On 12th March I attended an award ceremony at the BFI Southbank. The Satyajit Ray Foundation was giving their 2008 award for the best first feature film. The work which had been chosen for this honour was “California Dreamin’ (Endless)” by a Rumanian director called Cristian Nemescu who had unfortunately died in a car accident during the post-production phase of the film.
I went without any expectations as the synopsis was rather short and didn’t say anything more than the basic facts. Initially I decided to go more for the joy of participating in an event organised by the Satyajit Ray Foundation than for watching a new film. So, the bad weather notwithstanding, I reached there well in advance. It was only after seeing the first ten minutes of the film that I realised that had I not come I would really have missed something wonderful.
The award was given before the screening and it was the editor of the film who had come to receive it. The fact that this had been the first feature film of the director who had died makes us wonder what other masterpieces he would have created had he lived. And this thought I am sure must have crossed the minds of all those who were sitting in that packed cinema that day – we were watching the first as well as the last film of the director, that there would not be another one like it.
This award is given every year to a film which has the same qualities of humanity and sensitivity which Satyajit Ray himself brought to his creations. In this respect the film was rightly chosen. There were many memorable moments where one felt the gentle humour and the compassionate eye of the director. Specially funny and moving was the scene where Monica, the heroine, tries to communicate with the American soldier David. As she doesn’t speak English she is forced to bring in her classmate who is besotted with her to interpret for them. The character of the enamoured classmate/interpreter is very well played by the young actor who in this scene deliberately mistranslates everything that the two lovers want to say to each other. Ironically, Monica and David don’t need words to understand their powerful mutual attraction.
Surprisingly, there were fewer Indians than I had expected to see in the audience. The sad truth is that the younger generation of Indians are more at home with Bollywood films and can’t connect to Satyajit Ray. Even in India Ray remains only a name, although everyone has heard of him hardly anyone has actually seen any of his films. However, it was heartening to see such a large gathering of English men and women to whom Ray means something. It was not only at the BFI that I was happy to see this appreciation, but even in the local library of Willesden Green I have found, to my joy, copies of DVDs of Ray’s films such as “Nayak” and “Charulata” on display.
Two happy thoughts crossed my mind as I crossed the bridge over the Thames on that windy evening. The first was about the right decision of the jury in selecting this film and the second was the reassuring knowledge that Satyajit Ray’s memory still lives on in the hearts of his admirers – even here in London. There was also a third happy thought – that cinema can indeed become a bridge that connects the different cultures of the world.