characters looking in a mirror is a common recurring image you’d find in all four of ray’s shorts. the mirror is a guardian of consciousness that shows the characters what they see in themselves, or rather, what they choose to see. it is presented as a tool to look within, to look into the soul, as filmmakers would like to say. Another thing is that the four shorts are, in essence, about two characters who look inward and are constantly searching, sometimes for answers and sometimes for questions.
read also | receive ‘first day, first program’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox. you can subscribe for free here
based on the four tales of satyajit ray, the two main characters in each of these films are destined and designed in such a way that their paths cross. Apart from these two recurring aspects, the shorts have no common features, except that each one ends with a moral of the story.
reaching the sweet spot
forget me not by srijit mukerjee is all about memories and the workings of the mind. it’s about a man (ipsit rama nair played by ali fazal with controlled arrogance) who can’t afford to forget; he has built an empire from the memory bank of it. he even has a motto: “ipsit nair never forgets”. mukerjee’s portion arises from a simple hypothetical case scenario. What if ipsit nair, the dynamic entrepreneur of the year, the man who has made millions by memorizing numbers and storing them in his supercomputer-sized memory, can’t remember a particular day in his life? and the irony writes itself.
forget me not starts right with this problem statement, when ipsit nair doesn’t remember rhea saran (anindita bose), or having an affair with her on her 30th birthday. is she a vampire? Or does she suffer from retrograde amnesia? the entire narrative is built around this problem. By coming to Nair, we also get to know the people around him who say a thing or two about his character. Like, say, Nair’s high school friend who quit his job to take a position at Nair’s company. or his manager maggie (shweta basu prasad) who accompanies him to baby shopping, or his most trusted assistant who knows him inside and out and has his personal details including credit cards and passwords of the company.
but then comes a twist and as they say, the devil is in the details. There’s a little sweet touch when Nair and Ella’s family go to the cinema to see Drishyam, a film about committing a near-perfect crime based entirely on convincing others of a certain memory. This particular memory, which Nair does not recall having happened, breaks his routine and begins to haunt him, giving in to the destruction of the empire he dearly built; it is almost like a computer malfunctioning in the event of a virus attack. forget me not has a gripping premise, though you could say the twist ending seemed too convenient for its own good. if that was the case, resolution should have started happening much sooner. but it sets the tone for the rest of the series.
strangers on a train
hungama hai kyon barpa by abhishek chaubey is the cleanest movie of all. is set in motion when musafir ali (manoj bajpayee), a revered singer and exponent of shayari, boards a train where he meets a strange baig (gajraj rao), whose face looks familiar. don’t spoil the fun, but let’s just say the two of them are mirror images with kleptomaniac tendencies. when they meet years later, they come to terms with their fates.
hungama hai kyon barpa is a simple film and holds its own until the end. for most of its runtime, the film doesn’t attempt to do much that could be interpreted as resulting from a clear idea of what to avoid. while it may have the aesthetics of a theatrical production, it is anything but theatrical and has a perfect beginning, middle, and end. the short is plot-driven and is a classic example of a children’s story about two characters and their redemptive arc. and ends with a “moral of the story.” It’s actually quite funny but it makes you take it too seriously because of the “serious” performances of manoj bajpayee and gajraj rao, who seem to revel in their “seriousness”. I like these sugary movies.
when the devil seduces
in bahrupiya, indhrashish shah (kay kay menon) is a spiteful loner, an anti-hero who is bitter about his living condition. he is the textbook definition of the person rejected by “society”. he thinks of the taxi driver. think of the king of comedy. think of the copy of him, joker. humiliation follows him like a shadow wherever he wants him to go. First comes the humiliation of love, when he gets down on one knee (well, not exactly. Let’s just say it’s done) to propose to the actress he’s putting on makeup for and she slaps him with words meaner than rejection. then there is humiliation in the workplace and by the owner of the house. Shah finds a sense of purpose when he is left with a will and a book called Impersonation of His Grandma (also an artist who likes prosthetics). From being a nearly faceless man, Shah becomes the demon with a thousand faces. “I have dirt on my face but I kept cleaning the mirror,” he tells someone. this transformation is the most interesting aspect of the short, although it does not produce the desired effect given the time limitation. Shah takes revenge on those who “neglected” him with an armor – his face.
It’s not the revenge plot that makes Bahrupiya, my favorite work on Ray, such a compelling watch, but the philosophical musings that go along with it. come to think of it, shah is seduced by the devil and when he succumbs to the temptations, he himself becomes evil. even the sex he has is with someone wearing a mask: from an actor who has verbal diarrhea on social networks. we’re not sure if this was supposed to be an unintentional gag. rejecting the idea of god and impersonating other people, shah begins to think of himself as the supreme one who can change and rewrite destinies. until he finds out about peer baba, a Muslim fortune teller who “reads” a person’s face. when the path of shah and baba crosses, it becomes an allegory between god and the devil, at least the humble representatives of him. Although I really liked the idea of bahrupiya, even if it ends up restoring faith in god, I wish the devil would win. morality tales are boring.
lost in translation
the spotlight of vasan bala, starring hardvardhan kapoor, who once again becomes the scapegoat and the butt of jokes about his supposedly non-existent acting skills (hello bhavesh joshi fans do exist), It is presented as a satire. at least it pretends to be, on paper and in theory. but as a movie, it doesn’t quite achieve the intended effect it was intended to be in the first place, although, yes, it does have a fascinating concept: the umbilical cord that runs between bollywood and the government. although it could be argued that the spotlight is not exactly that. Such a derivation, even if not implied, can be drawn from the two main characters: a “one look” rising star Vikram Arora (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Didi (Radhika Madan), the leader of a religious cult. More than bollywood’s nexus with the state, the short is about the idea of a cult, of any kind.
the concept arises from a very simple idea of doubt: a famous superstar in the country, is concerned about issues of his cult of personality, as a result of another cult, let’s say, that of a prime minister. i hope you know that the spotlight is not about srk and modi but you get the idea right? the self-referential jokes about everything bollywood keep coming. in that sense, the short film is both “Kafkaesque and Lynchian”. i’m kidding but i screamed when roughvardhan said that. It is a kind of dry humor that Vasan Bala has made his own. and of course there is a reference to kamal haasan. but there is something tonally off about the spotlight. it needed to be more forceful, like a mard… instead it snakes quite a bit. The movie can be aptly described with Gajraj Rao’s demonstration of touching his ear in Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa: he goes in circles to get to the point of him.
ray is currently streaming on netflix