Films that are 50

Films that are 50: There are movies about the movies and then there is Satyajit Ray’s ‘Nayak’

Uttam Kumar plays a version of himself in a superior examination of the flip side of fame and glamour.

The central problem that the hero of the Bengali film Nayak (The Hero) faces is articulated early in the film, when a journalist on the same train asks him, “Don’t you feel something missing? Some emptiness somewhere?” The journalist’s interview is one of the many techniques that Satyajit Ray uses with finesse to question the life that matinee idol Arindam Mukherjee has chosen for himself.

On his way to Delhi to receive a national award for acting, Mukherjee is not normally prone to introspection. He’s just come out of a messy affair involving the actress wife of another man who is seen, in flashbacks, to have offered herself as a casting couch candidate. As the film progresses, we see Ray bringing in all the clichés of the glamourous acting life and turning them on their head by bringing out the vapidness of it all from the star’s perspective.

Uttam Kumar as Arindam Mukherjee
Uttam Kumar as Arindam Mukherjee

Throughout the train journey – which is, of course, a convenient metaphor for a journey to a certain realisation for Mukherjee – various passengers ask him uncomfortable questions. Perhaps the most priceless exchange is the one with a nonagenarian who lectures him on his dissolute, alcohol-soaked lifestyle. When the star asks the old man whether he’s referring to a legally married wife, the acerbic reply, in English, is: “What other kind of marriage there can be in civilised society?” (Ray’s ear for real-life dialogue was impeccable, as evident in the use of “there can be” rather than the grammatically correct “can there be”.)

In his 13th feature film, Ray turns away from a larger social-humanist canvas to focus on a single personality and his intersection with his sociopolitical, economic, and artistic milieu. Nayak is the second film for which he wrote an original screenplay, the first being Kanchenjhunga (1962). Both films have the qualities of symphonies, the “movements” alternating between quick, medium, and slow, with a number of stories being told simultaneously, independent and yet interwoven. And neither has the classic storyline of films made from literature.

Aditi (Sharmila Tagore) prises open the lid that Arindam Mukherjee has shut on his real self
Aditi (Sharmila Tagore) prises open the lid that Arindam Mukherjee has shut on his real self

In Nayak, particularly, Ray exploits the formless narrative, where it’s not the story but the progression of time that takes the viewer along. Unlike in Kanchenjhunga, however, he uses the flashback to introduce the hero’s backstory, as the softly relentless questioning of the journalist Aditi Sengupta, played with a welcome lack of coquetry by Sharmila Tagore, prises open the lid that Mukherjee has shut on his real self.

Both the hero and the audience are confronted by the systematic breaks with conscience that the road to a soulless success entails. There is no moral judgement here, but Mukherjee’s agony is presented in terrifying dreams, one of them of sinking into a pile of money – surely a deliberate hat tip to Orson Welles – that effectively says it all.

Play

Films about films are always rich for insights into a craft that a director knows intimately. But here Ray is less concerned with the illusion of filmmaking than with the shifts in the moral compass of the biggest cinema stars. In a further deliberate blurring of the lines between art and life, he picks Uttam Kumar – Bengali cinema’s real world equivalent of Arindam Mukherjee in terms of fame, adulation and an existence littered with hangers-on – who was popularly referred to as Mahanayak, to star in the film.

Kumar’s performance is the nearest thing to pitch perfection that a film told in the language of realism can have. Not only is he coolly distant and yet cordial with fellow passengers, he also brings out the agony that lies beneath the surface of poise and authority that his character exudes, without being dramatic about it.

In one of the flashbacks, a young Mukherjee, appearing in a scene with a seasoned actor, pitches his tone so low, so close to everyday cadences of speech, that his fellow performer asks, “Is this a soliloquy… or Hollywood?” The irony can’t be lost, even as the hero tries to bring his acting closer to real life, his career as a superstar takes him ever further away from that very life. And the train journey only works as a brief entanglement with a set of uncomfortable truths, as he is led away by an adoring crowd on his arrival in Delhi.

Nayak may not be Ray’s most memorable film, but it is unparalleled in the intensity of its inward gaze. What a travesty that it was remade in a shallow contemporary version titled Autograph as part of a new wave of Bengali cinema that confuses a middle-of-the-road slickness with uniqueness and depth.

At 50, Nayak is as young as it could be.

Play
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.