“Ray” (Anthology series on Netflix); Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao, Shweta Basu Prasad, Anindita Bose, Ali Fazal, Kay Kay Menon, Bidita Bag, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Radhika Madan, Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor; Direction: Abhishek Chaubey, Srijit Mukherji, Vasan Bala; Rating: * * * (three stars)
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
It’s compulsively dark for most parts, often strangely so, the way Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre rarely was. Ray had a way of serving the sombre in layers, with simplistic emotions often acting as mask for deeper subtexts.
The short stories adapted to create this anthology are direct in comparison while establishing grave discomfort. But then, they never said they were recreating Ray. The series is only based on Ray’s writing and the three new-age filmmakers who call the shots on the four stories between them, take creative liberty to alter plots as well as moods, rendering a darker edge to the tales and tweaking the thriller quotient to satiate new-age tastes.
“Ray” makes for a good watch, although the series could seem erratic along the way. The show starts on a high note, maintains the tempo for most parts, slumps a bit in the final story only to come alive right at its end.
You note a couple of things. First, the sheer universal appeal of the stories that set up the narratives. The timelessness of Ray’s legacy becomes obvious watching these tales, crafted for a medium that far from existed in Ray’s time, and interpreted to suit an audience whose definition of entertainment has drastically altered since the decades when auteur lived and created his art.
The other thing that strikes is the fact that despite substantially moving away from Ray’s idiom, the director trio of the anthology has credibly maintained an aesthetic quality with the material at hand. In characters and content, the stories could appear vastly different, but each of the stories retains Ray’s creative spirit somewhere.
Abhishek Chaubey helms “Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa”, the breeziest among the four segments based on Ray’s short story “Barin Bhowmiker Byaram (Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment)”. Manoj Bajpayee is Musafir Ali, a popular ghazal singer who is travelling from Bhopal to Delhi by train. His co-passenger in his first-class compartment is Baig (Gajraj Rao), a wrestler-turned-sports journalist. As they get acquainted, Musafir realises Baig is someone he knows — from a similar train journey 10 years ago. A quirky secret from back then ties their fates.
Chaubey, who revealed a sense of impish humour in past directorials as “Ishqiya” and “Udta Punjab”, lives it up casting two phenomenal actors at their best. With a smart choice of Ghulam Ali ghazals to set the tone, “Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa” is the right start for the anthology.
The mood turns bleak in the second story as Srijit Mukherji narrates “Forget Me Not”, based on the Ray short story “Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritibhrom (Bipin Chowdhury’s Memory Loss)”. The protagonist here is reimagined as Ipsit (Ali Fazal), partner at a start-up who is soaked in his ambition to scale the heights. Dashing Ipsit boasts of a razor-sharp memory, till a chance meeting with a woman named Rhea Saran (Anindita Bose) puts him in a tizzy. Rhea claims they have spent a night together in Aurangabad, and gives vivid details about not just their blind date but about Ipsit, too — details a stranger is not supposed to know. He has absolutely no recall of Rhea, or visiting Aurangabad ever.
“Forget Me Not” scores as a slow burn suspense drama that has an intriguing story of vengeance at its core. Mukherji inserts the right twists at the right moment, and his trumpcard in the cast is Shweta Basu Prasad as Ipsit’s secretary Maggie, who walks into the narrative as discreetly as a secretary might walk into a senior’s room. It is a casting that value-adds to the story and, without giving away spoilers, Shweta impresses with an act that allots minimum footage and limited dialogues, but keeps you guessing all the way.
Mukherji returns to direct “Bahrupiya”, easily most twisted of the four stories and highlighted by Kay Kay Menon’s outstanding performance. The segment is based on a short story titled “Bahurupi (impressionist)”. Kay Kay plays Indrashish Saha, a timid make-up artist who is basically a loser in life. Then, when his grandmother passes away, she leaves him a substantial amount of money and, more importantly, her book on prosthetic expertise. Suddenly, Indrashish is equipped with the power to ‘become’ just anybody. He begins to imagine he is invincible and starts abusing his newfound ‘power’, to his peril.
“Bahrupiya” is a modernday allegory, and its metaphysics need be interpreted for one to savour the story. The plot is gripping and Mukherji maintains tension all through, spreading his narrative all across Kolkata in varied hues — from the lush Maidan overlooking a resplendent Victoria Memorial to the restlessly dingy surroundings of Sealdah station where the city never sleeps. This third story, in many ways, is the high point of “Ray”. It is a story well told, is engaging for the way it gradually introduces the metaphorical subtext and, importantly, lets the fantastic Kay Kay Menon take centrestage.
Vasan Bala’s “Spotlight” ends the quartet. Based on a story of the same name, the finale focuses on Vik (Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor), a young actor whose stardom seems to rest on a particular ‘look’ he gives to the camera. “One Look Vik”, as critics dub him, is gunning to enter Hollywood, although he wears a fake T-shirt that has ‘Scorse Dada’ written on it in Bangla (he means Scorsese, right?). On an outdoor trip to Agra, Vik finds himself in a quandary. A godwoman who goes by the name Didi checks in at the hotel where Vik stays and, just like the rest of the town, the managerial staff falls at her feet. Vik is upset because, suddenly, he is no longer the star around. Didi has stolen his spotlight.
“Spotlight” is a moody and strange piece, uneven in parts. Just like Vik’s ‘one look’, the segment seems to be salvaged by a single incidence — the entry of Radhika Madan around 10 minutes from the end. Radhika enters the narrative just when you were wondering if Didi exists at all. Her act gives the story — indeed the anthology — a fitting closure, as she (literally) runs away with the “Spotlight”.
The four episodes primarily bank on interesting storytelling and acting. While the primary cast is laudable across the board, you spot truly engaging moments thanks to a few in the supporting cast, too. Raghubir Yadav as the hakim (“Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa”), Anindita Bose as mystery girl Rhea (“Forget Me Not”), Dibyendu Bhattacharya as a mystical fakir (“Bahrupiya”) and Chandan Roy Sanyal as Vik’s assistant (“Spotlight”) are perfect props who enrich each story with their roles.
Competently executed, “Ray” manages to sustain interest despite the uneven patches. Definitely worth a binge, and a second season with new stories.