Disclaimer: I have not watched any film of Satyajit Ray's. This is my most opinionated review yet.
On the occasion of the master filmmaker's centenary, Netflix has rolled out an anthology of short films based on the short stories written by the multifaceted Satyajit Ray. I expected short segments of about 20 minutes or a maximum of 40 minutes each. But each segment in this anthology is close to an hour with two of them crossing the 60-minute mark.
The following is the order in which it appears on Netflix
Forget Me Not
Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa and
Since it's just an anthology I watched Spotlight first. Just like the obvious visual and dialogue reference to narcotics in this segment, the whole segment seems like it was conceived, written, directed and acted under the influence of E! I liked being uncomfortable while watching this crazy segment. It was like listening to jazz music. There was no sense of order. When I say that, it doesn't mean that the narrative was non-linear or there is constant intercutting of flashbacks, etc. There is no coherence in the visual progression of the film. At one moment you would see the interiors of a car and all of a sudden you would find yourself staring at the expansive lobby of a stinking rich hotel. That's the way the film keeps jumping. Kudos to the editor for doing this. Also, the lines of Harshvardhan Kapoor as Vikram a.k.a Vik Arora are so bad that they're good. His illogical, nonsensical and pathetic PJs and the irrelevant and rhyming-for-the-heck-of-it are so consistently bad that he reminded me of the Berlin character from Super Deluxe. But that's all about it. If only such bold visuals and tacky editing were used for a solid script, the segment would've been so much better. The whole meta-angle to filmmaking, the parody of the industry-mentor were just cliches and remained so in the segment. The segment picks up in the unnecessarily long tail end during the conversation between Vik and Didi. The twist at the end, Orwellian and supposed to be high, doesn't give that high because of all the numbing establishing scenes of the characters.
I watched the rest of the segments in the order as it was in the streaming platform. So we have, Forget Me Not, next. Now, this is where I started to think, "When it's an anthology of shorts, why make it so huge? I get it, you need to establish the character, set the context, etc. But when you make it so sprawling, it becomes tedious. There is a well-done alternative that's already out there! Take Vetrimaaran's segment in Paava Kadhaigal for instance, when Prakash Raj's character first appears o the screen you are not sure as to why he looks so sombre even while visiting his daughter. It is only as the film progresses you understand the reasons. Even the final reveal doesn't disappoint when it happens - most importantly, Vetrimaaran achieves all of this in under 40 minutes. The story of Ipsit Rama Nair, a man with a memory like a hard disk is too OTT. Sure, there are moments where you like the editing (the whole board room sequence - though an oft-beaten one is really well done) and acting (Ali Zafar impresses during the whole sequence when he's bed-ridden. Even his slow snowballing into madness got my eyes glued to him), the over-explained climax killed the fun.
Bahurupia feels like an Indianized version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I wonder how Mr Ray had written it. This segment for once doesn't romanticize or OTT-fy the screenplay. There's no subtlety either. Everything is direct and quite on the face. But the tightness in the screenplay makes this one watchable. Though I do feel that Kay Kay Menon was under-utilized, he does shine in his monologue scenes. The sequences where he turns the situations to his favour are so well executed(all of them happen in montages, thereby making exposition or dialogue redundant). What I felt the screenplay started to lag was when the story takes a moral high ground. Of course, that was required to make the gory twist in the end (more on the gore, later). But that could've come about in a different way.
I watched Hungama Hai Kyon Burpa, next. This is the best segment of the whole anthology. It gets rid of the darkness (in theme and in colour palette), is more light-hearted (the story and the setting) and a lot more relatable. My favourite parts are those when Musafir Ali (a brilliant Manoj Bajpayee) imagines himself to be in front of an audience, irrespective of whether he is proud of himself or while lamenting. I also like the way Kleptomania is Indianized. The pronunciation of the word, the allusion to it like it's as deadly as AIDS and the ridiculous, yet effective cure are just brilliant. Mind you, all of these could come across as the horrendous PJs that "Vik" cracks in Spotlight, but thanks to Urdu (where even something as ordinary as the word journey, sounds so beautiful. In my opinion, it is the French of Asia) and the clever writing, all of these instances tickle if not make you ROFL. The symbolic shop at the end and the dialogues are a bit on-the-nose, but that's a flaw that I would happily overlook for the fun this segment gave me throughout its run time.
Watching Ray has got me wondering about a few things. For once, why should there be so much violence and gore in the segments? I understand that once you are on an OTT platform you get a lot of freedom in terms of showing violence and sexual content. But this segment is an example of unnecessarily making it intense and violent. The cuss words in the segments, the sex scene (either as the scene itself or in dialogues), the gore (accident in Forget Me Not, the last scene in Bahurupia) are examples of such overdoing the tropes.
The run-time is another curious aspect. With the way each of these segments run, it only feels like the reason was to show what the directors are capable of rather than celebrating the master filmmaker. The elaborate plot, extravagant production design and the over-intellectualization of the concepts make this anthology look haughtier than a substantial one.
Then we have the treatment. Barring Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, every story has a dark and twisted treatment. I understand the twist part. But why is there a compulsive need to make content for OTT that is only cerebral and dark? Why can't it be a light-hearted and effective treatment? It's not that we haven't had light-hearted content in the OTT. Putham Pudhu Kaalai and Lust Stories are anything but cerebral. Is a convoluted plot the only way of celebrating an intelligent intellectual?
The segment is an interesting mix. It also would make you roll your eyes. It shines in parts in the individual segments and not as the segments in whole. Gratifying to some and a can-do-better to the likes of me, this anthology needed to have a lot more in it that celebrated Satyajit Ray than just a passing mention of his name.