Nayak (1966)

4 10 2008

Here’s another example of a director who I’ve been greatly impressed with, but for whatever reason, I’ve generally avoided for a long time now. It’s been more than a couple months now since I first saw Pather Panchali and as a result, became deeply interested in Satyajit Ray’s work. Only now have I been following up on that viewing and while the excitement from that film has worn off, it didn’t really affect what I thought of this one. For the most part, it is a completely different type of movie. Not the naturalistic and sensory-driven, lower class family drama that I fell in love with but instead a neat character study type production with a few unsavory lapses into attempted surrealism.

The first half of the film suggests that Ray is going the route of a multiple and interconnecting storylines structure. The nayak (hero) that the title refers to is Arindam Mukherjee, a successful young actor headed to Delhi by train to collect an actor award. Across from him is the Bose family, whose daughter Bulbul is an enormous fan of Arindam’s. Pritish Sarkar is a marketer planning to gain sponsorship from one of the train’s passengers. His wife, Molly, seems to be of great importance in this potentially illegal plan. The final but perhaps most important character is Aditi, the editor of a popular “modern” woman’s magazine.

For a good forty-five minutes or so, it seems as though the film is planning to connect all these plots and subplots together at the very end. However, only one of them becomes important for the remainder of the film. Unfortunately, one of the most embarrassingly unsubtle dream sequences in all of cinema signals in this shift in structure. I’m speaking of the sequence in which Arindam dreams he is running through mountains of cash, but then he falls and starts to sink. A very obvious and cringe-inducing attempt at symbolism that is without a doubt, the film’s low-point.

Even though it takes almost half of its running time to establish the whole “point” for lack of a better term. I wouldn’t go as far to say that there’s two completely different movies in here, but the first half, which I liked a great deal, seems like it could have easily been cut a bit, if not completely. Of course, the early little sequence side plots produce some of the best sequences in the film. Meanwhile, the second half: Arindam’s conversation with Aditi is almost too conventional to be believed. Essentially their conversation only serves the purpose of prompting (and sometimes even narrating) flashbacks that predictably reveal that in spite of his fame, Arindam is lonely and unhappy. Yes, not entirely like an Indian Citizen Kane, I suppose, which sort of plays in with the painfully symbolic dream sequence I mentioned earlier.

It all does come together to work, though, probably due in large part the performances of both Uttam Komar and Sharmila Tagore. Their meeting and then departure plays into Ray’s film-saving bittersweet backbone that is reflected in the final sequence: Arindam is greeted with a crowd of fans and Aditi is escorted off by what her father. It’s one of those short, unfulfilled would-be romances that is just quick enough to ring true but still be genuinely sad. While this doesn’t reflect the genius of Pather Panchali, it is a very nice movie in a completely different direction.

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One response

5 10 2008
Jake Aesthete

Your review reflects my thoughts on this almost exactly.

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