Satyajit Ray’s Tender Twisters and Trysts
While one tendency is to describe Satyajit Ray – one of India’s foremost auteurs – as a deeply lyrical, characteristically humanist filmmaker, another, perhaps altogether similar tendency is to place him alongside the ranks of cinema’s most tender observers of the world. The twenty-one features included in the Film Society’s ongoing retrospective are encounters with what Film Comment’s Nicolas Rapold has called Ray’s incomparable cinema of impasses and reinventions. However, like the Italian Neorealists before him – who were early, venerable influences – Ray drops his characters into conditions that are ultimately too hostile and too unnameable for reinventions to take place. What remain are the impasses, and it’s with these that Ray’s characters most memorably come alive.
Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) (1970), coming alive means taking a trip to the country and awkwardly putting big-city attitudes aside; it means sex with local women and doing the twist in the middle of the night. It means, for Ray’s four Calcutta natives (Soumitra Chatterjee, Samit Bhanja, Subhendu Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh), a road trip that never really ends, a shove to their bourgeois mental baggage (Japanese radios, Hollywood Westerns, sunglasses and Scotch whiskey) and contact with a different kind of reality.
The contact becomes too much for the four men, however. Ray’s images alternate between different speeds and rhythms, keeping these characters out of syncopation with their new surroundings and ultimately disturbing their momentum. Late in the film, a set of conversations between the men and their newfound romantic interests (Sharmila Tagore and Kaveri Bose) are quickly interrupted by vertiginous, almost depersonalized images of dancers and musicians, linking carnival to confession in ways that accommodate the push-pull, stop-go presentation of Ray’s narrative.
As the characters’ relationships become more complicated, so do our feelings about their intentions, whether these intentions are disguised or made public. But the warmth and humor behind Ray’s images – the mindfulness his images have for gestures of different scales and intensities – give them a tenderness that sticks. It’s precisely this rejection of contemptuousness that ennobles Aranyer Din Ratri (and Ray’s cinema at large) with a sense richness and luminosity. Impasses are turned into possibilities.
– Ricky D’Ambrose