In Memory The Man Who Turned Down Raj Kapoor
To mark his 28th death anniversary which falls on April 23 this year, we reproduce this rare interview with SATYAJIT RAY taken by JYOTHI VENKATESHm a senior film journalist with 47 years of experience, 40 years ago at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi during the Seventh International Film Festival of India where his film Shatranj Ke Khilari was being showcased as an entry in the Indian Panorama.
“Regional Cinema has moved from Bengal to the South because there are better filmmakers in South today”, quipped Satyajit Ray addressing a crowded press conference at the Vigyan Bhavan. The tall maestro continues. “I have been impressed by films like Thampu by Aravindan and Kodiyettam by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, said Mr Ray and added that during the film festival, he had concentrated on films made by Indian directors all over the country instead of devoting his time to seeing the European films only since he had already seen a vast majority of them in the other major International film festivals.
Satyajit Ray said that over the last couple of years, there have been several feelers from abroad to him for making films. “I was to make a film to be financed by Columbia Pictures. I may be reviving the project which was shelved for the time being. It will be a science fiction in two versions- English for consumption abroad and Bengali for the local audience”.
“I have made a delayed entry in Hindi Cinema and also made a rapid exit from the film scene in Bombay only because of my lack of confidence in Hindi even after making my maiden film Shatranj Ke Khilari with Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan. I’d feel out of my depth making a Hindi film or for that matter, any regional film other than in Bengali, which happens to be my mother tongue”, he added.
Mr Ray is of the opinion that an International film festival ought to be held only in film producing centers like Bombay, Madras or for that matter Calcutta, if a film festival is expected to achieve tangible results. “New Delhi is the most unsuitable venue for a festival”, he said. Because major countries in the world do not send their better films to India and prefer to send them to other more important festivals, he said the standard of film entered in the Seventh International film festival of India was not above average.
At the moment, Mr Ray is toying with the idea of making a film on the dice play in Mahabharata. “If I do not venture into making any project currently, the reason is I have got to think of my foreign audiences too, apart from the Indian audience. While for the Indian audience you must establish every character in detail, you need not waste unnecessary footage while making a film for the audience abroad.”
Referring to the acute paucity of cinema houses in India, especially West Bengal, Mr Ray said that the emphasis on the part of the government should be to construct more and more cinema houses to screen a large number of films, especially experimental films made by new and talented directors.”Unfortunately in West Bengal today there are more films waiting to be released and less number of theatres. As a result, I had to wait for a year to release Shatranj Ke Khilari which I made in Calcutta.”
Currently, Mr Ray does not have even a single feature film on the floors. However, he is making a film on music in Western Rajasthan for the French Television. It will be a co-production with the government of India, he said and hence he is waiting for a final clearance from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting before going abroad with the project.
Talking about Shatranj Ke Khilari, he said that he enjoyed making the film even though there were quite a few unpleasant troubles over the issue of its distribution. “I took up my friend producer Suresh Jindal’s offer to direct the film for him only because he gave me complete freedom and conceived the project based on Munshi Premchandji’s story.
Satyajit Ray, who is considered the Numero Uno filmmaker that India has ever produced, signs off by stating. “Not many know that earlier Raj Kapoor had also offered to make a film with me but I couldn’t accept it because frankly I did not like the subject which he had chosen for me. Also the truth is that commercial films do not at all fascinate me.”
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