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100 years of Ray: 5 films of Satyajit Ray starring Sharmila Tagore

For all film buffs in general, and admirers of Ray in particular, here are all the five films of Ray that featured Sharmila Tagore in prominent roles, to add to your watchlist.

Hia Datta
Jul 18, 2021
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As the Renaissance man of Bengal and the genius filmmaker of India who took Indian cinema to the West and put Indian cinema on the global map clocks a glorious centenary, celebrating Satyajit Ray through his multifaceted works across the cultural sphere is essentially a given yearlong and thereon. 

For someone who was exacting about the teensiest detail of his filmmaking process, from the lighting, scripting to every nuance of his actors, it is but natural that Ray was very selective and particular about his cast. Sharmila Tagore, however, was a frequent face in his films, besides Soumitra Chatterjee. While it might be too far-drawn to give her the moniker of Ray’s muse, she sure was his most preferred actress.

For all film buffs in general, and admirers of Ray in particular, here are all the five films of Ray that featured Sharmila Tagore in prominent roles, to add to your watchlist.

Apur Sansar (Available on YouTube)

The third film of Apu Trilogy is the debut film of both Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee. Sharmila plays the young girl Aparna who comes into the life of Apu by means of a chance-marriage. Innocence and grace personified, her screen presence is so natural and the chemistry with Soumitra is so disarmingly attractive, that the two together easily create what may be called some of the best lyrical and romantic scenes of conjugal bliss in global cinema. A longish wordless montage of little domestic moments of Apu and Aparna will be cherished by any cinebuff as one of the finest created on the silver screen. The film won the Sutherland Trophy (Britain) in 1959, President’s Award for Best Feature Film (India) in 1960, The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Award for Best Foreign Language Feature Film (United States of America) in 1960.

Sharmila Tagore in a still from Devi

Devi (Available on YouTube)

If you’re looking to watch one Satyajit Ray film starring Sharmila Tagore, this one definitely tops the list. Described by cinematic stalwarts William Wyler and Elia Kazan as ‘poetry on celluloid’, the narrative, set in 19th century rural Bengal has Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) at the centre as she grapples with the complex dichotomy between womanhood and godliness. Sharmila Tagore’s natural act, going the whole spectrum of shades of Doyamoyee as a hapless victim of superstition and anti-science is a haunting depiction of what irrational religiosity can do to us. Devi won the 1960 President’s silver medal for Best Feature Film in Bengali and was nominated for the 1962 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Nayak (Available on Zee 5, Mubi)

A film superstar, played by Uttam Kumar, meets a journalist, played by Sharmila Tagore, aboard a train to New Delhi. The superstar is on his way to accept the National award and is apparently at the peak of his fame. In a deliberately deglamorized role, Sharmila plays the next door independent working woman to perfection, taking on the scintillating matinee idol eye to eye. While distinctly uncomfortable at first, Sharmila’s character in the film slowly gains confidence and peels layers off his starry, superficial persona. The film bagged the Special Jury Award, Berlin International Film Festival, 1966, and National awards for Best Screenplay and Best Bengali Film, 1966.

Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore in a still from Aranyer Din Ratri

Aranyer Din Ratri (Available on Youtube)

An assorted group of young men, in an attempt to escape from the hustle and bustle of their city life, go to a forest bungalow, eager to bask in the quaint, rustic charm of the locality. However, slowly the characters reveal their essential traits from which they can't escape. In a complicated character, Sharmila plays an aloof, reticent, intelligent woman seeing through the falsehood of Asim, played by Soumitra Chatterjee, a city-bred man of high status. A scene of a memory game is particularly worth mentioning, where the idiosyncracies of every character come into play and we see Sharmila demolishing the ego of Asim with cool confidence. The film got nominated for the 1970 Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

Sharmila Tagore and Barun Chanda in a still from Seemabaddha

Seemabaddha (Available on YouTube)

This film serves as the best example of Sharmila Tagore playing the role of the conscience keeper and voice of integrity on behalf of the filmmaker. Subtle and minimalistic in style, the plot centres on an ambitious manager in the corporate world. Sharmila comes to visit the family of the manager, who happens to be her brother-in-law. Coming from a relatively naive and modest background, Sharmila quietly, and keenly observes the high society milieu unfolding before her bit by bit, and even understands things untold and unseen. Seemabadhha got the National Award for Best Feature Film, 1972, and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Award in Venice Film Festival, 1972.

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