Bollywood

Ray: Uneven, But Worth A Binge (IANS Review; Rating: * * *) (Ld)

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“Ray” (the Anthology series on Netflix); Starring: 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; Rated: * * * (three stars)

BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY

It is obsessively dark for most parts, often strange, as Satyajit Ray’s work rarely was. Ray had a way of serving the gloomy in layers of simplistic emotions that often served as a mask for deeper subtitles.

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The short stories adapted to create this anthology are directly in comparison, while creating serious discomfort. But then they never said they recreated Ray. The series is based solely on Ray’s authorship and the three new age filmmakers who call the shots of the four stories between them take creative freedom to change plot and moods, giving the narratives a darker edge and adapting the thriller quotient to saturated new age tastes.

“Ray” gives a good watch, although the series may seem irregular along the way. The show starts on a high note, maintains the tempo for most parts, drops a bit in the last story to only come alive right at its end.

You notice a few things. First, the great universal appeal of the stories that set up the narratives. The timelessness of Ray’s legacy becomes apparent in seeing these narratives, created into a medium that far from existed in Ray’s time, and interpreted to suit an audience whose definition of entertainment has changed drastically since the decades in which the author lived and created his art.

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The mood gets gloomy in the second story as Srijit Mukherji tells “Don’t Forget Me”, based on the Ray short story “Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritibhrom (Bipin Chowdhury’s Memory Loss)”. The main character here is again imagined as Ipsit (Ali Fazal), partner in a startup that is soaked in its ambition to scale the heights. Surprisingly Ipsit boasts a razor-sharp memory until a chance encounter with a woman named Rhea Saran (Anindita Bose) puts him in dizziness. Rhea claims that they have spent a night together in Aurangabad and gives vivid details about not only their blind date but also about Ipsit – details a stranger should not know. He definitely does not remember Rhea or visit Aurangabad ever.

“Forget Me Not” scores as a slow-fire suspense drama that has an exciting revenge story at the center. Mukherji inserts the right twists at the right moment, and his trump card in the cast is Shweta Basu Prasad as Ipsit’s secretary Maggie, who enters the narrative as discreetly as a secretary might enter a senior’s room. It’s a cast that adds value to the story, and without giving spoilers away, Shweta impresses with an action that assigns minimum footage and limited dialogues, but makes you guess all the way.

Mukherji returns to direct “Bahrupiya”, slightly twisted of the four stories and highlighted by Kay Kay Menon’s outstanding performance. The segment is based on a short story entitled “Bahurupi (impressionist)”. Kay Kay plays Indrashish Saha, a scared make-up artist who is basically a loser in life. Then, when his grandmother dies, she leaves him a significant amount and, more importantly, her book on prosthetic expertise. Suddenly, Indrashish is endowed with the power to ‘become’ just anyone. He begins to imagine that he is invincible and begins to abuse his newfound ‘power’ to his danger.

“Bahrupiya” is a modern day allegory, and its metaphysics must be interpreted in order to enjoy history. The plot is gripping, and Mukherji maintains suspense throughout and spreads his narrative throughout Kolkata in varied shades – from the lush Maidan overlooking a glorious Victoria Memorial to the restless cruel surroundings of Sealdah station, where the city never sleeps. This third story is in many ways the “Ray” highlight. It’s a story told, is engaging for the way it gradually introduces the metaphorical subtext and most importantly, lets the amazing Kay Kay Menon take center stage.

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 star status seems to rest on a particular ‘look’ he gives the camera. “One Look Vik”, as critics call him, is on his way into Hollywood, although he wears a fake T-shirt that has ‘Scorse Dada’ written in Bangla (he means Scorsese, right?). On an outdoor trip to Agra, Vik finds himself in a difficult problem. A goddess who goes by the name of Didi checks into the hotel where Vik lives, and like the rest of the city, the management staff falls at her feet. Vik is upset because he is suddenly no longer the star around. Didi has stolen his searchlight.

“Spotlight” is a humorous and strange piece, uneven in parts. Like Vik’s ‘one glance’, the segment seems to be saved by a single occurrence – the entrance to Radhika Madan about 10 minutes from the end. Radhika enters the narrative just as you were wondering if Didi even exists. Her action gives the story – in fact the anthology – an appropriate closure as she (literally) runs away with “Spotlight”.

The four episodes are primarily about interesting storytelling and acting. While the main cast is commendable across the board, you see truly engaging moments thanks to a few in the cast. Raghubir Yadav as the hakim (“Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa”), Anindita Bose as the mysterious girl Rhea (“Do not forget me”), Dibyendu Bhattacharya as a mysterious fakir (“Bahrupiya”) and Chandan Roy Sanyal as Vik’s assistant (“Spotlight”) are perfect props that enrich each story with their roles.

Competently executed, “Ray” manages to maintain interest despite the uneven patches. Definitely worth a binge and another season of new stories.

–IANS

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