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Remembering Ray, frame by frame

Waheeda Rehman

I got a letter from Ray saying that he wanted to cast me in a film. But he said that he wouldn't be able to pay the kind of money we get in Bollywood. I was very thrilled and readily agreed. Later, he told me that I would have to speak broken Bengali because my character (Gulabi in Abhijan) lives at the Bangla-Bihar border. I didn't know Bengali at all, so he got the dialogues recorded and let me practise.

He was a film-maker who knew exactly what he wanted. He wouldn't waste raw stock or time on the sets at all. If any artiste went on playing something, he would immediately cut it and say that he needed only a little. It's unlike most other film-makers I have worked with. For instance, people like Raj Kapoor or K. Asif would shoot 25,000 to 30,000 feet for a film of 12,000 to 18,000 feet. That was the difference between him and them.

I remember one scene that I found very difficult to do as he wanted it in one shot. There, I was supposed to narrate my life story to Soumitra (Chatterjee) while drying clothes and singing and dancing at the same time. I told him I wouldn't be able to do it because I didn't know singing at all. He replied that he didn't expect me to sing like Lata Mangeshkar, but as people generally hum at home while working!

Madhabi Mukherjee

He was a film-maker who knew the limitations of his actors very well. But he never demonstrated the expressions to us. His scripts had all the details ' including the shot divisions and camera positions ' one needed to understand the nuances of a character or a scene.

For that scene in Charulata where we play cards, he would lay out the cards himself though both of us (I and Gitali Roy) knew the game. The most vital thing that I learnt from him was the art of presentation. It's very important how you present what you want to.

I also like Arati in Mahanagar, but Charulata is my personal favourite because it was a great combination. It had a Tagore story, Satyajit Ray's script, Subrata Mitra's camerawork and Bansi Chandragupta's art direction.

Sharmila Tagore

With Apur Sansar, I began my long association with Manikda and what a privilege it has been.

I remember the first day's shooting of Apur Sansar ' I had to walk into Apu's room as a bride. I was entering a new world and so was Apu, but I was totally dismayed when I stepped into the room'

The child woman in Devi is the most complex role I have ever played in my life, even to this day. A child who has no idea of who she is ' how tragic it could be. I remember I used to go to sleep on the sets and everybody loved me and spoilt me very much.

Manikda had the ability to take the most out of you with least effort. He would give us hand-written scripts which I treasure. On the sets, he would sit down with us, make eye contact, explain the scene and then retreat behind the camera.

Framing was very very important for him. He would make sketches and would seldom deviate from it.

In his films, he created human archetypes that are easily available ' be it the conflict of tradition and modernity in Apu to the lonely actor in Nayak. These are characters that live forever.

Aloknanda Roy

I turned 18 on the sets of Kanchanjungha in Darjeeling and Satyajit Ray had ordered a cake to celebrate. He happened to get in touch with me through a relative but I don't really know where he had seen me first. Whenever I asked him that later, he would just joke and brush it aside.

We had mostly daylight shoots for Kanchanjungha, so he would sit with us in the hotel at night and discuss the script. He would rarely deviate from the script while shooting because he would do a lot of homework on it. He would let us rehearse and do on-the-spot corrections when required.

Sometimes he would improvise as I remember in one scene in Kanchanjungha. This is the scene where N. Viswanathan pressurises me to say something and as we walk down, a row of horses gallops past us and Viswanathan's voice gets drowned in that.

The scene carried a lot of meaning but it hadn't been designed in such a way. It was quite an accident. It so happened that we were rehearsing the scene before going for a take and this caravan came along. So Manikda stopped them immediately and included them while shooting.

Soumitra Chatterjee

I was very, very interested in theatre and never thought films could be so interesting until I saw Pather Panchali. I met him when he needed an actor for the lead role in Aparajito, but I wasn't selected because I was too grown-up for the role.

Many years later, he told me that he had decided to make the third part of the Apu trilogy after seeing me.

Manikda prepared me without letting me know. He would supply me with books on cinema and acting, take me to film shows, specially Hollywood, on Sunday mornings. The first one we saw together was The Lost Weekend. He would never lecture us.

He had given me a two-page note to help me become Apu in Apur Sansar. I prepared a kind of biography of Apu and tried to fill the gaps on screen.

Manikda provoked me to think more... I wasn't sure of myself on the first day's shooting. I thought I was not photogenic.

He had practically no set method for directing. He would give us enormous freedom. But he would restrain veteran actors when they tended to get theatrical.

Kushal Chakraborty

I was six years old when I did Sonar Kella. When I was four years old, my drawings were published in a book for which Satyajit Ray had written the rhymes. He was very impressed when he saw my drawings and wanted to meet me. So I went to his place with my father. Two years later, he wrote to my father asking if I could act in Sonar Kella.

He treated his child actors as adults. I remember after the editing for Sonar Kella was finished, he wanted to add a sequence which we didn't shoot before and which was probably not there in the script. He told me he wanted a scene where I cry, that would show the transformation to the final scene where I laugh. So he asked me whether I would be able to do that, if I could then he would build the sets at Indrapuri Studio at a cost of Rs 25,000 more. This kind of an attitude injects so much confidence in a child.

The Sonar Kella outdoor shoot took about a month-and-a-half. He used to play chess with me and he would lose most of the time. It's not that he would lose willingly; he wasn't a very good chess player!

I was also supposed to work in Joy Baba Felunath, but I had grown a lot taller by then and so couldn't.

(As told to Reshmi Sengupta)

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