Home / Brunch / Celebrating 100 years of Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Taught People About Love by Vinay Pathak - Part 1
For most people, Satyajit Ray is synonymous with Pather Panchali, but for me, his best film was always Charulata (The Lonely Wife), a masterpiece based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Nashtanirh(The Broken Nest).
I remember watching Charulata for the first time. I must have been in college then and had just begun to take my love for literature a bit more seriously.
What struck me the most about the film, was the uncanny emotional connect I had with it, very similar to how I felt while reading Shartchand (Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay) and Premchand. Charulata signifies forbidden, cardinal love. It is a story of confused lovers played out in a time and space where nothing was favourable towards them except the very shackles and norms that also bound them together.
When you are on the verge of adulthood, as I was when I watched the film, you are filled with unknown ambitions and the passion to do so much, create so much, influence so much that sometimes you end up being confused about who you are and what you really want. This is because there is so much bubbling inside you and you don’t know how to express it all. Love has strange ways of influencing you, despite your lack of knowledge of where and when and how and through whom it is bestowed upon you. For me, Charulata stands for that beauty and that confusion. It stands for that imperfect and yet absolute perfect enchantment. It was like music that soothes your heart, yet causes your whole being to ache.When ray’s fictional detective character appeared on TV, I wondered: could this man do everything? Should I not watch any other filmmaker? I am not even Bengali!
When I read Gunahon Ka Devta by Dharamvir Bharati and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, a certain melody and pain and enchantment occurred within me. I didn’t know how to describe it. I was discovering the treasures of literature and they were varied. When I read Shekhar Ek Jeevni, I was blown by its candour and its seeking of the meaning of puberty and youth and love and longings. And then there was D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was scarred by the tragedy of love in literature and the arts, especially because in real life I was yet to experience it.
When Charulata happened to me, I had already read all these books and found a little affinity with them, which was very personal and dear. I didn’t want to tell anyone what I’d read and how those books made me feel. However when I finished watching Charulata, my first reaction was, ‘Oh my god! Perhaps Ray has read all the books that I have and he might be the only one who knows how I am feeling.’ I know this sounds a bit morbid, but that’s exactly what I felt.
How wonderfully heart withering and vulnerable that film was for me!
Stills from Charulata (1964), where Madhabi Mukherjee essays the lead role ( Photos courtesy: @satyajitray.org )
The wizard of all
I remember a phase when the sentiments of those books got to me, to the point where I deliberately started reading detective novels to avoid emotional impact. The Bourne Identity was one of the bestsellers at that time and I got hooked again. That was when Ray’s fictional detective character Feluda appeared on television, I think. I was aghast. Could this man do everything? Should I not watch any other filmmaker? Would it be healthy to be spellbound by another master?
Such was his shadow while I was growing up. And mind you, I am not a Bengali. I didn’t even grow up in Bengal. I don’t even speak the language. Hell, I was not even that big a film buff at the time. What was this man turning me into?
Then I saw Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and there was no more point of return. Satyajit Ray was my hero. Cinema was my obsession. And Charulata was my film. I was ready to fall in love.
Truly, with that one film, Ray became a wizard who magically knew how my heart beats when it is in the grips of the pangs of love.
Vinay Pathak is a film and theatre actor best known for his acts in Bheja Fry and Khosla Ka Ghosla. He garnered rave reviews for playing a middle-aged closeted gay guy in Made in Heaven.
This is Part One of a series of essays celebrating the legendary filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. Next week’s tribute is by artist Bose Krishnamachari.
From HT Brunch, June 14, 2020
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