Forget me not: A dark and twisted take on Ray’s short stories

This Friday, Ray — a modern, dark and twisted take on four of Satyajit Ray’s short stories — comes alive on Netflix. Forget Me Not, inspired by the master storyteller’s Bipin Choudhurir Smritibhram, has been directed by Srijit Mukherji, who has also helmed another short (Bahrupiya, starring Kay Kay Menon) in the anthology. Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala have directed the remaining two.

Over a Zoom call, The Telegraph caught up with the actors of Forget Me Not — Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad and Shruthy Menon — on their experience of being a part of the much-awaited anthology, being directed by Srijit and their Ray favourites.

When I say ‘Ray’ what comes to your mind instantly?

Ali Fazal: The dream sequence in Nayak (directed by Satyajit Ray and starring Uttam Kumar). With all those currency notes falling to the ground and he standing on top of all of them… that was God for me. It had a kind of imagery and a certain consciousness that we are still trying to discover in our cinema. It had a kind of spirituality. When you talk of Ray, that’s what comes to my mind.

Shweta Basu Prasad: I have grown up in Mumbai, but my Bengali roots are pretty strong. Thankfully, at home, movies were never seen as a bad influence… movies, music, literature were always encouraged. So I have grown up watching a lot of Satyajit Ray films, as well as those of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. My introduction to Ray was through Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, followed by Sonar Kella. I read a lot of short stories, which were also narrated to me by my maashis and pishis and didas at home.

Later, of course, I watched Devi, Nayak, the Apu trilogy, Shatranj Ke Khilari, Jalsaghar… phenomenal films! I am very happy that through our anthology, the Netflix generation will be introduced to Ray’s written works. There is, of course, Shonku the scientist and the Feluda series, but apart from that, his short stories are brilliant. They touch so many genres. There is one called Loadshedding, which takes place entirely in a dark space where a man looks for his house. Then there is Potolbabu Filmstar, which was adapted on screen by Dibakar Banerjee in Bombay Talkies.

Bipin Choudhurir Smritibhram is what Forget Me Not, our film from the anthology, is inspired from. The seed has been taken from that story and woven into a full film. The original text has no female characters. So mine, Shruthy’s (Menon) and Anindita’s (Bose) characters have been written into the film.

Ray, as a personality, is very inspiring. He worked at an ad agency and made Pather Panchali through the weekends. He drew storyboards, he made music… he was associated with Pandit Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan saab. He edited his stuff and wrote stories. He took India to the global platform through various film festivals and also won the Academy Award! He did that in one lifetime!

Shruthy Menon stars as Amala in Forget Me Not

Shruthy Menon: What can I say that hasn’t been said already?!

Shweta: Nerd alert, sorry! (Laughs)

Shruthy: Being exposed to his storytelling at a very young age had a huge impact on me. That was both through his films and written works. And it’s truly a pleasure and privilege to be one of the faces of a Ray story, that presents a very different perspective of it. I hope I have been responsible enough in delivering… it’s something I hadn’t imagined I would get to do.

Ali: I think ‘truth’ is what comes to my mind when one says Ray. All his work comes from a space of truth. Whether it’s the time or the context…

Had you read the original?

Ali: I went by the script, I didn’t read the original story. Actually, Srijit (Mukherji) gave me an idea of the original story in his own words. I didn’t read it because by then, I had got committed to this adaptation and his vision of Ipsit (Ali’s character). It would have probably been a different journey for me if I had read it before. The way it had been designed was a little intimidating at the beginning….

Why intimidating?

Ali: Our DoP (director of photography) Swapnil (Sonawane) started using these lenses which were right in my face, and it was done to show the gradual dismantling of Ipsit’s mind. We aren’t stage actors, so we are always aware of where the camera is, by default. But in this case, it was like a game of table tennis. The frigging thing (camera) was right in my face! It’s supposed to tell my mental state at that point. Honestly, I have never felt so confused before… I hope I have been able to do justice to it.

Shweta Basu Prasad as Maggie in Forget Me Not

Shweta, what were your reasons to sign on?

Shweta: The fact that it’s a Ray story. Plus, I have been a huge admirer of Srijit Mukherji… his first film Autograph was a homage to Ray’s Nayak. I have loved a lot of his films, whether it’s Hemlock Society, Nirbaak, Chotushkone…. I have been wanting to work with him for a long time. And, of course, the unpredictability of my character (Maggie) was a major reason to sign on. She has such a graph… it’s nice to be part of stories that are not predictable. It was also a great technical team to work with. Also, when you have good actors around you, the job becomes so much easier.

Srijit had told t2 that the anthology is in a darker, almost Black Mirror-ish space. What was that experience like?

Ali: I had to almost undo that conversation with him… when he said that whole thing about Black Mirror-ish. ‘Ish’ is always a big problem for me! (Laughs) I run away from it, because we have been ‘ish’-ing for a while in India! (Laughs) Anything that is a me-too, which reminds me of something, I don’t want to watch it.

I think Srijit’s done a splendid job. He has a body of work behind him. And my biggest focus, since the film is in a dark space, was to ensure that people enjoy the lighter scenes. There are the ‘Oh my God’ acting scenes (laughs), but I liked the simple stuff more… that for me, was the most challenging. We do all these stunts and accident scenes, but in this film, holding a baby in my arms was so difficult. I struggled with it, it freaked me out! I kept asking the nurse, ‘Is it this way or is it that way? Should I hold his butt?’ (Laughs)

Shweta: It’s an anthology on its own, without any comparisons. Yes, it’s dark, it’s a twisted take on four classic Ray short stories. My biggest high from this project was that everything in it is grey, it’s very human, it isn’t black and white. All the characters have their greys. This is actually what happens in the world. We are so used to sanitised characters on screen that this came as such a breath of fresh air. Shooting it, of course, came with its own challenges…

Shruthy: The days I was shooting, there was so much rain!

Ali: Remember the hospital scene? It was so hot… we were sweating! Garmi se marr rahein hain lekin acting kiye jaa rahein hain! (Laughs) Sabke paseene nikal rahein thhe

Ali, did you have fun being Ipsit? He’s the epitome of flamboyance…

Ali: Oh ya, it was a little bit of a power trip for me (laughs). You have watched the film so you know that what he does is something I wish on no one… it’s versions of this trip that he does that has taken down most of us! You get my drift, right? (Winks and laughs)

https://www.telegraphindia.com/entertainment/forget-me-not-a-dark-and-twisted-take-on-rays-short-stories/cid/1819744

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