There are films which make a permanent home in your heart the first time you see them. I revisited Teen Kanya a couple of weeks back,and was relieved to find that it has lost nothing. Based on a Rabindranath Tagore story,like several of Satyajit Rays masterworks,it tells the story of three women,wildly different in age,background,and mien,but united in the one way we all know and cleave to in their longing for acceptance.
And of those three stories,the first,which gives us a little girl who strikes a relationship with a newly-arrived postmaster in her village,remains my favourite. Perhaps strikes isnt the right word: what she does is to create a welcoming space for an outsider on her patch,invites him in,and then watches,in quiet devastation,as he leaves. It is a conjoined theme Ray explores constantly belonging and alienation by throwing together two strangers and seeing what happens. The other two are equally unforgettable: a woman more in love with her jewels than the man who gifts them to her,and a child-bride who learns to love the man she is married to.
The DVD pack has nine of Rays films (Charulata,Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne,Joi Baba Felunath,Kapurush O Mahapurush,Mahanagar,Nayak,Shakha Proshakha,Teen Kanya,Devi),and is a terrific introduction to the directors varied body of work,a mix of his most well-known films,and the ones that are pulled out only for retrospectives.
At first glance,the films encompass a variety of themes and concerns,but at their well-crafted heart,most of Rays work is shot through with an irresistible engagement with the spirit. The opening sequence of Charulata bears eloquent,mostly wordless,witness to the loneliness of a wife (Madhabi Mukherjee),as she whiles an afternoon away doing things good wives ought: embroidering,ordering a minion to serve the master his tea,making sure the house is quiet as he slumbers. When she raises her eyeglass to look at him as his figure recedes down a corridor,you dont need words. Here she is,and there he is,going away from her.
Another of my favourites is in here. Nayak has Uttam Kumar play a matinee idol fighting his demons. Kumars act is stellar,combining both the arrogance of being a top star,and an awareness of mortality. Ray gets him do the little things that denote stardom gone sour,and then opens him up for our,and a travelling journalists,delectation: a very young Sharmila Tagore plays reluctant confessor to this man,this hero,as he unravels and finds himself.
Mahanagar shows you of the Calcutta of the 50s and 60s,a teeming metropolis which offers both hope and despair to its people. Mukherjees wife in this one,who finds a job to supplement the family income and discovers a sense of self-worth is very different from the one in Charulata,but equally believable. You also glimpse Jaya Bhaduri in a supporting role,reminding you that this is where she (and Sharmila) started. And left to embrace the baroque styles of Hindi cinema.