Our latest Netflix DVD was Nayak, a mid-60s film by Satyajit Ray. It’s a very good though not great movie about a famous Bengali movie star, suggested perhaps by Fellini’s 8 1/2, which was made a few years before. The star was played as it happened by an actual famous Bengali movie star, who does have star quality but also—at least in the film—some midlife problems: women, old friends he’s let down, career compromises and failures.
The star has to go to Delhi to get an award but all flights are booked, so he takes a train. That choice plunges him into a sort of temporary Bengali village (a very prosperous village, since he’s going First Class) in which everybody’s constantly chattering, pursuing his goals, getting into everybody else’s business, and generally living out his life in everybody else’s face. There’s an ad man, for example, who’s trying to land a client, an older man who’s travelling with his daughter and his very pretty and very dutiful wife but nonetheless takes a strong interest in the ad man’s wife. The ad man wants his wife to play very nice with the prospective client, which causes her to become instantly fed up with her husband and put the deal in jeopardy.
Other characters include a toothless old moralist, who’s not presented very sympathetically but I must say is given a certain amount to be moralistic about. The focus though is on the movie star and a very serious young female journalist who’s played by an extraordinarily beautiful actress who manages to look marginally nerdish by wearing glasses with heavy black plastic rims. She pooh poohs popular films but still wants to interview the star to boost circulation of a paper she edits. Things have been getting to him, and she’s obviously perceptive, so he pours out his soul, has a crisis, gets drunk, and contemplates suicide. She sees what’s going on and chases him back to his compartment where he passes out. The next morning he bounces back, she tears up her notes, and they arrive in Delhi and go their very separate ways. (The ad man, for his part, finds another client on the train in the form of a religious charlatan with an ad budget of 30,000 rupees.)
The acting and photography were both very good, and the situation presented what seemed a slice of Bengali life: everybody’s got his own angle, everybody has strong and voluble opinions on everything, everybody has weird quirks, and nobody seems particularly embarrassed about anything. All in all, the film’s a bit satirical but mostly human and believable. I suppose that’s part of what put me in mind of the Fellini movie, which has similar features although with Fellini it’s Italians instead of Bengalis.