The 2021 Netflix web-series “Ray” comprises of four stories inspired by the work of Satyajit Ray; Sayantan Mukherjee blends old school sentimentality with 21st century cynicism to offer viewers an artsy mix of riveting and regressive strokes.
Let’s start with the first film in the anthology titled ‘Forget Me Not’, starring Ali Fazal as Ipsit Rama Nair, a 30-something rising entrepreneur who starts to experience memory loss. The build-up is done well, but unfortunately, most viewers will be able to guess the twist would have to do something with actor Shweta Basu Prasad who plays Maggie, Ipsit’s quiet secretary. Also, something just seems a little off about Ipsit’s inability to recall just one particular incident in the beginning. While the acting by the cast is pretty good, the plot weakens as the climax approaches. Everything is all too conveniently explained, and Ipsit’s character is inconsistently written. Without revealing any spoilers, it’s pertinent to mention here that the twist in the tale was a little regressive, both in terms of the way women are represented and how mental health is trivialized. The climax felt underwhelming after the solid build-up to it, even if it made sense in most parts.
Story number two “Bahrupiya” is set in Kolkata and the protagonist is Indrashish Saha (Kay Kay Menon), a make-up enthusiast who holds a boring regular job where he is under-appreciated. Life takes a u-turn for him when he inherits a decent fortune from his grandmother, along with a book on prosthetic-make-up. Instead of putting that money and knowledge to good-use, Saha becomes a toxic individual who disguises himself with prosthetic make-up to lash out at those who wronged him. Things get ugly when he tries to take on a mystic ‘Peer Baba’ who can read faces and fortunes. In a way, ‘Bahrupiya’ is a moral tale about how one must not get carried away with their ego. Throughout this story, the mood is bleak and grim, like Kolkata’s monsoon. But the rain cannot wash Saha’s sins away, so his story has a tragic end. The story felt pointless, because it’s about an unremarkable individual who just goes from being an unloved human to a devious dude doing evil things. It’s hard to feel any emotional connection to the protagonist or pretty much anybody/anything in “Bahrupiya”. Had they instead redeemed Saha in some way, it would have clicked better.
The third tale in the anthology was the clear winner. Titled ‘Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa”, Manoj Bajpai plays Musafir Ali, a compulsive kleptomaniac turned singer. When he runs into Aslam Baig (Gajraj Rao) on a train, from whom he stole something precious ten years ago, he hopes that the former wrestling star doesn’t recognize him, fearing he wouldn’t end his journey alive otherwise. Unlike the first two serious stories, this one is on the comical side of the spectrum, and even though the ghazal maestro role comes across as slightly ill-fitting on Bajpai, he manages to pull it off, largely thanks to his competent co-actor Gajraj Rao, who almost overshadows him as the exuberant old man trapped in his wrestling glory days. The juxtaposition of a poet with a wrestler in itself is a rich trove of laughs. Shot largely inside a train compartment, the simple story and the easy camaraderie between the lead actors makes it an entertaining fare. It has a lot of nostalgic value for Indian viewers who grew up travelling in trains, when talking to absolute unknown strangers like old friends was the most natural thing to do, versus being glued to cellphone screens. The climax is hilarious and completely satisfying, with a fun cameo towards the end by Manoj Pahwa.
Well, we now move on to the last installment of the collection – “Spotlight” and the less said about it, the better. Harshvardhan Kapoor plays pretty much himself – a famous actor who cannot act. He is clearly the weakest link the long cast line-up. It was just plain irritating to watch Kapoor play an insecure brat of a star, who gets worked up when a ‘God-woman’ called Didi comes to live in the same hotel as him, getting all the the media attention instead of him. Although one cannot hold Kapoor at fault completely, because even the plot was very lame. Add a bad script with a mediocre actor and you get an unbearable segment. “Spotlight” was the only one where I actually hit the fast-forward button. Akansha Ranjan Kapoor who plays his girlfriend was also very forgettable in the little screen-time she gets. Radhika Madan who is revealed to be the famous ‘God-woman’ didi really does steal the spotlight in her two minute appearance and does way better acting than both the Kapoors combined. But the climax was just bizarre, the background score jarring and the story didn’t deserve so much screen-time.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
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