Nayak [IN 1966]

Info: I embedded the full movie with English subtitles below.

International title: Nayak: The Hero

THE PLOT

The famous movie start Arindam Mukherjee is going to Delhi to receive a national award. On the train from Kolkata, he meets several people with whom he has conversations, like the old man Aghore Chattopadhyay who is an open critic of the Indian movie industry or a family with a teenage daughter who is a great fan of his movies. However, Arindam is the most intrigued by the young and smart Aditi Sengupta who, being the editor of a modern woman’s magazine, starts to interview him. As her questions become increasingly private, Arindam has to deal with his past as a struggling theater actor and his decision to pursue a career in movies.

WHAT I LIKE

Visually, the movie has a great sense of style. The borderline claustrophobic setting on the train makes for some great close up shots (e.g. in serious discussions) and generally the framing is beautiful (e.g. during the flash backs). In addition, the sharp black and white cinematography competently plays with contrasts and shadows, e.g. during the dream sequences. Both dream sequences work great and make for some surreal and memorable scenes. Also, the writing is efficient and touches upon socially relevant topics like the Indian movie industry, stardom, women’s rights, and social injustice. Without ever become too on the nose or excessive, the dialogues are coherent and believable, especially during the intimate talks between Arindam and Aditi. Hereby, also the meta commentary on the film industry, on cheap entertainment, and conceited movie stars never becomes pretentious, because the actors and actresses deliver their lines in a very serene and authentic way.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The dramatic plot of Nayak unfolds only slowly, which generally makes sense given the characters and the setting. Still, the pacing in the first third of the movie feels off, with Arindam’s lengthy discussion about his public bar fight. Overall, the beginning doesn’t really introduce the viewer well to the characters and loses focus on a few occasions. For instance, the subplot about the two business men, Pritish Sarkar and Haren Bose, is supposed to mirror the aspect of the main plot that you can lose your integrity when striving only for monetary gains. Still, the scenes don’t blend together nicely with the main plot. Lastly, it should be noted that the main themes of Nayak center around cinema, movies, and acting – which means that viewers not interested in these topics, will probably be less involved in the plot and characters.

THE VERDICT

Nayak is an Indian Bengali-language drama about a famous actor traveling to Delhi to receive an important award. At the height of his career, he is confronted with his past as a struggling theater actor, when an educated young woman interviews him. The movie is a thoughtful drama, that pays great attention to its characters, who behave in an authentic and believable way. Without becoming pretentious, the movie addresses several important social issues – while not shying away from also criticizing how the movie industry often only produces cheap entertainment. In addition to the mostly efficient writing and the strong and down to Earth performances, the cinematography is marvelous and makes for some memorable scenes.

Overall 8/10

INTERESTING FACTS

– The old man Aghore Chattopadhyay says, How Green Was My Valley [1941] was the last movie he saw, openly criticizing the poor acting in many movies. That film won an academy award for best actor in a supporting role (Donald Crisp) and was nominated by best actress in a supporting role (Sara Allgood).

Nayak was director Satyajit Ray’s second original screenplay. He confessed that the role of Arindam Mukherjee was always written with actor Uttam Kumar in mind – Ray even composed the main score (Arindam Theme) for Kumar. If Kumar had refused to participate in the movie, Ray would have abandoned the whole project.

– The Indian movie Autograph [2010] is considered a loose remake.

– While Nayak was released in 1966 in India and won a few important awards, it only saw a scattered theatrical release in some Western states, e.g. Germany in 1966 (where it won the main critic award), the US in 1974, France in 1994, and Portugal in 2014 (digitally restored version).

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