More than Magic

Tara Judah of the 2014 Talent Press reviews a screening of Satyajit Ray's NAYAK at the Berlinale Classics section.

Satyajit Ray's NAYAT

One loose thread can easily unravel the whole. Before Satyajit Ray had the chance to demystify celebrity with a special screening of his film NAYAK (THE HERO, 1966) the magic of going to the movies was put on hold. With 35mm film prints becoming scarce, digital restoration is now a classic film's best chance at attracting a new audience. But digital cinema packages (DCPs) still come with technical hitches. Projection issues dispelled the magic of cinema, which seemed strangely in tune with the film's message about acting and cinema as all facade.

Bengali cinema icon Arindam Mukherjee (Uttam Kumar) takes the train from Calcutta to Delhi to receive a film award. Interviewed en route by female journalist, Aditi (Sharmila Tagore), his stories reveal what the life of an actor is really like. Taking every opportunity to make a loveable fool of his leading man, Ray hones in on the silly details that make screen celebrities believe: “There's only one indispensable person on set: the actor.”

Constantly checking his reflection, carefully combing his hair and even putting sunglasses on to answer the phone, Mukherjee buys into his own mythology. Strangely enough, as his interview with Aditi soon uncovers, his belief in himself is wavering and he willingly admits his acting career has been marked by cliché.

Based loosely on the biography of Uttam Kumar, Ray's satire is bittersweet. Knowing that every film could be his last and that a life of poverty lingers in the background, Mukherjee (and Kumar) makes the most of his celebrity status while he can.

The high-resolution restoration was stunning and Ray's masterful compositions leapt off the screen. But even though the film was worth the wait, the magic was also interrupted by the film's Academy aspect ratio (1:1.33). With the subtitles a little too far below the auditorium's sight line, we could only read half the dialogue.

Still, there was a playful correlation between the film and the experience that only made it all the more intriguing. As the journey was for Mukherjee, the screening of NAYAK in Berlinale Classic was an exercise in understanding that there's more to the movies than magic.