Auteur Satyajit Ray was not apolitical and portrayed it in his films, says actress-filmmaker Aparna Sen.
"Many of Ray's critics have called him indifferent to the plight of the urban poor and criticised him for being apolitical. Ray wasn't apolitical at all. No man or woman is. It's just that Ray's politics was not the politics of political parties that were constantly at each other's throat," Aparna said here on Saturday.
Not many people know that the Oscar-winning filmmaker had been at the forefront of the city-wide silent protest against police brutality in 1966, Aparna highlighted while delivering the Ray Memorial Lecture organised by Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives.
Aparna, who made her debut as an actress in 1961 with Ray's Teen Kanya, said the trauma of the food movement has been reflected in many of his films.
The Price Increase and Famine Resistance Committee was a mass movement in West Bengal, formed in late 1958 by the Communist Party of India and other Left groups, in response to the food crisis then.
To buttress her argument, Aparna referred to the scene in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne showing the "procession of starving soldiers with the song 'O re baba dekho cheye' playing in the background" and "the procession of starving villagers in 'Ashani Sanket' walking from village to city and growing constantly larger in size".
Citing the example of the 1971 film Pratidwandi (The Adversary), set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement, Aparna said there is a "genuine attempt" on Ray's part to understand the plight of young people of that troubled time and to enquire the reasons for their anger and violence.
"The problem is despite his anger against the system, Siddharth (the lead character in 'Pratidwandi' whose younger brother is a Naxalite), like Ray himself, is able to look at the other side of any given situation. Ray like Siddharth is not quite sure what the solution is but sympathises deeply with the youths who have nowhere to turn to," she said.
Aparna also delved into Ray's finesse for portrayal of death in cinema.
"Satyajit Ray could be called the master of portrayal of death in cinema. The deaths of Indir Thakrun, Durga in 'Pather Panchali', Harihar and Sarbojaya in 'Aparajito', Bishwambar Roy in 'Jalsaghar' all bear this out," she said.
Drawing attention to Apur Sansar, the third and final film of the much-feted Apu Trilogy, Aparna surmised the master filmmaker had deliberately refrained from showing Apu's wife Aparna in her final moments.
"Aparna's death is so unthinkable that it can't be shown, only imagined. Nothing that the director can direct or actors can act or cinematographer can film will match the audience's imagination of the magnitude of Apu's loss."
"I think Ray must have realised this either consciously or intuitively and refrained from actually showing Aparna in her death bed," the actress said.
"There is no escape for us from Ray… the next generation of filmmakers. We have inherited him as Ray had inherited Tagore," she added.