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Sacred Ray
Satyajit Ray with Soumitra Chatterjee at the Rajasthan shoot for Sonar Kella

Fourteen years after his death Satyajit Ray continues to make helluva difference to Indian and international cinema, and in the most unexpected ways. Not too many people have noticed that Abiyaan Rajhans and Abhigyan Jha’s spook-nook Sacred Evil is strewn with references to, and actors from Satyajit Ray’s films. Not only do we see the Ray regular Soumitra Chatterjee in a cameo, the lady who escorts the film’s protagonist to Soumitra’s office is the heroine of Satyajit Ray’s Kanchenjunga (Aloknanda Roy).

“That’s right,” laughs Abhigyan. “My affinity to Ray’s cinema goes back a long time. My film contains not only homages to Ray, but also to my other idol Ismail Merchant. I was assisting Merchant in a film called Gaachh (The Tree) which was based on the life of Soumitra Chatterjee when I met Ivan Kozelka the cinematographer of Sacred Evil. Ismail thought very highly of him. And I decided the day I make my first film, Ivan will shoot it for me. I am glad he accepted my offer when the time came seven years later. Ismail had shot his first film, Householder, in English and in Calcutta. I obviously chose to do the same. Householder was a B/W film, there is an entire portion of Sacred Evil in which colours have been washed out leaving only a single colour bright, a red, a yellow or a green but mostly it looks black-and-white.”

That’s how Abhigyan arrived at Ray. “Ismail’s hero was Ray. And my favourite childhood author was Ray. I read Sonar Kella 99 times. I stopped short of a century only out of superstition. I believe Ray was a far better writer than a director. That’s not to say he is a lesser director than anyone else. The world is yet to discover the sci-fi and thrillers of Ray. I had the good luck to visit Ray’s personal library while shooting Gaachh and I wasn’t surprised to find his shelves loaded with Asimov, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe and . Henry. These are also my favourite authors, besides Stephen King.

Abhigyan elaborates on his tribute to Ray. “A lot of real time is slowed down in Sacred Evil, just the way Ray liked to in most of his movies. Soumitra Chatterjee, Ray’s favourite actor, appears in a cameo as Dr Guha. His character in the screenplay is even called Dr Satyajit Guha. His house and office are situated in a building that was first poularised by Ray’s films. Ismail referred to these as Tagorean houses. And as you noticed, Aloknanda Roy, heroine of Ray’s Kanchenjunga, appears in another cameo as Mrs Durham. Even Dr Guha’s maid is a Ray regular. Sorry, I can’t recall her name right now. The two opening scenes reveal immediately the subject of the film. The pace in which we will be dealing with it, and the mood of the film. This is a decidedly Ray influence.”

And finally that utterly delightful and subverted use of the immortal Sachin Dev Burman melody, re maajhi. “That’s my tribute to Bimal Roy who was another Ray bhakt. Sacred Evil discovers a completely different side of Calcutta than the one in Ray’s films. Yet, the boat scene where re maajhi plays in the background is shot at the same ghaat where Ray’s Teen Kanya was shot.”

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