Nayak [1966]

20Feb12 – 7 – Nayak [ নায়ক, The Hero] (Satyajit Ray: 1966)

Satyajit Ray’s NAYAK (“The Hero”, in the sense of leading character in a movie or play; 1966) follows a smug, egocentric movie star, Arindam Mukherjee, as he travels by train from Calcutta to Delhi to accept a major award. Among the fans and others on board the train is an editor/writer of a serious women’s journal who begins to interview him despite feeling that his movies are beneath her (the interview will be good copy for the journal, she tells herself). Under the editor’s questioning, he examines who he is and how he got that way and is thrown into doubt; at the same time his interviewer begins to take him seriously as a man. The interviewer is played quite well by Sharmila Tagore, a Ray favorite, but in the role of the movie star Ray cast Uttam Kumar, who was apparently the greatest star the Bengali film industry has ever had or is ever likely to have. He is a utterly superb. His Arindam Mukherjee is by turns charming, personable, charismatic, self-involved, egocentric, ruthless, but in the final analysis he’s a lonely man who’s wracked by self-doubt, and Kumar conveys all this easily, clearly, and without pyrotechnics.

There are a number of scenes that are quite good but one really stands out. The editor is interviewing Arindam in the dining car as the train stops at a station where she notices the crowd on the platform start to recognize Arindam. She grows increasingly anxious as the crowd starts pressing up against the glass window, gesticulating, tapping on the glass, shoving and pushing each other to get the star’s attention. Arindam takes the attention as his due (“Just act normal” he tells her, and “This is a big day for them”) and is amused by her extreme discomfort. Unfortunately, NAYAK’s many subplots are not particularly interesting and they feature a fair amount of sub-par acting. And I have to point out that the sound in some scenes would be barely acceptable on a worn VHS transfer of home movies from the 1980s. No dance numbers, but there are two dream sequences and a couple of flashbacks that involve shooting scenes on film sets. 7/10. [2/2/12]

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