Japanese director Akira Kurosawa on Satyajit Ray, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon"-
Satyajit Ray is the man of cinema who paved the path for a refined way of storytelling. His art of filmmaking speaks volumes of his unconventional style and techniques where he focused on a society defining itself post-war. A time when culture found itself hanging on a traditional way of life versus a modern outlook towards society. His work dealt with exploring human conditions and behaviour in accordance with their environment. There are numerous themes that Ray explored; satire, fantasy, social realism, surrealism, and social /cultural /behavioural differences. His understanding of cinema stands out even today and has been a source of inspiration for many. He has been honoured by most prestigious institutes from the highest honour in India, to global honour as the Lifetime Academy Award.
In 1964, Satyajit Ray was requested to direct a film for the “ESSO World theatre”. Which resulted in an impactful twelve-minute story of two different boys with their own set of differences. The movie quite evidently draws contrasts between the two boys who may be living in close proximity but still lead polar opposite lives. There are various aspects that one can find fascinating. The subtle hints of a westernised lifestyle; the aristocratic mindset and their perception of those inferior to them; the faulty materialistic bubble that keeps increasing when egos are boosted and how quickly that bubble bursts away and the vast gap in each’s behaviour.
This classic fable film by Satyajit Ray features two young boys who help the audience explore the many “differences" around. The film starts with a young boy in a big mansion enjoying his cola. He is wandering around, under a big roof with many rooms, looking for a new sport to entertain himself. To cope with his loneliness, he plays with a ball, lights a matchstick, and bursts a balloon by putting it under the flame of the same matchstick. Various activities around him, yet nothing amuses him. One can make out his notorious and restless nature by his actions. While he may have every possible toy to play yet his bored is getting to him.
Until he hears a melody by a flute playing nearby. Curious, he rushes to the window to see where the music is coming from and he finds another young boy, similar to his age, playing a simple wooden flute. This young boy outside seems to be enjoying his own company under the vast sky. The boy, sitting inside his home has a sudden urge to pick up his fancy shiny trumpet and play along. He grabs his toy and approaches the window to play his version of a tune. Here, we see a sudden change in the background music. Since it is a silent film, the art of communication occurs through music. With the background music now intense the boy plays his trumpet. Instead of playing along the melody of the simple flute, this kid overpowers the song by playing a loud sound, as if his intention is not to make friends but instead to overpower the other child. The music in the background gets intense and by now it's clear that this is not a call for friendship but instead a signal for competition.
Round 1: The trumpet has successfully intimidated the wooden flute. There seems no way that the flute can outdo the trumpet
Round 2: The toy of choice presented by the boy outside is a drum; to which the rival party (of one) brings out an electric machine drum that is played by a monkey. Again the fancier party has proven to be superior.
Round 3: Realising the intensity of the competition the boy outside ups his game by fetching his bow and arrow and he also dresses to the occasion by putting on a tiger mask, he is certain that this unique move would stump the boy. The music here changes to a more regional tone which could symbolise the more grounded approach of the boy. But our arrogant boy who is inside has a retaliation for the same. A toy gun that makes sounds with a push of a button and even more fancy masks of different kinds, of soldiers, Indians, tribals, and animals. Pretty happy with himself, the boy inside the mansion looks down at the simplicity of another party. He is sure that for every move, he has a better-equipped toy stored inside his house. Until the tables turn. What was supposed to be his big win suddenly became a reason to lose.
Round 4 ; the boy outside finds himself a kite to fly in the open sky. This seemed his win, his freedom, his ability to fly as high, the pride that he may not have fancy toys but the sky is his, the wind is his, the sun is his.
Now even if the boy gets a fancier kite, it will be a fair game because no matter how fancy a kite is, the only way to win this round would depend on the ability. And since his confined space will now allow him to fly a kite, the win here seemed definite. Jealous, the boy inside rushes in to find whatever he can lay his eyes on to trump the spirit of the boy outside. Taking a rather edgy turn, the boy grabs an air rifle to shoot down the kite. He misses some aims but his determination to show his authority and superiority is real.
