more about an insider's, a dweller's Kolkata.

Still from Satyajit Ray's Charulata (left); Still from Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani. Image courtesy: Screengrab via YouTube

Still from Satyajit Ray's Charulata (left); Still from Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani (right). Screengrab via YouTube

Ghosh also used an allusion to Ray's monumental film Charulata (1964). A sequence in the film, featuring Madhabi Mukherjee's character hopping through window after window inside the house following a man on the streets outside, is considered to be one of the most iconic ones in Ray's filmography. Ghosh makes Vidya do something similar in Kahaani where she follows a Durga idol out in the streets from the windows of a guest house.

Not just Kahaani, Ghosh's short film Ahalya (2015) also reportedly had references to Ray. The film is a twist on the classic tale of Ahalya in Ramayana. The film stars Soumitra Chatterjee (plays the role of an artist named Gautam), Radhika Apte (Gautam's wife Ahalya), Tota Roy Choudhary (policeman Indra Sen) in lead roles. Ghosh's version has Indra being seduced by an enchanting Ahalya and then getting trapped inside a doll by the husband.

Shortly after the film's release on YouTube, there was some speculation regarding Ghosh having picked elements from various sources. However, the one that stands out happens to be one of Ray's short story titled Professor Shonku O Aschorjo Putul (Professor Shonku and the Strange Doll) published in Sandesh magazine in 1965.

The story chronicles the journey of Professor Shonku to Sweden where he would be awarded an honorary doctorate degree. There he meets a certain Gregor Lindquist, who happens to be a doll maker. Upon visiting Lindquist's home, after the latter's invite, the professor unravels the mystery of the doll maker's starkly lifelike dolls. He realises that these are not ordinary dolls, but humans transformed into dolls.

Ghosh's film picks the essentials (characterisation mainly) from Ramayana and rejigs it with Ray's story — and the result is a sheer delight. Ahalya garnered rave reviews, especially for the treatment that he gave to the film. Be it the eerie soundscape of the film, the lighting, costumes (contrast of light and dark attires in accordance with the mood of the film) and the performances — Ahalya made for a spectacular watch.

Now with Anukul, it can be said that as long as a creative genius of the likes of Satyajit Ray continues to be the pole star for the new-generation filmmakers, the future of cinema rests in assured hands.

Watch Anukul here:

Updated Date: Oct 11, 2017 11:47:45 IST