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The Inner Eye: Satyajit Ray’s portrait of the great artist Benode Behari Mukherjee

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Editor’s note: In a prolific career spanning nearly four decades, Satyajit Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. His films have received worldwide critical acclaim and won him several awards, honours and recognition — both in India and elsewhere. In this column starting 25 June 2017, we discuss and dissect the films of Satyajit Ray (whose 96th birth anniversary was this May), in a bid to understand what really makes him one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century.

After completing his graduation in Economics from Presidency College in Kolkata, Satyajit Ray went to Shantiniketan in 1940, to study painting at the Visva-Bharati University founded by Rabindranath Tagore. It was at Shantiniketan that Ray met the eminent artist Benode Behari Mukherjee, who was a member of the faculty there. Benode Behari was severely myopic in one eye and blind in the other (he became completely blind a few years later, following an unsuccessful cataract operation), but despite his physical handicap, he was an artist par excellence, who continued to produce one remarkable work of art after another. Ray was deeply impacted and inspired by Benode Behari’s art, and many years later, as a tribute to his teacher, he made a documentary film on the latter’s life and works, aptly titled The Inner Eye.

Nemai Ghosh's photo of Satyajit Ray and Benode Behari Mukherjee on the sets of The Inner Eye

Nemai Ghosh’s photo of Satyajit Ray and Benode Behari Mukherjee on the sets of The Inner Eye

With a running time of 20 minutes, and starring the artist himself, this documentary opens with Benode Behari Mukherjee planning the design of a five feet high and 60 feet wide wall in a newly developed building in Shantiniketan, with the help of 20 murals, which in turn are in the form of coloured tiles manufactured in the district of Purulia. Only a fraction of the daunting task is an enormous and complex jigsaw puzzle, which the artist, now completely blind in both eyes, is seen descending upon with great zest, groping around to locate the pieces and their outlines, and placing them in their proper positions in the puzzle — not once wincing in despair at the daunting task that lay ahead. In his own baritone voice and impeccable diction, Satyajit Ray goes on to narrate Benode Behari’s family background, and how, at a very early age, he showed great promise in sketching and drawing. At the age of 12, Benode Behari attended Patha Bhavan — the school in Shantiniketan, and at the age of 15, he shifted to Kala Bhavan, as a student of the art wing of Shantiniketan, where he received tutelage under the great artist Nandalal Bose.

Very early on during his learning years, Benode Behari had decided that he had no interest in mythology — which used to be a staple subject of most budding artists of the time. Instead, he turned his attention to his surroundings — drawing the arid and desolate landscapes of the countryside outside the Shantiniketan campus, along with the lives of the Santhals who inhabited them. Ray goes on to explain that although drawing flora was not a problem for Benode Behari, but how, thanks to the artist’s weak eyesight, drawing small animals and birds was possible only when they were not in a state of motion. Through a series of sketches, drawings and paintings of his early student life, we get a glimpse of the remarkable new talent that had just appeared in the horizon of the Indian art scene.

We further learn from the film that upon his return from a rather rewarding trip to Japan, where he learned a lot from the works of such great masters of Oriental art as Tawaraya Sotatsu and Toba Sojo, Benode Behari was assigned to paint a fresco for one of the dormitories of Kala Bhavan. Inspired by an Egyptian fresco he had seen earlier, in which a lovely pond occupied the centre of the artwork, Benode Behari put a pond in the centre of his fresco too, but went on to pack twenty years of his loving and unhurried observations of the countryside, all depicted around that very pond. Needless to say, the resulting work of art was a telling study of the rural way of life in Bengal.

Ray goes on to talk about some of the other works of Benode Behari in the years that followed, including a fresco on the wall of China Bhavan in Shantiniketan, where a more austere composition of life on campus replaces the free-flowing lyricism of the pond fresco. In yet another fresco — which Satyajit Ray goes on to describe as ‘the only example of a truly epic conception in twentieth century Indian art’ — the artist plans, researches and executes an elaborate depiction of the lives of the saints and mystics of medieval India, covering three walls of a large hall. With shades of influences from various disparate art forms from all over the world, and yet all of them coming together as a synthesized, cohesive and organic whole, it is virtually impossible to believe that the entire fresco was painted directly on the walls, without any preliminary tracing whatsoever — a feat that only reveals the remarkable confidence that an artist of Benode Behari’s stature had in his own capabilities. While talking to Ray about the masterpiece, Benode Behari says, in his trademark wit — ‘I’ve taken only those elements which seemed pre-Renaissance to me. And whether it’s Byzantine, or Jain, or Pot, or Paata — a historian may differentiate between these forms, but how does it matter to an artist like you or me, tell me? If you put a folk figure next to a Jain one, whose daddy is going to chide you for that?’

In the years that followed, Benode Behari moved around a bit — first to Nepal, where he was offered the job of curatorship at the National Museum in Kathmandu, then to Rajasthan on a teaching assignment, and finally to Mussoorie, where he started his own school. It was during this final period that Benode Behari Mukherji lost his remaining eyesight forever. However, he continued to paint, draw, sketch, illustrate and create murals for the rest of his life.

