Srijit Mukherji on Adapting Satyajit Ray's Short Stories for Netflix: Expecting Backlash from Purists

·4 min read

Srijit Mukherji started what can be termed as a new era in Bengali cinema when he debuted as a director with Autograph in 2010. The movie is a tribute to Satyajit Ray’s 1966 film Nayak and yesteryear Bengali actor Uttam Kumar, who portrayed the title role in the film. Since then, Srijit has dealt with works of Ray in other Bengali productions. The new Netflix anthology series, called Ray, is Srijit’s first attempt at adapting the auteur’s works in a different language.

In the anthology, Srijit has directed Forget Me Not and Bahrupiya, two out of the four stories which are a modernized take on Ray’s stories. The other two have been directed by Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala. Srijit says he is expecting critics to be harder on him as he has a closer connection with Ray than the other directors.

“I’m expecting a backlash from the purists, and possibly a thumbs up from people who have who don’t have linkages with Ray. People who don’t have a prior knowledge of Ray in that sense or are Ray buffs or purists, I think will enjoy all the four stories. For the purists, it might be a bit difficult. Especially in Bengal, Ray is a bit of a holy cow in terms of approaching and interpretation. So the purists who were very happy with Feluda Pherot might guillotine me this time. I think Vasan Bala and Abhishek Chaubey music will have it easier because they are not from Bengal,” Srijit shared with News18 during a chat recently.

He is prepared for it though, having been through the ordeal during his debut. “I started with Autograph which was a tribute to Nayak, which was in itself like a culmination of Uttam Kumar and Satyajit Ray, so a number of people were quite aghast when I made my debut, voodoo dolls were made and all that. So but the point is, eventually, once you kind of survive that you are ready for almost everything,” he added.

Sayantan Mukherjee, the showrunner of Ray argued that since the anthology series is an adaptation and not a remake, the directors could take some liberty with the stories.

“What we should understand is that these three directors have not remade a film, they have adapted. They’re such fun adventure stories that they make you want to do more with them, take them to other places, because they have those potentials. And Ray also wrote them for young adults. It’s not like we’ve completely changed anything dramatically. What he was trying to say versus what we have said, at a larger thematic level, they do match. And yeah, it’s not like you’re remaking Ray’s films, that would have been a different game altogether,” he said.

Abhishek Chaubey, who has made the part called Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, is excited to have had a dream cast to work with – Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao. “With Manoj and Gajraj, it was just a fantasy fulfilled, to watch these two actors play off each other. These guys go back a long way, they were friends in college, but they haven’t worked that much with each other. So there was that equation playing out,” he said.

Talking about the pressures of working with stories of a legendary filmmaker, Abhishek added, “Obviously, the weight is there. But once you’ve committed to making this then you kind of own the material, despite all the reverence attached to it. When he was working on Othello, I remember Vishal Bhardwaj had said, ‘Arey Shakespeare aur hum toh dost hain’. Obviously Ray and I are not friends, but after a point, you only want to impose your personality on it.”

In Vasan Bala-directed Spotlight, religious fanaticism and the fandom of a Bollywood star are pitted against each other, in a story that is also a comment on the obsession with stardom. The filmmaker elaborates, “The story itself, in a sense, made that parallel, that when it comes to popularity, when a film star comes in, probably, the people will clamor. But then when a religious guru, or a spiritual leader comes in, the crowds are going to go the other way. And we’ve seen that in real life. So the base, the foundation was already there. We started with something really petty, like one person who feels entitled enough to pick a room is denied. And I have seen that as an AD, there’s huge politics around who gets what room on a film set.”

Ray, the anthology series, will be available to stream on Netflix from June 25.

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