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Published:  12:00 AM, 21 March 2017

On Nayak

There is cricket in the subcontinent, and while it's good to see Bangladesh being competitive, nationalism often leaves me cold.  There is, however, one part of life where I am, if not nationalist, quite parochial - the stronger sex.  There is something about Bengali girls.  As with many things, Satyajit Ray captures it brilliantly. A Bengali girl once asked me why Uttam Kumar is so mean to Sharmila Tagore. 

I was surprised she hadn't watched Nayak.  I shouldn't have been, as this is one of Ray's lesser known gems.  That's a shame, because arguably it's one of his best work. Of course, the Apu trilogy or his Tagore adaptations are better known both in the west as well as in India.  Less appreciated is Ray's depiction of the mid-20th century Calcutta bhadralok.  He was from that milieu, and knew it much better than the rural Bengal or the gentry of Tagore's era. 

It's hard to find another body of art that shows that time and place so touchingly, without judging, than movies like Kanchenjungha or Mahanagar.  Nayak is firmly in that part of the Ray oeuvre, but unlike those movies, it's not focussed on the  domesticity of the so-called real people. 

The protagonist, as the title suggests, is a matinee idol, played by the biggest idol of Bengali  cinema - Uttam Kumar.  (excerpt)

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