Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Cinematographer: Subrata Mitra
Producer: R. D. Banshal and Sharankumari Bansal
by Jon Cvack
Every time I arrive at a Satyajit Ray film, I’m expecting it to provide that traditional art house experience in which you find yourself saying it’s good, but will probably never watch it again and then it finishes and I’m blown away by the picture. Similar to Ramin Bahrani, the plots often sound so simple, in this case a movie star on a long train ride interviews an attractive journalist, recounting his rise to fame while surrounded by a unique and thrilling supporting cast, including a slimy Bollywood producer; a frail young girl with tuberculosis who shares the train compartment with the movie star; and the journalist’s colleagues who’re hungry for the juicy details.
The first films that come to mind is 8 ½ (1963) and Stardust Memories (1980); both which examine the artist’s personal struggle with success. The further along I get in my career, the more I’m in awe that anyone my age could achieve vast success with storytelling as it remains such an elusive and seeming impossible feat, leaving me to wonder how success would affect my ego; whether I’d further isolate myself, forever fearful of the impostor syndrome, or attempt to navigate the upper echelons in order to see how much further the career could go. Actors have an additional complication in that the very nature of their pursuit is a desire for the audience and their praise and/or the unwavering desire to imagine and play (perhaps similar to writers).
Screen star Arindam Mukherjee (Uttam Kumar) is invited to Delhi to accept a prestigious award for his achievements in acting, but with all flights booked, he is forced to take the train. There he meets a young and attractive journalist Aditi Sengupta (Sharmila Tagore) who conjoles him into an interview where Arindam opens up about his rise, insecurity, and personal corruption.
Arindom’s career began by ignoring his mentor’s caution against entering into film acting in which the performer is forced to abandon the very connection they form with the audience. The theater allows the performer to embody the role rather than shooting it in fragments.
Arindom arrives on his first to big film set to find his idol and one of Bollywood’s finest actors excoriate his performance in front of the entire cast and crew; castigating him for delivering the lines improperly and forcing Arindom to question his decision to enter film.
Soon the Bollywood star’s career dries up and he becomes an alcoholic, leaving him broke, alone, and depressed. Meanwhile, Arindom has increasingly turned to drugs, alcohol, and women as the fame increasingly smothers him. Throughout the few days' train ride, he has nightmares, including one dream with an incredible set piece in which Arindom wanders around giant hills of cash money, soon chased by hands that reach up to grab him.
Throughout the story, Ray provides us with one of the more memorable insights into fame and its corrupting potential. If one is alone on the way up, there are few to turn to and trust; everyone has a project or need, the pressure mounts, the temptation to take uninspired, well paid roles expands, and soon the fulfillment that art provided evaporates; in which the performer serves as nothing more than product.
Nayak is another film that demonstrates the inherent bigotry of western cinema and its history. Recently, I read Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine (1979), where Said discusses the long history of how westerners regard all things eastern - whether culture, politics, or religion - as inferior; creating a blatantly racist outlook, or at best, an indifference or apathy.
Compared to his predominantly white peers, aside from the Apu trilogy, Satyajit Ray’s work has received little attention; reserved for the most obscure of cinephile lists. I was particularly to have never heard of this film, given how many “movies about movies” I’ve come across. It’s a story up there with the best of them in providing an honest portrait about the industry; not speaking in esoteric terms, but allowing the viewer to observe the performance from either side, whether as Arindom’s and the bitterness he’s developed or the curiosity of an outsider like Aditi. Somehow avoiding sentimentality, we believe that Arindom could’ve been happier with more modest life with Aditi, and he gets off the train; in a brilliant shot, as the fans gather at the stop, pounding on the glass while Arindom continues their conversation, to later get off, back into a world completely devoid of anonymity, surrounded by people who want little beyond a chance to say they met or talked to someone famous; no matter whether it was him or his old washed up colleague from yesteryear.
BELOW: A fantastic dream sequence
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