With Two: A Film Fable, Satyajit Ray shows a child's mind can be as pretty as its is perilous
In Satyajit Ray's Two, while one boy turns a moment of loneliness into one of joyous music, the other sees it as an opportunity for destruction.
Editor's note: In a prolific career spanning nearly four decades, Satyajit Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. His films have received worldwide critical acclaim and won him several awards, honours and recognition — both in India and elsewhere. In this column starting 25 June 2017, we discuss and dissect the films of Satyajit Ray (whose 96th birth anniversary was this May), in a bid to understand what really makes him one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century.
An unquenchable thirst for variety is the hallmark of a great artist. Having directed several feature films and one documentary, Ray made a short film in the year 1964 — a 12-minute film under the banner of ‘Esso World Theatre’ — a cultural programme telecast by the non-profit government-funded television programming distributor in America named the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), and sponsored by the American oil company Esso. In a bid to showcase the world outside their own to their viewers, and yet to make them understand what was being shown on screen, the producers had requested Ray to make the film in a Bengali setting but in the English language.
The combination didn’t quite appeal to Ray, who decided to solve the problem by doing away with the spoken word altogether in his film, seeing this, in turn, as an opportunity to pay his tribute to the golden era of silent films. The film he thus made was called Two and it depended solely on sound and music. Although it is perhaps the least watched of the director’s works, critics and experts from all over the world consider it to be one of the best films ever made by Satyajit Ray.
Ray called Two a ‘film fable’ — one which showed two boys, both 6-7 years old, duelling with each other, each showing off his toys in a bid to outdo the other, in the middle of a lonely and breezy summer afternoon. The first boy comes from an affluent family. The film opens with a shot (which was later used in another short film by Ray — titled Pikoo) of his parents leaving him alone at his palatial home with a large collection of toys. The boy, wearing a Mickey Mouse cap, wanders from room to room, bursting balloons from the night before — which happened to be his birthday. He plays with his toys, especially with a robot he has been gifted and a toy tower that he has been building all morning.
Despite all the toys around him, he soon gets bored and is wondering what to do to pass his time, when suddenly, on hearing the sound of a flute, he rushes to his window to find a young boy of his own age, living in a shanty dwelling in the grassland behind his house, playing the instrument happily. In a bid to draw the poor boy’s attention, the rich boy brings his own expensive electronic trumpet at the window and bellows with it. And soon, before you know it, the two boys begin showing off their toys and masks to each other — the rich kid’s expensive ones, and the poor boy’s cheap, handmade ones. Very soon, the poor boy realises that his prized possessions are no match to those of the rich boy, and he decides to give up and engage himself in flying his kite instead. The rich boy is clearly not happy with this decision, because he is confined to the house, and his competitor is out there in the open.
In a fit of childish envy, he shoots the poor boy’s kite down with his toy airgun. Realising that the rich boy is way too powerful and wouldn’t let him play in peace, the poor boy then sadly retires behind his hut and resumes playing his flute. The rich boy, now victorious, but left all alone, sits and thinks about what he has done, even as he tries to drown out the sound of the flute in the cacophony of his toys. In the final scene of the film, his toy robot, now left unattended and unguided, walks into the tall tower he has built with painstaking efforts, making it crash to the ground.
The film is unarguably the most allegorical of Ray’s entire body of work. Despite being a simple tale involving two young boys, it deals with such complex subjects as loneliness, the human capital, socio-economic divide, the philosophy of happiness and contentment, the evils of consumerism, the futility of war, mankind’s resistance to oppression and the true meaning of freedom. Ray himself considered Two as one of his most profound works, and, in his own words — as a ‘film that packs quite a punch in its 10 minutes’.
Ray had been deeply moved by the Vietnam War — in later years, he made several veiled (Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne) as well as direct (Pratidwandi) commentaries on the war, and about the extraordinary resilience shown by the ordinary people, mostly peasants, of Vietnam in the face of death brought upon them by a superpower such as America. But many years before these films, he did make a silent protest against the war in Two. Through the poor boy, he shows the infallible capacity of the human spirit to pick up the pieces after a great loss, and to move on, to find a quiet, undisturbed corner of the world to resume life again. As a stark contrast, through the rich boy, he shows the hollow rewards of a victory earned through vile means, especially in a battle which shouldn’t have taken place in the first place.
In Two, Ray also shows his deep understanding of the mind of a child. Impressionable and prone to mimic what it sees around itself — both good and bad — a child’s mind can be as pretty as it can be perilous. In Two, for instance, while one boy turns a moment of loneliness into one of joyous music, the other sees it as an opportunity for destruction.
Two is the sort of film, which stays with you for days on end, even after you have stopped thinking about it in your conscious mind. Because it is not one message that it sends your way. The film is a hard-hitting basket of messages and meanings — all densely packed in 12 minutes. And such a feat is possible only for a filmmaker like Satyajit Ray.
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His translations include 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray, and his original works include the mystery novels Patang, Penumbra and Here Falls The Shadow.
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