Satyajit Ray’s deep reverence for the artist is evident as much from the fact that he set out to make the film with no financial backing whatsoever, as from the tone of his narration. Sparsely does Ray mention Benode Behari’s handicap, choosing to show the richness and uniqueness of his art instead. The underlying tone of the film is not one of pity, not even of sympathy. It is one of deep awe and respect. In changing the mood of the film from heavy to witty, the music from light and peppy during the Kathmandu scenes to the hopeful and optimistic through the recital of Raag Asavari during the film’s final scene, Ray himself paints a beautiful picture of the life of a remarkable man – a devoted artist, a born fighter and, in more ways than one, a great philosopher. All of this is revealed not only through Benode Behari Mukherjee’s art, but also in the final shot of the film, when Ray signs off with a quote from the man himself – ‘Blindness is a new feeling, a new experience, a new state of being’.

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His translations include 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray, and his original works include the mystery novels Patang, Penumbra and Here Falls The Shadow.


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Suriya at Thaanaa Serndha Koottam success meet: ‘The film has shattered a lot of stereotypes’

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The success meet of Suriya’s Thaanaa Serndha Koottam was held in Chennai on 18 January. Suriya, who was conspicuous by his absence during the beginning of the event due to food poisoning problems, made a sudden entry towards the fag end of the function to the surprise of everyone.

“I haven’t missed any event for Thaanaa Serndha Koottam. That’s why I decided to come down despite asking for an excuse. The road trip in Andhra Pradesh took a toll on me, especially the spicy food (laughs). We traveled nearly 1000 KMs covering Rajahmundry Vijayawada, Bhimavaram, Guntur and visited some 10 to 15 theatres. It’s my first multi-city theater tour in Andhra Pradesh although my films have been regularly getting a Telugu release in the past twelve years,” said Suriya.

Suriya in Thaanaa Serndha Koottam.

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam has become an important film in my career,” says Suriya

Talking about the extremely encouraging positive feedback from across the board, Suriya said, “TSK has become an important film in my career. Although it’s my 35th film, I’ve received a lot of responses that it’s a completely different movie in my career. The unanimous feedback, from audiences to the media, is that TSK is quite unique from my previous outings. Everyone opines that a lot of stereotypes concerning my makeover have been shattered in this film. The entire credit goes to director Vignesh Shivan. He meticulously took care of all the minute details.  He kept exploring various options, which made me convinced.”

Suriya said he’s happy with the film’s performance at the box-office although he doesn’t delve into exact numbers. “I usually don’t go into box-office collections. But somehow the information reaches my ears. The Sunday figures are higher than the opening day (Friday). And the Monday numbers are said to be higher than Sunday. It’s mainly because of the family audiences who watched the film, after the opening,” he said.

“Anirudh’s songs have taken this film beyond borders,” says Suriya

Suriya showered praise on composer Anirudh Ravichander for delivering a great album and excellent background score for the film. “Anirudh’s songs have taken this film beyond borders. Every technician has played some crucial role in the movie’s success. Everyone was lifting the whole experience by contributing something. We all had a lot of positive vibes while shooting the film. We were very sure that the film should be a celebration because it’s been eight years since my last festival release. And, I witnessed all the celebration in theatres firsthand by visiting screens like Kasi and Brinda, where people were enjoying everything on screen. For every film, there will be an inevitable difference between how the media and public respond. But, for Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, there was a unanimous opinion,” stated Suriya.

“There was a lot of pressure on Vignesh Shivan to deliver an entertaining film,” says Anirudh Ravichander

Composer Anirudh Ravichander talked about his magical working experience with Vignesh Shivan and reasoned why their combo clicks. “When Vignesh Shivan decided to do a film with Suriya sir after Naanum Rowdy Thaan, there was a lot of pressure. NRD was a small-scale film, and it opened up the opportunity to bag Thaanaa Serndha Koottam. So, the fate of Thaanaa Serndha Koottam would decide his future since it’s a big-star film on a big canvas. Despite the considerable pressure, Vignesh utilized the offer correctly and delivered an entertaining movie, which didn’t receive any negative reviews at all. I don’t know how our combination works. He extracts the best of out of me very casually. We used to keep chatting something, and in between, he will take the right scores from me. Our sessions have always been candid and very nonchalant.”

“Though the music was a hit, we wouldn’t remember the experience fondly if the end product is not good. It’s what I’ve learned in my small career. If the film doesn’t work well, we won’t have any pleasant memories associated with it even if the album was a chartbuster. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie with audiences in theaters,” added Anirudh.

