Three weeks ago, Kaberi and I hosted the online launch event for Justin Smith’s latest documentary, Manikda: The Mystique of Pather Panchali. He had made the film to mark the birth centenary of Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who was born on 2 May 1921. Through Justin’s Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the film late last year, I became an Executive Producer of the film.
I had first got to know Justin some years ago after watching his first documentary (Statin Nation) and had interviewed him for our fourth film, You must be nuts! – The business of dementia. He has made several other documentaries since then, as you can see from his website. I had been pleasantly surprised to see him launch his Kickstarter campaign for Manikda as, like many Bengalis, I had grown up with the short stories of Satyajit Ray, particularly his Feluda detective series.
Satyajit Ray was one of my childhood heroes and I had the opportunity to meet him at the premiere of Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1979) at the Basusree Cinema in Kolkata, as well as after the London Film Festival screening of Hirok Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds, 1980). Of course, Satyajit Ray is perhaps best known in the West for his Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali (Song of the little road, 1955), Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959).
With most countries in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many cinemas have been closed, film festivals have been cancelled and new films have struggled to be launched. So it seemed unlikely that there could be a screening of Manikda: The Mystique of Pather Panchali on Satyajit Ray’s birth centenary. It was against this background that I proposed to Justin that we could host a launch event for the film on the day of Ray’s birth centenary – Sunday, 2 May 2021 – at a time which would be feasible for people living in the US, Europe and India.
Justin created an Eventbrite page for the launch event so that those interested could register and receive automatic reminders shortly before the event itself. After people registered, they received the Zoom connection details for the launch event. The aim was to invite Ray enthusiasts who could help spread the word about the film.
We allowed 2 hours for the launch event, starting with a short introduction by Justin, showing the 65-minute film and then allowing time for a Q&A session with Justin and with narrator Michael Pennington. To screen the film without hiccups, I had downloaded the 720p version of the film, which I was playing through QuickTime (on an Apple Mac) via Zoom’s screen share, optimised for video. While the film was being shown, I muted everyone and invited the audience (who joined with their video off by default) to feel free to comment via the chat but to turn off their video during the screening to minimise their bandwidth requirement.
After the film, we had a very lively Q&A session and the feedback for the film was very positive. People had joined the launch event from the US, Europe and India. Apart from providing an opportunity to bring together Ray enthusiasts, the launch event allowed us to celebrate Satyajit Ray’s birth centenary in a way which would otherwise have been impossible.
That weekend, Satyajit Ray was trending on Twitter and I compiled the resources which people were sharing:
- India’s NFDC has launched this website for people to watch Ray’s films online: https://www.cinemasofindia.com/#catalog/16059/78134/celebrating-satyajit-rays-centenary .
- The British Film Institute published this interview with Satyajit Ray from a 1970 edition of its magazine Sight & Sound: https://www.bfi.org.uk/sight-and-sound/features/satyajit-ray-conversation-1970-folke-isaksson
- National Herald India article about Charulata: https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/films/reel-life-charulata-the-lonely-wife
- Times of India article – Women in Ray’s films: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/bengali/movies/news/ray100-women-in-rays-films-could-be-both-chirpy-and-reticent-but-always-real-says-mamata-shankar/articleshow/82340966.cms
- 100 reasons to love Ray: https://lifestyle.livemint.com/news/big-story/100-reasons-to-love-ray-111619771698190.html
- Times of India article – Ray, a hundred years on: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/ray-a-hundred-years-on-this-film-auteur-gave-us-a-spectacular-oeuvre-which-distilled-contemporary-times/
- Times of India article – Bengali writer Sirshendu Mukhopadyay on Ray’s opening lines: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/bengali/movies/news/ray100-ray-has-been-a-spontaneous-storyteller-says-shirshendu-mukhopadhyay/articleshow/82307394.cms
- Film Companion – 25 great scenes: https://www.filmcompanion.in/satyajit-ray-birthday-100-years-best-scenes-from-his-movies-charulata-shatranj-ke-khilari-apu-trilogy/index.html
- National Herald India – Ray, the Renaissance man: https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/films/ray-the-renaissance-man-growing-up-with-the-man-of-many-talents
- National Herald India – Ray’s women: https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/films/satyajit-ray-women-strong-but-vulnerable
- National Herald India – Recalling the mentor: https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/films/satyajit-ray-centenary-recalling-the-man-and-the-mentor
- Justin Cage reviews of Satyajit Ray films: