Nayak (1966) is a Bangla Film written and directed by Satyajit Ray. It was his second original screenplay after Kanchenjunga. Mahanayak Uttam Kumar and Sharmila Tagore play the lead roles as a film star and a newspaper editor . Satyajit Ray here presents us a train full of characters with a superstar as an ordinary first class passenger. The film star is not happy with his life, he has guilt, he has fear, he has anxiety, he is an alcoholic, a chain smoker and he is alone and lonely. In Satyajit Ray’s Nayak, a superstar and his insecurities are only a part of the journey in which there are various other passengers. Obviously, he gets more attention as compared to the other passengers because he is a well-known superstar and anyone observing the train would be more intrigued by the mysteriousness of the superstar. Ray, with his exceptionally brilliant storytelling, makes the viewers a passenger on the train, a silent one. The viewer feels the thrill and tries to decode the behavior of each passenger.
Most of us must have traveled by long distance trains that take hours and hours, maybe days, to reach its destination station. On a train, we generally get a chance to interact with or, at least, see a lot of unknown people. If we are interested in the surroundings, we make some questions in mind about the people that we see. These questions are vague perceptions about the people in the surroundings and by giving it a question form we try to confirm our perceptions. Certainly, this makes the long journey easy and enjoyable. So how do we find the answers to these questions? The method is a very old one, of observation, listening to their talks and watching their mannerisms.
Nayak starts with the Introduction of the superstar Arindam Chakraborty (Uttam Kumar) and Ray very stylishly and effectively has used visuals instead of words to introduce Arindam. This was done by him in Charulata’s intro scene with perfection. Arindam is shown getting dressed-up to catch the train for Delhi from Calcutta to receive his national award. This scene in its course has first introduced Arindam as a human being, a man who is getting dressed like any other man to get to work. This is important because we know the film actors as they portray themselves on the screen and so, we make these film stars gods. Then in the same scene, Arindam is again introduced as a superstar actor with pride and a small pinch of arrogance. These two introductions are running parallel. So, Arindam catches the train and meets several people on this 24-hour journey and so do I, unknowingly though. The most interesting person he finds is an editor of a newspaper Adhunik, Aditi (Sharmila Tagore). It would be better to say that Aditi finds him. On the train, there are all kinds of people with respect to their views on cinema. There is an old rich man who thinks Indian films can never match American ones, there is an old writer that thinks films are altogether bad, there are people who are big fans of Arindam requesting for his autographs, then there are people who are concerned only with their business interests and don’t give a damn about who the hell Arindam is.
Aditi, being a writer has an opinion that films are not real and film actors make themselves gods. She tries to take an interview of Arindam for her paper but he declines and tells her that most important thing for him is his market and his reputation (he even sleeps fully dressed in shirt and tie in the shared compartment). A parallel story runs, of an advertising guy relentlessly pursuing his pretty wife to please an old wealthy man to get some contracts done. As Aditi and Arindam talk more, both of them get to open up more in front of each other. Arindam tells her his nightmare and about his mentor Shankar Da, who was against his decision to join films. He tells her more about his first day of the shoot. In the course of the conversation, he reveals his fears to Aditi. Although he has never tasted failure but his greatest fear is what will happen when he starts to fail. This is the fear of the unknown and anxiety caused by anticipation. It happens to all of us. Subsequently, Aditi becomes the only person to whom he has said everything about himself. Just one thing remained untold and that is what happened during the night four days ago that the newspaper has reported as a brawl. He tries to tell that too but Aditi stops him by saying she understands.
The film first gives an illusion that we are watching this from Arindam’s point of view. But that is not true, later it becomes clear that the audience is also on the train itself. Cleverly no information is given in the film that belongs to something outside the train. There is no background story of even the heroine, Aditi. We know about all the characters only by the words uttered in this train.
But, Arindam gets a chance to portray aspects of his personality not only by the back story he tells to Aditi but also through some dream sequences. The first dream sequence is very interesting in which he drowns in a quicksand of money. It started with a happy Arindam playing with the currency notes that are falling from the sky. Then suddenly he finds himself alone and is scared, more money is accumulated on the ground. A telephone rings; he looks at it and is scared more by seeing the receiver in the hands of a skeleton. Then there are more such hands, he runs and falls on a quicksand of notes. He could see Shankar Da and plead to save him. But Shankar Da did not save him and he drowned. This dream is purely Arindam’s dream and nothing else is involved as it should be. There is no message in the dream for anyone. This is simply Arindam’s personality, his inner conflicts and fears and his assumed loneliness.
One question comes to my mind. Why did he tell everything to Aditi? Why not someone else? I agree he was lonely and had no one to tell these things. But Why not his friend Biresh? The possible answer to that question is that he liked Aditi as an honest person and sensed a possibility of falling in love with her, and, more importantly, he was sure he would never meet her again (in the climax scene he says that too). His friend Biresh tries to use him in his political agenda without informing him about the same. Without making any political statements, Ray has shown how young minds are lured towards communism by telling them the stories of the ‘so-called’ real world. But carefully, without being judgmental, he has left it for the audience to decide whether Arindam did a good thing or the bad thing by abandoning Biresh and his Communist Agenda.
I ask you to watch the film and give answer to this question that Arindam and Aditi fell in love or not because in the last dialogue when Arindam asks Aditi, “will you write it from memory?”, Aditi replies, “I will keep it in my memory.”