I have heard about the attempt of Mr. Goutam Ghosh to make a sequel of one of the most sophisticated movies ever made in the history of Indian and Bengali cinema. The movie was “Araneyer Din Ratri (Days and nights of the forest)” by the maestro of Indian and world cinema, Mr. Satyajit Ray. Mr. Ghosh’s sequel is named “Abar Araney” meaning “In the forest again”. A very appropriate title and a very auspicious title for all Ray fanatics, like me. I was waiting for a long time to see it and finally I saw it. After watching the entire movie, I regretted taking the decision to watch it. Nevertheless, as for any good movie (no doubt the movie is good) I watched it again. I realized that this movie is a classic example of the work of a good director with a mediocre intellect.
Although, many in Bengal consider him to be an intellectual and I admit that there are plenty of reasons to think so. Mr. Ghosh’s Paar and Antarjali Jatra are the examples to understand his relentless obedience towards the concept of social change. But his mediocrity is exposed in “Abar Aranye”. Mr. Ghosh himself considers this film to be his own and does not entertain any attempt to compare his work with Ray’s. But it is obvious that the resonance of “Aranyer Din Ratri (ADR)” is undeniably present in his film “Abar Araney”. Mr Ghosh said, "I am aware of the unwanted comparison. But I want to make it clear that Abar Aranye is solely my film and it won’t be fair to draw a line of comparison between Ray’s masterpiece and my humble attempt". I still would like to indulge myself in the process of the comparison, because of obvious reasons. When it is shown around the world, the audience is aware of the fact that the platform on which this particular movie is made is constructed by two people, the writer Mr. Sunil Ganguli and the film maker Satyajit Ray. It is quite understandable that people will have a tendency to read Ganguly and Ray’s minds through Ghosh’s interpretation. It is therefore easy to say for Mr. Ghosh to ignore the comparison, but it is not easy to the minds of the moviegoers to ignore the original. It is always a difficult job to interpret than to create. A misinterpretation may completely destroy the dogma of a creation and eventually the creator. This is where we should be very careful.
The movie started off pretty well. It was sailing cleverly as long as Mr. Ghosh was sticking to the path laid by Ray, 30 years ago. Along with the old characters Mr. Ghosh started to introduce new faces, new personalities and new environment. The first falter was noticed when Mr. Ghosh introduced his own creation, Amrita. The protagonist (?) Amrita, unlike her mother, is weak. But the weakness was initially overshadowed by Aparna’s (Amrita’s mother) richness. Other than this the director showed cleverness and artistry by introducing sequences from “ADR” to emphasize the fact that absence (death) of Sekhar (Robi Ghosh) is immensely felt. Mr. Ghosh seems to have understood the importance of Sekhar. Sekhar is a magnificent character created by Sunil Ganguly (the writer). Ray used his magic to transform Sekhar into a bridge between rationalism, portrayed by Aparna, Asim and Sanjoy and unrealistic irrationalism, portrayed by Hari and Duli. Sekhar was a perfect blend. Mr. Ghosh had to start the movie with the handicap of Sekhar’s absence, since Mr. Robi Ghosh (a delightful actor who played the role of Sekhar) is no longer with us. The director initially handled the situation like a master film maker and mixed the old scenes from “ADR” with new scenes. It was a thrilling experience to watch Sekhar (Robi Ghish) in those unforgettable sequences. I was enjoying the movie. Slowly the director started to deviate from the original path laid by Ray. This is exactly what a clever director should do to bring his own voice. But he faltered again. He did exactly what a good director would never do. He took an appropriate Tagore song and used it in a very inappropriate manner. Mr. Ghosh’s mediocrity was exposed again when he made those characters of his film, dance on the open meadow. This is one of the most repulsive scenes in the movie. A perfect serenity of the mountainous backdrop was severely destructed by the awkward and sometime humiliating dance sequence. I do not know what was Mr. Ghosh thinking. Was he thinking about winning a Film Fare award or something? A dance sequence! Ray and good directors would have certainly avoided that scene. It reminds me of another masterpiece of Ray, “Agantuk (The Stranger)”. In that movie when the lady of the house was given a choice between performing a song and a dance, the protagonist anthropologist philosopher Monmahan (personified Ray) quite humorously said that “dance would be a bit ‘barabari (excessive)’”. But in the same movie Ray cleverly introduced a wonderful dance sequence with the same lady in it (who is a dancer in real life, unlike the actors in Mr. Ghosh’s Abar Araney) which was not excessive. Mr. Ghosh made that immeasurable mistake by using that “excessive” dance sequence. Mr. Ghosh wanted his movie to be of a different flavor. A very optimistic exercise, but he must remember that to be different does not necessarily mean to be excessively deviating. Within a framework of sanity, he could have avoided crossing his limitation.
Although this is not a minor mistake, I give him the credit of holding the story again and put it on a fairly right track. Everyone appreciate the effort of Mr. Ghosh’s attempt to make his presence felt even though he was recreating over an existing idea. So I welcome his effort to draw his own concept. But I also expected him to stick to the ideology of the master on whose painting he is giving a new perspective. He completely blew my mind off while trying to interpret the characters painted by Ray in the earlier movie. It looked like my six year old son who has just learned the name Van Gogh is trying to interpret “The Sunflowers”. I expected a bit more maturity in Mr. Ghosh on the basis of his previous works. I have had no doubt saying that “Abar Araney” is a good attempt to bring a prospective among billions and billions of people around the globe wondering about the ongoing anarchy around us, if it was made as a movie totally unrelated to Ray’s “ADR”. Since that did not happen I would be tempted to say that it is a complete misrepresentation of a masterpiece like “Araneyer Din Ratri”. I’ll try to explain the reasons for my skepticism about considering “Abar Araney” to be a true sequel of “Araneyr Din Ratri”.
