'Ray' Review: Kay Kay Menon and Manoj Bajpayee shine in this intense series
The Netflix anthology offers up a quirky take on human frailties
Anthologies are a lot like buffets. There are going to be some dishes that wow you with their flavours, textures and colours, a few mundane ones that hardly leave an impact, but nobody ever walks away without being satiated in some form or the other.
In Netflix’s latest anthology, Ray, that dropped on Friday, four shorts, based on the stories of acclaimed auteur Satyajit Ray make their way to our screen for a modern interpretation of an age old dilemma, who are we and how much of our identity is coloured by others’ perception of us.
Each one of the four shorts - Forget Me Not, Bahrupiya, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa and Spotlight - is an intense, at times eccentric, take on the self and identity. Spanning around an hour, each is in turn macabre, dark, disturbing, satirical and filled with the ethos of men who are prisoners of their own egos.
The one that undoubtedly leaves the deepest impact is the Kay Kay Menon headlined Bahrupiya set in Kolkata; the macabre tale of a timid makeup man (Indrashish Shah) who embarks on a vengeful mission aided by some ‘Hollywood-style’ prosthetics. Imbued with an acute sense of ‘God Complex’, a humiliated Shah recreates his own face and personality to avenge himself. It’s one of those stories that will have you peeling away its layers long after the film is over. At one point Shah ruminates: “I kept cleaning the mirror, not realising the dirt was all the while on my own face.”
Kay Kay Menon plays most skillfully with the multi-dimensional character he is entrusted with and manages to draw our empathy with the sheer normalcy with which he plays his initial role and later on horror at the grotesque character he transforms into.
Director Srijit Mukherji is at the peak of his artistry here with the background score, cinematography and ensemble cast coming together like a well orchestrated tragedy.
But Mukherji’s opening short, the paranoia thriller Forget Me Not starring Ali Fazal as a hot shot entrepreneur, Ipsit Nair, with the “memory of a computer", while impactful is sadly not as effective.
It is a powerful narrative on how human mind can be manipulated and the dual identities that exist within many of us.
While all the actors, including Fazal and specially Shweta Basu as his meek secretary Maggie, turn in brilliant performances, somewhere the plot falters since the twist in the tale, while potent, fails to grip us. The central character somehow inspires our pity and not anger despite the long-drawn-out denouement in the end.
Just when you think Manoj Bajpayee cannot possibly wow us more, comes Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa (Abhishek Chaubey). The period piece gets much of its zany energy from Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao’s spectacular chemistry.
The dream-like plot complete with on-stage effects unfolds during an eventful train journey as ghazal maestro Muzafar Ali (Bajpayee in a role as far removed from The Family Man, that once again underlines his irrepressible talent) and former wrestling champ Aslam Beige (a delightful Gajraj Rao) meet up 10 years after their previous eventful encounter.
Muzafir is a man given to grandiose gestures and a flair for the theatrics, which Bajpayee delivers with great aplomb, and the story of how the unlikely duo are bound together by a pocket watch, Khusbakth (lucky charm), will keep you hooked to this charming musical drama.
The short is peppered with a great sense of humour, genteel satire and references to current and bygone events and personalities - the word play between the leading duo is so exquisite it takes you to an era where tammeez and rooh were upheld as great virtues.
While Ray is packed with forceful men, the women sadly are not given much agency - they are projected as the temptress, the scorned lover, the vengeance-seeking mistress, or the divine creature, but yet figures of blood and flesh in their own way. They are mainly in the periphery artfully working their magic on the protagonists.
The series ends with the social satire Spotlight (Vasan Bala), a quirky tale of a superstar Vikram Arora (Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor) grappling with existential crisis - a “one look” wonder, with a history of churning out box office hits based on his one hit expression.
His artistic insecurity hits the ceiling when confronted with a self-styled God-woman, Didi, who usurps his coveted ‘Madonna-stayed-here-fame’ hotel room during a location shoot.
Cinema and religion are the two fold obsessions in a country where if push comes to shove the latter clearly wins hands down, a lesson Vik, (who at one point is put down by his girlfriend (Akansha Kapoor) for his Ryan Gosling-meets-Elon Musk vibe) learns the hard way.
Spotlight is imbued with a heavy dose of dark humour, some of which may seem forced. Harsh Varrdhan is an actor who seem to revel in ‘self-aware’ characters (cue AK Vs AK) and a lot of the dialogues hark back to some filmy connections which may be lost on those not well-versed with the industry; it almost seems like an inside joke on Bollywood where more often looks matter more than talent.
Will Vik Arora be able to get the better of his Kafkaesque nightmare? How will Didi (played with complete child like abandon by the talented Radhika Madan) react to the nation’s heartthrob bent on usurping her room?
In a country like India where a chosen few are venerated as divine creatures, what role does a movie star play? This and much more play out in the short where Chandan Roy Sanyal as the superstar’s personal manager shines through as well.
“You don’t need a gun to destroy someone, only a tweet,” is among the one-liners Spotlight excels in.
Ray, rated 16 plus, is best watched one short per day allowing the entire story to sink in before going to the next.
Directors: Abhishek Chaubey, Srijit Mukherji and Vasan Bala
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Kay Kay Menon, Ali Fazal, Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor, Gajraj Rao, Shweta Basu Prasad, Radhika Madan, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Anindita Bose
Rating: 3.5 out of 5