On the occasion of Mahanayak Uttam Kumar’s 94th birth anniversary, we revisit his best-known work internationally, the 1966 Bangla drama film ‘Nayak’, also starring Sharmila Tagore
By Murtaza Ali Khan
On the occasion of Mahanayak Uttam Kumar’s 94th birth anniversary, let’s revisit his best-known work internationally, the 1966 Bangla drama film Nayak, which was released in English as The Hero and Nayak: The Hero, written and directed by the legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray. It is Ray’s second entirely original screenplay after Kanchenjungha (1962). The story revolves around a matinee idol who takes on a 24-hour train journey from Kolkata to Delhi to receive a national award.
Starring Sharmila Tagore opposite Uttam Kumar in the lead role, Nayak won Critics’ Prize (UNICRIT Award) as well as the Special Jury Award at the 1966 Berlin International Film Festival. It also bagged the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali in 1967. While Uttam Kumar won the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association – Best Actor Award for his performance, Satyajit Ray won the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association – Best Director Award.
Nayak is a testament to Satyajit Ray’s remarkable range as an auteur par excellence. As a brooding character study, Nayak is distinctively different from Ray’s early ubiquitously renowned works like Pather Panchali (1955) and Mahanagar (1963), which are essentially dramas laden with social commentaries. The social commentary in Nayak, on the other hand, is mostly implicit. However, the one Ray movie that Nayak does hark back to is the 1958 musical masterpiece, starring the great Chhabi Biswas, Jalsaghar—undoubtedly, one of the greatest character studies of all time. Nayak serves as a great precursor to Ray’s “Calcutta trilogy”—comprising Pratidwandi (1970), Seemabaddha (1971), and Jana Aranya (1976).
Overall, Nayak is a powerful work of cinema that like most films of Satyajit Ray remains as relevant today as it was back then. Nayak is not an easy movie to watch. Unlike other Ray films which require patience, this one requires composure. There are scenes of such enormous power in Nayak that the faint-hearted will get jitters while watching it. Ray’s use of dream sequences to make the narrative more evocative puts him up there with the likes of Bunuel, Kurosawa, Bergman, and Fellini. Nayak is certainly a film that every student of cinema ought to watch.
About Author:Murtaza Ali Khan is a noted film critic and journalist. He has been writing on cinema, art, and culture for over 10 years