And after a few tries, he shot down the kite. He shot down the hopes of the other boy. The sky, the wind, and the sun could not be enough in front of his fragile ego. The boy outside cannot have a superior life to him and he just proved that.
Proud of himself he marches inside and sets all his toys to play the music of victory. The man strums the guitar, the monkey plays the drum, the teddy bear blows bubbles, and a robot marches, all in celebration of his win. But suddenly the sound of his victory falls faint to certain music coming from the outside. The robot marches but to the rhythm of this music. It was the music of the flute that we heard first. The boy outside is back, playing the same tone. Somehow we have come back where we started from. Where a young boy plays his flute and is enjoying himself and another boy is confined in his house surrounded by many toys, yet lost as to how to entertain himself. Sitting amid his many sounds of victory, the boy falls back, maybe he did not really win.
The black and white movie brings out many colors of human nature and the environment. We might not expect such young children to mirror the truth of society but when the end credits start rolling we find ourselves deep into thought, and contemplation of the many aspects of the movie.
SAY NO MORE-Essence of a silent movie
A silent film, by the name of it, is silent. It has no dialogues. So the narration of that particular piece of work falls on other aspects, such as music, cinematography, and acting. In this film, we can determine the tone if the film by the music that plays in the background. It begins with a slow melody and eventually tunes into more faced paced music to give the audience a sense of intensity and competition. The flute being simple yet melodious and the fancy gun just making noise was my personal favourite use of sound in terms of symbolism. It seemed like a depiction of the temperament of the two boys. It is noteworthy why Ray made this into a silent film. In 1964, he was asked to make a movie for “ESSO World theatre” and was funded by the American oil company Esso and they requested for the movie to be written and directed in English. Instead, he chose to go for a more that did not require any dialogues at all!
FRIENDS OR FOES?
The movie begins with a lonely young boy roaming around his house, looking to pass his time when he comes across another boy his age. What might have seemed like a friendly display of talent in the first round only turned into a bitter rivalry in the complex. In fact, until the third round of their oneupmanship, it seemed only like a competition until jealousy kicks in and one of the boys attacks the kite by using an object that was tough to keep up with. From here on it becomes quite clear that the boy inside was never looking for a friend or even a healthy competitor. His intention was to gain a sense of superiority, a sense of being better than the boy outside since he was more blessed in material possession.
The movie is a subtle take on the situations during a war. The rich intimidated the poor with expensive machines, the show of authority and the desire for power. However, it has no dent in the spirit of mankind and the ability to get up and dust itself off. That spirit will always find its way back and overshadow the power that tries to curb it.
YING YANG-The balance of “Two”
If one does not read into the film too much, one can still see how relevant the presence of two things are. The story of two boys, from two different financial backgrounds, the two perceptions of happiness, and the two ways of dealing with winning and losing. If one exists, there also exists the other, to create a balance in the world. When one takes too much pride in his victory, the other reminds him of the spirit of hope that goes beyond it.
Under twelve minutes Satyajit Ray delivers a more so powerful that it leaves a long-lasting impact. While watching the movie I sympathised with the boy outside as I saw him in a position of losing a battle he did not want to participate in. The lack of empathy in the other boy made a very mundane setting extremely uncomfortable. I kept thinking about whether it was an intentional arrogance in the boy or whether was he a victim of an apathetic environment. That he would choose to be alone rather than be friends with someone he did not consider an equal.
But is that the place we are in today? That we feel better about ourselves when we tell ourselves that we are superior to some, materialistically, intellectually, and financially? What becomes of us when all that is taken from us? How do we define ourselves then? Without our trumpets and drums and air rifles. Without empathy and kindness, we just stand clueless in a world that is constantly playing a trumpet noise, each louder than the other. It's the music of the flute that will bring harmony among us, making the world a better place.