“Suriya sir gives his 100% to the script, and that’s his biggest strength,” says Vignesh Shivan

Vignesh Shivan said Suriya’s absolute commitment to the character he plays was one of the reasons for producing the output he had desired.  “When I received this offer, I was a little hesitant about the ‘remake’ part. But, it’s a precious opportunity to direct a big hero. So, I did my best to make the film more interesting. Suriya sir gives his 100% to the script, and that’s his biggest strength. He understands the role thoroughly and gets into the skin of the character with utmost commitment,” said Vignesh.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:16 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:16 PM


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Supreme Court upholds acquittal of Peepli Live co-director Mahmood Farooqui by Delhi HC in rape case

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The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the acquittal of Peepli Live co-director Mahmood Farooqui in a rape case by the Delhi High Court, after hearing a plea by an American woman challenging the high court verdict.

During the hearing before the apex court, the woman’s counsel told the bench that a new argument of alleged consensual relation was advanced by Farooqui’s lawyer before the high court and claimed that this issue was not raised before the lower court during the trial.

The bench, however, observed that it was not a case where strangers came, met and did something as both Farooqui and the woman were known to each other.

File image of Mahmood Farooqui. GettyImages

File image of Mahmood Farooqui. GettyImages

“This is a very hard case. We would like to say that it has been decided extremely well (by the high court),” the top court said.

When the woman’s counsel said the issue was whether there was any consent, the bench observed that there appeared to be a “positive response” which, according to her, was faked by her. “People give false smiles. How would the other person know that it’s a false response? This is very difficult to understand,” the bench said, adding, “she appeared to have responded in a positive manner”.

When the petitioner’s counsel referred to the email conversation between the woman and Farooqui, the apex court said the record reflects that they were good friends. The bench also referred to one of the communications between them and asked whether she had said “I love you” to Farooqui in one of the emails after the alleged incident.

“How many rape cases you have gone through where the prosecutrix (woman) has said I love you to the alleged accused much after the alleged incident,” the bench asked the counsel and also posed several other queries including how many times the woman had visited Farooqui and had drinks together.

The bench was not satisfied with the answers given by the counsel and dismissed the plea, saying no question of law was involved in the matter.

“We will not interfere with the high court verdict. It is a well-written judgment,” PTI quoted the Supreme Court as saying.

In September 2017, the Delhi High Court had acquitted Farooqui, saying he was entitled to benefit of the doubt as the testimony of the victim was not reliable.

Justice Ashutosh Kumar had set aside the trial court order which had awarded a seven-year jail term to Farooqui after convicting him for the alleged rape of a 30-year-old American researcher at his south Delhi residence in March 2015.

The high court, in its 85-page judgment, had directed that Farooqui be released forthwith.

It had held that the woman’s testimony was not reliable and the accused can be given the benefit of doubt. “Whether such an incident happened, if it has happened, it did happen with the consent of the prosecutrix. This remains in doubt,” the court had said.

Farooqui had challenged his conviction and the sentence given by the trial court.

During arguments, Farooqui’s lawyer had denied the allegation of rape levelled by the woman and had said, “no such incident took place on that day”.

His counsel had referred to messages exchanged between his client and the woman before the case was lodged and contended that the two were in a “relationship” since January 2015.

The argument was opposed by Delhi Police’s counsel, who had said that rape had taken place and the trial court had given reasons while convicting and sentencing 45-year-old Farooqui.

A trial court on 4 August last year had sent him to jail for seven years, observing that he had taken advantage of the situation when the victim was alone in his house.

The court, which on 30 July, 2016, had held Farooqui guilty of raping the American woman in 2015 in a drunken state, had also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on him.

The police had on 19 June, 2015, lodged an FIR against Farooqui on the woman’s complaint after which he was arrested.

On 29 July, 2015, the police had filed its chargesheet against Farooqui, alleging he had raped the research scholar from Columbia University at his Sukhdev Vihar house in South Delhi on 28 March, 2015.

With inputs from PTI

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:46 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 13:48 PM


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Naya Rivera’s estranged husband Ryan Dorsey drops charges of domestic violence against Glee actress

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The charges of domestic violence against Glee star Naya Rivera by her estranged husband, actor Ryan Dorsey, have been dropped after he decided not to press charges, as reported by Daily News.

Naya Rivera and Ryan Dorsey. Facebook

Naya Rivera and Ryan Dorsey. Facebook

Rivera had been arrested and charged with domestic battery last year following a complaint by Dorsey when she had struck him on the head and the bottom lip while on a stroll with their two year old son. The charges have been dropped by Kanawha County Magistrate Court’s office, as reported by Daily News.

The incident had occurred on 25 November, 2017 and the actress was believed to be intoxicated at the time. The fight between the couple had erupted over an argument over their son. At the time the actor known for his role on Pitch had tweeted a statement, “This is a difficult time for everyone in the family especially for Naya and I. This isn’t some reality show, this is our life, and I ask that everyone especially ‘the media’ please respect our privacy and treat us/this situation how you would want a loved one to be treated. Perhaps with kindness, respect, without judgement, and as negative a situation like this is, with positivity and love. Thanks,” as reported by US Weekly.

After her arrest, Rivera had filed for divorce a second time, from Dorsey since November 2016, which she had dismissed, as reported by Daily News.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:48 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:48 PM

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