Baithak UK, in association with London Indian Film Festival, organised a poignant and nostalgic tribute to Satyajit Ray, with luminaries like Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Anik Dutta reliving their work with the legendary filmmaker.
'My First Film with Ray', hosted by artistic Director of Baithak UK Sangeeta Datta, was an enlightening interaction as the talented actors reflected on their experiences with the Oscar-winning director.
"My First Film with Ray can get interpreted in many ways," said Datta, as each of the panellists opened up about their own unique personal experiences.
"It's a great time to mark Ray's centenary and all of us coming back to action post-Covid and to bring this very illustrious, glamorous stand together," she said.
Sharmila Tagore spoke at length about her experience of working with Ray for the first time in 'Apur Sansar', which is in a way considered Ray's only film about young romance.
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Tagore narrated the heartwarming memory of her first day of the indoor shoot. The then 13-year-old girl was playing the role of a newly bride who had come to live in the city with her husband. This was when the concept of a nuclear family wasn't common, and the romanticism of a young couple setting up a home together becomes palpable from this particular scene onward.
Tagore reminisced: "So then Manik Da's (Ray) voice rang out for action, and Soumitra (Soumitra Chatterjee) opened the door and entered the room and looked back at me and asked me to come in. I crossed the threshold, walked into the room, and took stock of my surrounding… so that was my first shot, but much later, I've often thought about why he kept that shot as my first indoor shooting scene!"
She went on to explain that she thought perhaps it was because the esteemed filmmaker had realised that debutant Tagore's state of mind would match her character's. Both connected psychologically, brimming with excitement and thrill for the unknown blended with uncertainty and nervousness.
Aparna Sen, an award-winning filmmaker in her own right, also made her film debut with Satyajit Ray. Talking about her first-day experience of shooting with Ray, Sen shared an exclusive memory with the audience: "I remember the first day's shooting, my mother had gone with me, and the first-day shooting was cancelled because I was given a striped saree that most village girls wore. I was not to have any blouse or anything on because I was a young girl in a village. But the saree was very thin, so I started crying. My mother was worried. She called Bijoya Ray (Ray's wife) and told her the problem.
"What was wonderful was that the next day a much thicker sari came for me and when I went in, there was no reference to the incident of the day before. I mean, it was as though he knew that this adolescent was going to be embarrassed if this was alluded to."
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The captivating discussion also included actor Dhritiman Chatterjee and Shabana Azmi's narrative of their experience working with Ray, albeit not as debutants, but equally fascinating.
Film director Anik Dutta reflected on how he didn’t match up with the other panellists' direct work experience with Ray as much as he would have wanted to. But perhaps making a biopic on Ray, 'Aparajita', has brought him closer to the polymath and allowed him to experience him at a surreal level.
'My First Film with Ray' marked a curtain-raiser for the BFI Satyajit Ray season. The season, curated by Sangeeta Datta, is a chance for British Indians and film buffs beyond to revisit Ray's entire filmography of 38 films at BFI Southbank throughout July and August.