The web series “Ray,” created by Sayantan Mukherjee and based on short stories of the famous Indian auteur and writer Satyajit Ray, occupied enough space on my social media this week to make me give up everything else and gobble up the entire series in a single sitting. That’s the power of social media influence and since its release on June 25, Ray has been exercising full control over social media with people recommending the series without a second thought.
The anthology, written for the screen by Niren Bhatt and Siraj Ahmed and directed by Srijit Mukherji, Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala, contains four different stories originally penned by Satyajit Ray. Although the stories are of completely different people and places, they are all identical in the sense that they revolve around the psyche of their central characters and how they interact with their respective environments. The series weighs heavily on its main characters to retell Ray’s stories, with each episode tinged with suspense, a stylistic signature of the master storyteller.
Ray begins with “Forget Me Not” where Ipsit Rama Nair (Ali Fazal), a successful entrepreneur known to have a sharp, computer-like mind that never forgets suddenly finds himself searching for lost memories after a mysterious encounter with someone from his past.
Next, in “Bahrupiya,” Indrashish (Kay Kay Menon), a regular office employee and a part-time make-up artist struggling with work and his love life comes across an unexpected inheritance. Alongside a large amount of money, Indrashish gets a book on the art of makeup and prosthetics from his recently deceased grandmother, forever changing his life.
In a train journey, two strangers sharing a compartment quickly befriend each other. A popular performer Musafir Ali (Manoj Bajpayee) and a wrestler-turned-sports journalist Aslam Beig (Gajraj Rao) become drinking buddies in “Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa.” But it turns out that the strangers share a past, the recollection of which haunts one of them throughout the journey.
“Spotlight”—the final act in the series—is about a celebrated actor Vikram ‘Vik’ Arora (Harshvardhan Kapoor) who is going through an existential crisis as critics slam him: he supposedly has no acting talent besides his looks. Vikram’s insecurities are augmented when a religious figure called ‘Didi’ (Radhika Madan) appears at the resort he is staying in and completely takes the spotlight away from him.
As a series, Ray is one of the best things to happen to Indian filmmaking in 2021. The individual, independent episodes both excite and disappoint. “Forget Me Not” seems to hit the hardest with its dark, cynical climax and the sheer brutality of the characters involved. The beginning and end of this episode flow on entirely different tangents, unsettling the audience.
“Bahrupiya” wants to carry on with the same darkness, but fails. The story of a simpleton Indrashish turned into a sinister criminal needed some more screen time to be better told. Despite the seasoned Kay Kay Menon’s brilliant performance, the episode is underwhelming, to say the least.
“Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa” is light, poetic, and musical. The two main characters share almost equal screen time and are a treat to watch in their elements. Shot almost entirely in a train compartment, the audience will not miss anything else while the two veteran actors Bajpayee and Rao spread their charm on screen.
For newcomer Harshvardhan Kapoor and his “Spotlight”, Ray is a group of death. Not only is he pitted against some of the best in the industry, his episode is also aired last in the series after the audience has soaked in so much entertainment that it’ll need an absolute banger to raise their interest. Surprisingly, the actor does a better job in this episode than in all of his past performances. But this time, the storytelling, direction and his lead co-actor do him dirty.
Who should watch it?
The episodes getting slightly negative reviews in the series are because they’re being compared with each other. Outside the series, every episode of Ray is way more remarkable than maybe 70 percent of the Hindi-language films/series released this year. This is a series a regular OTT viewer should not miss.
Rating: 4 stars
Actors: Ali Fazal, Kay Kay Menon, Harshvardhan Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee
Directors: Srijit Mukherji, Abhishek Chaubey, Vasan Bala
Run time: 3.8hrs approx.