If I ask anyone “What is the most important sequence in Araneyer Din Ratri”? The most logical answer would be the “Memory Game”. Absolutely true. This is the scene where the characters were examined piece by piece. Mr. Ghosh, undoubtedly understood the concept. He recreated the same scene to say his point of view and his understanding about the characters. In both movies this scene is the metaphor of the entire story. The approach Mr. Ghosh took to use this metaphor is quite unorthodox. That is the sign of a reformist ---- a reformist needs to be unorthodox. At the same time a reformist also has a responsibility to not pollute his unorthodoxy with misconception and misrepresentation. I expected a thorough understanding of one of the most prolific characters in serious Indian/Bengali cinema. Intelligence, rationalism, integrity, energy and knowledge are among the few strength of Aparna’s character which draws the attention of Asim, an intellectual himself. Aparna is profoundly composed in her emotion, unlike her daughter Amrita (Mr. Ghosh’s creation in Abar Araney) who is vulnerable to every emotion and contrary to her mother, she is inexplicably belligerent. I’ll try to explain her role in the movie, later. At present I would like to point out why Ray’s Aparna is absolutely misinterpreted by Mr. Goutam Ghosh. Let’s dissect the memory game in both movies and try to make a sense out of them. A lot of names, both famous and not-so-famous, flew around. The names were immensely significant since the character of each player was made clear from the name(s) they say. Rabindranath, Karl Marx, Atulya Ghosh…… are all self-explanatory. The two names among them are the most striking. One is “Bobby Kennedy” said by Ray’s Aparna and the other is “Osama Bin Laden (OBL)” said by Ghosh’s Aparna. This is where Mr. Ghosh is entirely lost. If OBL is a famous name, according to Mr. Ghosh, it could have come from anybody but certainly not from Aparna, who knew Bobby Kennedy. Who was Bobby Kennedy? A Vietnam War critic ---- would be the answer. But in reality Bobby Kennedy fought for many things apart from Vietnam War only. He fought to eradicate poverty. He fought to bring education to poor so that they can perceive the idea of entrepreneurship. He fought against racism and discrimination. And he fought against war in general, not just Vietnam War. He and many like him still fight against war, against the act of people killing people. He was a visionary. He was the one who stood in front of a massive African American crowd on a day Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and quoted Aeschylus in one of his most elegant speeches, where he said:
“In our sleep, pain which can not forget
falls drop by drop upon our heart until,
In our own despair, against our will,
Comes the wisdom through the grace of God”
This is what Bobby Kennedy was, and this is what Aparna adored and Ray adored. I think OBL has a completely different ideology on the concept about “people killing people”! This ideology may sound appropriate to some, but definitely not to Aparna (or, needless to say Satyajit Ray). These are the history Mr. Ghosh did not care to understand or intentionally ignored in search of cheap applaud from certain ideological group of people.
This is where he has totally deviated from the framework of ADR. Now Mr. Ghosh started to say something of his own. He created another character and named him “mastermoshai”. The English translation of which is “the teacher”, another confused character like Amrita. It is a tragedy that we had to listen to the wisdom of a teacher, such as Mr. Ghosh’s “mastermoshai”. His “mastermoshai” wish to promote the idea that, kidnapping for ransom is justified. The supportive argument is one of the most dangerously hilarious one I have ever encountered with. He dares to relate his crime with the ideology of Indian freedom fighters, those of whom, according to “mastermoshai”, used extortion and terror to gain independence. Fortunately people promoting terror and violence are not the ones who earned freedom for us from British Emperor, and therefore are not technically freedom fighters. Many of them just wanted to become heroes and earn cheap fame. I am sure Mr. Ghosh’s mastermoshai and his followers need some clarity in their vision. The freedom fighters were Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhas Chandra Bose, Rashbehari Bose and they all rejected the ideology of terror. They differed in their policy. Gandhi followers brought up a revolutionary ideology of non-violence. Subhas’ followers wanted to make history by creating an international coalition and wage a war against British troops. Therefore, it is vicious to even attempt to mislead people of India by saying that the ideology of “mastermoshai” is actually similar to that of our freedom fighters. Apart from this enormous misconception, there are some remarkable scenes in the movie which certainly worth a plause. The scene, where people got hysterical when the cell phone failed to connect them with the modern world, was hilarious, though pathetic and true.
The dependability of our modern society with technology has grown so deep that a simple disturbance in our everyday life can make us unbelievably agonized. This dilemma of modernization is well portrayed here in the movie in accordance with the similar undertone in Ray’s ADR. The most fascinating moment of the movie is the recital of a Shakti Chattopadhyay poem by Soumitra Chattopadhyay. It was fulfilling and absorbing. In spite of being erroneous at several instances, the movie still resonates in me because of its unorthodox characteristics. I would not say that Mr. Ghosh has done a great job to make people understand the inner meaning of Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri, but he has done a good job in producing one thought provoking piece of work. At the end I would expect that no filmmaker of our present time take any of Ray’s movie as a base to build up their own concept. It is important to keep Ray’s sanctity untouched. Any attempt to remake any master artist’s art in their absence will always create a mediocre piece. It will be wise to leave the works of great filmmakers, like Goddard, Fellini, Kurasawa, Bergman and Ray undisturbed. These are classics. They all have meaning hidden inside stacks of meanings. Unraveling them by recreation will only destroy their values. Let us not attempt that again. It will probably take another Satyajit Ray to fully understand the magic of Ray. And Mr. Goutam Ghosh is certainly not “another Ray”.