This film from director Satyajit Ray reminded me a little bit of Ingmar Bergman's 'Wild Strawberries', as in each case a protagonist takes a trip in order to receive a big award, and thinks back on his life with some regrets. In this case, it's not an elderly professor, it's a middle-aged movie star (Uttam Kumar), and instead of a car ride with a daughter-in-law, it's a train trip where he meets a young journalist (Sharmila Tagore). She serves as his conscience and mirror over a series of discussions the pair have, and what she reflects is often not very pretty. At the film's outset the famous star seems to have it all with his success and good looks, and Kumar looks pretty damn cool in shades and when he blows smoke rings. It's soon apparent that he's so worried about someday losing his fame that he's lost bits of his humanity along the way. Via flashbacks we find that he's done some petty things to others, abandoned the altruistic cause of a friend, and taken advantage of women who want to get into films. There is something empty and pathetic about his life that those who get to know him see, including the journalist and a mother and daughter in his compartment who are adoring fans, but see how he pops sleeping pills and gets plastered. And yet, he's always cast as a hero (a 'nayak'), and to the legions of fans who crowd around him in the train stations, he is one. The meaning of that is pretty clear, but it's not as simple as just showing us how someone on a pedestal may be unworthy of being there. More generally, the film shows us how the most outwardly successful people may be damaged or flawed within, and carry a lot of insecurity. It does this in a thoughtful and reflective way, avoiding simple black/white characterizations. Ray adds depth to the story with a subplot in which a salesman wants his wife to be friendly to another man in order to help win him over. It adds to the overall question, to what lengths should one go in order to be (financially) successful? And regardless of whether one can stay on top, he reminds us via a powerful dream sequence featuring skeletal arms poking up out of mounds of cash, that death will come for us all. The performances are all fantastic, including an old curmudgeon who eschews "modern movies", and Tagore, who is intelligent, sassy in a reserved way, and beautiful too. I liked how Ray didn't have her succumb to the movie star's charms, as a weaker director/writer might have done. He also uses the train very well, both in moving the action around its various compartments and aisles, and in giving us the scenery outside. In one moment Kumar stares down at the adjacent rail track streaming by with a glint of light on it, and it made me wonder if he was wishing he could be like that rail, staying straight as the train of life rumbled along, and always in the light. The film also made me wonder if the main character reflected a little of Ray himself, who by this time was famous (ala Fellini's 8 ½). It's a film that I might rate higher with a second viewing, and may have held back a little here because I have a slight aversion to stories involving the problems of famous people. It was memorable and had a strong ending.
Nayak: The Hero
Nayak: The Hero
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En route to Delhi to receive an award, a Bengali film star reevaluates his success through his fellow passengers, dreams and past experiences.
January 11, 2022