Netflix's New Anthology Film 'Ray' Is Fresh, Well-intentioned, But Lacks Essence

By Suruchi Das

Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash

Netflix’s “Ray” is the new anthology series based on the four short stories written by the celebrated auteur Satyajit Ray. Retold in a newer way the films have been adapted in a manner to make them consequential to the present-day audience.

The first two short films, Forget Me Not (Bipin Chowdhury’s Smritibhrom), and Bahrupiya(Bahurupi) are directed by Srijit Mukherjee. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa(Barin Bhowmick Er Byaram) is directed by Abhishek Chaubey, and Spotlight by Vasan Bala respectively.

The first film in the anthology series is “Forget Me Not” starring Ali Fazal as Ipsit Rama Nair. A modern-day business tycoon Ipsit Rama Nair (portrayed by Ali Fazal) is at the top of his game. Somewhere down the line Srijit Mukherjee was unable to play with the raw potential he had at hand. The only height he accomplished was showing the lead character’s fall in a cascading effect. Forget Me not’s only plus point was the charming Ali Fazal who worked with an overtly simplistic screenplay; with a sense of purpose that was not fruitful enough. The film by the end became a quick fix thrill monger. The character nuances that could have been delved and cajoled more were not utilized enough.

Of all the films, Spotlight is the curveball among all the shorts. The story revolves around a superstar who is at the crux of fame. Retold by Director Vasan Bala and writer Niren Bhatt the film is about the dilemmas of existence, a belief system that is standing on a twig for modern-day adults who are stuck between lassaiz-faire and to be above the crowd at the same time.

The protagonist played by Harshvardhan Kapoor- ‘Vik’ acknowledges all the extremities, he understands the underlying farce of it but he cannot let it go because it is all too shiny, and all the noise becomes real and abrasive when he is at crossroads with Didi. A cult leader who more or less threatens the comfort cushion his stardom has offered him. The film is filled with underlying symbolistic approaches with multiple Satyajit Ray film references, in form of T-shirt prints, and also in a part, imitating the master’s set design techniques, (not a very subtle approach in paying tribute) but actually trying to get a grasp of it, though highly meta in deliverance, the film tries to hold on to the abstract of understanding the nihilism too diligently.

The film’s other major cast is Chandan Roy Sanyal as Robby Ghosh who is Vik’s manager. Sanyal is delightful on the screen as a manager of a guy who is basically messed up between woke words and insecurity of the inevitable. Sanyal has brilliantly portrayed the man who knows how to handle the Titanic without hitting the Iceberg.

One of the other Srijit Mukherjee-directed movies in the anthology is Bahurupiya, again a film consisting of talented and capable actors but is only floating on the surface with plausible mayhem of depth but never piercing it. KK Menon as Indrashish Saha is a make-up artist cum a man berated by the boss at his day job. He is lost and unlucky and has a constant unrequited Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s Salman Khan complex of having a one-sided conversation with the more powerful entity. The film has some instances of dense dialogues, which are not only borderline cringy but also do not add up anything to the plot. Indrashish as a character was going towards achieving Arthur Fleck of Joker but in the middle of it just could secure the horridness but not the pain of it.

Hungama Hai Kyo Barpa is directed by Abhishek Chaubey and written by Niren Bhatt. Here the director has chosen to stick to the original characters, their backgrounds, the intermingling of those backgrounds, and other factors which make the film rich in the true essence of Satyajit Ray. Abhishek Chaubey has also used magic realism to bring out some of the knits and knots of the story. Hangama Hai Kyon Barpa has Monoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao as the lead characters. Manoj Bajpayee’s character Musafir Ali is a renowned ghazal singer and Aslam Baig (Gajraj Rao) is a sports journalist. Watching these two phenomenal talents on the screen engaging in a discourse is charismatic, satisfying, and worth every dime.

Musafir Ali is a man of few bejewelled Urdu words who loves meeting fans and people who would listen to him, whereas Aslam Baig is a retired wrestler also known as ‘Jenga Pehelwan’ who like any other common man believes in chit-chatting with the fellow train passenger. The film is set in the times when travelling on the first coach of the train was a sign of affluence. Musafir Ali is like an iceberg, calm rather humble, timid but has a world inside. He is a performer and that is why he imagines his life presented in stages.

He has seen darker days but is also thankful for what he has now…both the characters Aslam and Musafir, are shown as poles apart but by the end of the movie are shown as carved out of the same rock, signifying the unity among human beings, the story is trying to remind us that though all of us come from different backgrounds in life, we are still connected to each other by things which we might not be able to contemplate, or might not able to accept. The film also talks about genuine human connection with each other and also within ourselves. And yes, a personal favourite from this film is Ghulam Ali’s ghazal, (still not sure if they used his original voice…)

Of all the four films Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa has outlined to Satyajit Ray cinema most prominently, where the screenplay is revolving around middle-class people who are living and facing real problems, handling them in common people ways, people who have been subsumed within their self-made barriers.

The anthology series, “Ray” is now streaming on Netflix.