Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
Original Title: Nayak
India, 1966. R.D.Banshal & Co.. Story and Screenplay by Satyajit Ray. Cinematography by Subrata Mitra. Produced by R.D. Bansal, Sharankumari Bansal. Music by Satyajit Ray. Production Design by Bansi Chandragupta. Film Editing by Dulal Dutta, Satyajit Ray.
Uttam Kumar, himself a major film star in real life, plays a fictional version of himself in this deeply perceptive and humorous tale of a famous actor at a vulnerable point of his career. He steps onto a train to begin an overnight voyage from Calcutta to New Delhi where he will be accepting a prize for his years of film work, having become so popular that he can barely walk the corridors without turning the heads of the delighted passengers and staff who see him. His latest film is not doing well and could turn out to be his first bomb, which he knows will spell disaster for him if other failures follow, and which he worries about while settling into his carriage that he shares with a couple and their ailing daughter. In the next compartment, an advertising executive plots to land a major account by approaching the business tycoon that he noticed is also on the same journey, enlisting his pretty young wife to use her charms to rope the man into a deal. Kumar heads to the dining carriage, the place that always provides the centre of action in films set on trains, and meets the editor of a women’s magazine (Sharmila Tagore) who couldn’t care less that he’s an actor but interviews him because she is toying with the idea of adding movie coverage to her publication. Their conversation flashes him back to earlier parts of his career, the veteran actors who influenced him as he left his happy but financially strapped life in the theatre behind to pursue the glamour and glitz of movie stardom. The film takes place almost exclusively on the moving train, a vehicle that director Satyajit Ray, here making another of his satisfying and poignant classics, sees as an almost democratizing principle in a society defined by separate spheres of living, bringing people who would otherwise never have the chance to connect into contact with each other. The nature of celebrity, in which the object of desire is drained of his vitality by the people who all seek to get something out of him, is presented with wisdom and sensitivity, while the superb performances allow you to soak in its careful pace and savour its generous length.
The Criterion Collection: #911
Berlin Film Festival Award: Special Mention