Satyajit Ray’s son Sandip Ray discusses his father’s brief dalliance with Bollywood
There is a common misconception that Satyajit Ray did not want to work with any of Mumbai’s A-list actors. This is completely false. In honour of his birthday, here’s a look back at his brief but memorable romance with Bollywood’s biggest names.
Sandip Ray, the legendary director’s son, sheds light on his father’s love of Bollywood by saying, “Maybe people presume my father was wary of Bollywood because he made only two Hindi films Sadgati for Doordarshan in 1981 with Om Puri and Smita Patil, and Shatranj Ke Khiladi in 1977 with Sanjeev Kumar and Shabana Azmi, which was a very big film for him.” Unfortunately, it was poorly disseminated. My father was at a loss when it came to the marketing and public showing of his films. The distributors he worked with took good care of his Bengali films. My dad usually has things under control, except when it comes to Hindi. One of his films, Shatranj Ke Khilari, had a dismal distribution.
The language barrier was much greater. According to Sandip, “the Hindi language itself was the main problem.” My dad had to rely on a translator on the sets because he didn’t know any Hindi. Which was highly inappropriate of him. English was the language of the original script. Naturally, I feel obligated to remark on how excellent the Hindi translation was. The translation from Hindi was done quite well by Shama Zaidi and Javed Siddiqui. My dad even approved of it, which was a bonus. To this day, he still had to rely on translators when shooting in a language he didn’t fully grasp. That wasn’t how his process went. The barrier of language prevented him from making additional Hindi films, that’s true.
It’s interesting that both of Ray’s Hindi films were based on stories by Premchand.
Sandip explains why Sanjeev Kumar was his dad’s first choice for Shatranj Ke Khilari. “After watching Sholay, he was sure that Sanjeev and Shabana Azmi were the perfect choices for Shatranj Ke Khilari. In fact, every single actor or actress was a top pick. At the age of 24, I helped my father film Shatranj Ke Khilari. I’ll never forget his joy at the performances. The only issue was the language barrier. After its release, it received neither the proper premiere nor the fanfare that had accompanied his previous works.
Ray’s other significant foray into Bollywood was Abhijaan, which starred his favourite actor Soumitra Chatterjee opposite Waheeda Rehman. Waheeda Rehman gushes about her joy at being presented with Abhijaan. The legendary Satyajit Ray has passed away. How many Mumbai actresses did he get to cast? But I was anxious and scared. I have no prior exposure to Bengali language or culture. Mr. Ray reassured me that having my character speak a minimal amount of Bengali was sufficient. I spoke Bhojpuri, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali in Abhijaan. Mr. Ray’s confidence in me prompted me to accept the challenge. For me, Abhijaan will always be a one-of-a-kind film.
Interestingly, Ray wished to collaborate with Thespian Dilip Kumar and contacted him via Waheeda Rehman in an attempt to set up a meeting. No such thing occurred.