Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Watching the Oscars this week jogged my memory, while I was casting about for a post for this week's edition of ABC Wednesday. This post had to be about an F-word, so I decided on film.
Last year, in an exchange of comments with Dan, who writes Dan’s Blah Blah Blog, I noticed that he had flagged the classic movie Pather Panchali as one of his all-time favourites. I mentioned to him that I once had the honour of being at a reception with the legendary director Satyajit Ray, who directed that film and many others that are considered landmarks in the history of cinema.
Ray, you might remember, was the man who singlehandedly put India on the world cinematic map and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.
You see, I was born and educated in Calcutta and Darjeeling. Calcutta was home to Ray (1921-1992) and many a creative genius. Fortunately, I can speak Bengali, so I can pronounce the late director’s name like a true Calcuttan: ``Shottojeet Rye.’’
I was in my late teens when this event took place. But I hasten to add a) that I was not introduced to him and b) this is not a gratuitous exercise in name-dropping.
A couple of my friends had been peripherally involved in Ray’s film Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players) which starred Sir Richard Attenborough as General Outram.
Because of this extremely tenuous link to the film, we had been invited to a special end-of-shooting reception at the Hotel Hindustan International. I clearly remember Ray’s low-key arrival, later in the evening than everyone else.
He came with family members, not with lackeys, nor with hangers-on. He was instantly recognisable, not just because of his chiselled features and quiet dignity, but by the power of his presence. He was a tall man, with an imposing aura. I'm well over six foot in my socks, but he was at least an inch taller than me.
Height was one thing, but when it came to stature, he left me for dead.
I remember a hush falling over the room. Awe? Probably. Reverence? Perhaps. Or a judicious mixture of both. As a spotty teenager, I did not think it was my place to walk up and shake hands with one of the city’s internationally-lauded giants.
But I wish I had. I so wish I had.
For a laugh at my 2007-series F post, check out Sigmund Fried.