Netflix UK TV review: Ray (2021)
Intriguing set-ups that don’t always pay off6
But when they do, they’re great8
The fabulous cast8
Katherine McLaughlin | On 11, Jul 2021
To celebrate 100 years since the birth of one of the founding fathers of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray, Netflix has released a four-part anthology series based on short stories written by the man himself. Each one-hour episode is different in genre and tone, but they share overarching themes about greed, identity and loss of humanity in the modern world. A couple of episodes have a distinct Black Mirror vibe to them while others are more focused morality plays about changes in fortune.
The four stories are written by Niren Bhatt, Siraj Ahmed and directed by Abhishek Chaubey, Vasan Bala and Srijit Mukherji and, although the location shooting at temples, fancy hotels and in caves is often intoxicating, there’s a lack of cinematic verve to these productions.
Episode 1, Forget Me Not, plays out as a psychological thriller, told from the perspective of a rising technology entrepreneur whose business is one big deal away from booming. When a chance encounter with a woman leads him to believe he is losing his memory, something which his career counts on, his life begins to unravel. Ali Fazal is fantastic in the central role, and his depiction of a descent into madness is edge-of-your-seat viewing. However, the payoff in this one is so tacky and insensitively handled that it borders on bad taste.
In juxtaposition, the last segment in the series, titled Spotlight, plays out as a paranoia-filled satire and offers a more jovial vision of humanity. When an insecure actor’s light is dimmed by a new star (a religious icon) he begins to realise that he’s been taking his fame and fortune for granted. Harshvardhan Kapoor (the youngest son of Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor) is perfectly cast as the narcissistic actor who, when staying in a fancy hotel for a film shoot, encounters many obstructions to his enjoyment – even his demands to stay in the room Madonna slept in are hampered by the revered and mysterious Didi (a brilliant Radhika Madan). It’s a hilarious send up of the “hardships” encountered by celebrities who get stuck in a protective bubble without any notion of reality.
Episode 2, Bahrupiya, tells the tale of a down-on-his luck man whose change in fortune leads him to take revenge on those he feels have wronged him. Kay Kay Menon stars as a man who inherits a mysterious make-up and prosthetics handbook from his grandmother, who worked in Hollywood films. It’s essentially a sinister drama with hints of magical realism, and the main character an intriguing spin on an incel. In this episode the female characters lack serious agency, and over the entire series they’re generally given short shrift and little to do apart from further the plot.
In all the tales, arrogant men from different walks of life are served some sort of comeuppance, and it’s in the strongest episode where the main character is offered thoughtful and humorous atonement. Episode 3, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, is a beautifully crafted existential meditation on fortune and creativity. Two men meet in a train carriage and along the way one of them discovers they have wronged the other in the past. Do they do the right thing and confess? Or be suspended by guilt?
The back and forth between successful musician Musafir (Manoj Bajpayee) and ex-wrestler and journalist Aslam (Gajraj Rao) all occurs on a single train journey from Bhopal to Delhi. It’s amusing and tense to watch the characters toy with one another, and the actors sweating and side-eyeing one another with glee. The decision to break away from this two-hander to a fantasy where Musafir addresses an imaginary audience and plays beautiful music not only enhances the viewing experience but also enriches the story, adding poignant heft to the simple set-up.
Ray is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.