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An Artist in Him

Posted by martinteller on February 5, 2013

Since there’s no IMDb entry for this film, I should explain that it’s a 2008 documentary by Nitish Mukherjee about Satyajit Ray.  “Documentary” is used in the loose sense here.  It focuses on Ray’s life as an artist in film and on paper.  Mukherjee compiles clips from many of his movies.  He rarely does anything to identify them, however, so it’s hardly an effective guide to Ray’s filmography.  He also shows numerous examples of Ray’s artwork, including his early career in advertising, his sketches and portraits, poster art, illustrations for books and the children’s magazine Sandesh, storyboards and doodles.  There’s also some behind-the-scenes photos.

There’s no narration at all.  You hear a couple of brief quotes from interviews with Ray, and more quotes appear printed on the screen.  There’s scattered bits of biographical information on screen as well, but it certainly isn’t enough to make anything approaching a comprehensive Ray documentary.  And then there’s odd bits of animation and these corny, new-agey songs.  Some of the animation might be Ray’s (seriously, almost nothing in this film is identified) but I think it’s all just stuff Mukherjee and his crew did to spice things up.  It’s a really weird film, more expressionistic than informative.  It’s a lot of montages of things that are vaguely, loosely connected.

But as goofy — and even seemingly inept — as it is, it kind of works.  I’ve seen all of Ray’s films, and much of the artwork is available on websites devoted to Ray, so I can’t say anything here was enlightening.  But it’s sort of neat to see it all chopped up and cobbled together like this.  There’s a heavy emphasis on Nayak (for its surreal dream sequences) and Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (for its batshit insane “King of Ghosts” scene).  But Mukherjee shows plenty from throughout Ray’s entire career, including relative obscurities like Teen Kanya and Mahapurush.  It’s like getting a concentrated blast of Satyajit Ray’s art in all its forms.  I really wonder what someone unfamiliar with his work would think of this oddball little film.  Rating: Good (73)

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