17 November 2008

NAYAK / THE HERO (Dir. Satyajit Ray, 1966, India) - The Sweet Smell of Success

Arindam is a Bengali film star (Uttam Kumar) who makes a reluctant train journey to collect an award that he would rather turn his back on but the crisis of confidence he is experiencing in regards to his elevated star status forces him to re-evaluate his rise to fame and the personal compromises he has made through what he perceives is a life of artistic underachievement. Ray seems to have tackled most of the prevalent issues that concerned contemporary Bengali society, and with 'Nayak', he chose to deal with the cult of the celebrity, a topic which is equally relevant for today's media obsessed audience.

Staged entirely on a train, Arindam's recollections of his star fuelled journey is addressed to a female journalist, Aarti (Sharmila Tagore) who writes for a small woman's journal. Interspersed with inventive dream sequences that seem indebted to films like Fellini's '8 and a Half' and Bergman's 'Wild Strawberries', which are also fascinated by the thematic motif of memories, 'Nayak' is a traditional and intense character study of the prototypical flawed anti-hero.

Though this is a minor film in the broad oeuvre of Satyajit Ray, it is directed with a real compassion for the contradictory position a film star is forced to occupy even if many of them try and fail in forming some kind of an ordinary life outside of the world of shadows and light. The final moments on the train platform as Arindam is besieged by a crowd of paparazzi whilst the unattainable figure of Aarti walks on by to her normal life reminded me of Guru Dutt's priceless expression of star emptiness in his classic 1959 film 'Kaagaz Ke Phool'.

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