They were great friends and went on to work on four projects but Satyajit Ray’s plan to make a short film on his musician friend Ravi Shankar remained a wish unfulfilled.
Shankar gave music to four of Ray’s classics, beginning with his greatest and the first ‘Pather Panchali’, ‘Aparajito’, ‘Apur Sansar’ and ‘Paras Pathar’.
Ray had planned to capture Ravi Shankar during one of his recitals but for some reason the film did not take shape.
The idea, however, still survives in the form of the rough sketches that he made for the film titled ‘A Sitar Recital by Ravi Shankar’.
The sketches show Ray’s vision as he captures Shankar in various moods with camera instructions like ‘pan away’, ‘dissolve to’ written on the margins besides other instructions.
The sketches are now available in the form of a book titled ‘Satyajit Ray’s Ravi Shankar: An Unfilmed Visual Script’, which has been edited by the filmmaker’s son Sandip Ray and has been published by HarperCollins.
In his preface Sandip recalls the friendship that his father and Shankar, who died in 2012, shared and how they came together for the music of ‘Pather Panchali’.
“Ravi-ji was already a busy musician when baba requested him to compose the background score for ‘Pather Panchali’, his debut film. After that he did the music for ‘Aparajito’, ‘Paras Pathar’ and ‘Apur Sansar’.
“They never worked together thereafter because baba began to compose music for his own films in 1961. But their relations remained as close and congenial as before. Their friendship was based on mutual admiration which lasted till baba breathed his last,” Sandip recalls in the book.
He, however, is not sure why Ray abandoned the project despite painstakingly working on a storyboard for it.
“… Baba made a storyboard for a short film on Ravi-ji in the early phase of his career as a filmmaker, though it is not yet conclusively known why it did not turn into a film,” Sandip writes.
Author Sankarlal Bhattacharjee writes in the book that the unfinished project was one of the two “unrequited love affairs of Ray”.
“This is a sitar recital by Ravi Shankar no one chanced to hear. This one of the two unrequited love affairs of Satyajit Ray with the motion picture. A documentary based on a concert, this is an attempt to combine the pleasures of the ear with those of the eye. Like the other film, a fantasy feature titled ‘The Alien’.
“This too, titled ‘A Sitar Recital by Ravi Shankar’, is a script that encompasses a concert from alap to jhala, movement to movement, held only in pictures.”
The writer says while Ray left an account of why ‘The Alien’ could not become a reality, there is no word from him on why this film did not become a reality.
Bhattacherjee believes Ray had sketched a “whole album” on how the film would go, probably before he made ‘Aparajito’.
He, however, hints that the film was conceived when Shankar was young and Ray probably abandoned the project as the musician was old by the time he decided to work on the film.
The sketches also suggest a young Shankar on the sitar.