With his deft labyrinthine approach Ray, the master that he was, created a film which delves into the life, insecurities, fears and loneliness of a superstar. This man who has a popular public image is so different in personal life. The way he has charted his career growth is a wonderful chapter of study. Depicting human vices in a subtle yet sure manner, Satyajit Ray makes Nayak a mindblowing cinematic venture. And I have no qualms in saying that I have mustered up the courage of writing about the film here after three consecutive watches. Yes, the film is like an onion. Every watch unravels innumerable layers, each pregnant with heavy possibilities of appreciation from different angles.
The upper-middle class passengers in the first class compartment of the train are a tad amazed on seeing Arindam as their fellow traveller. And understandably there are appreciative glances, wonder-struck salutations and the usual hovering around. It's remarkable how Ray depicts the shallowness of humans through these passengers. While one man belittles an actor's trade quite bluntly, his wife gazes at him thinking what if Arindam took a fancy to her. Their ailing daughter though is a refreshing change. She only gapes at him and is happy with just an autograph.
One advertising professional (Kamu Mukherjee) is busy trying to strike up a deal with a rich businessman. And the slimy weasel that he is, he will not stop at anything. He is even ready to pawn his wife's honour to make his target sign on the dotted line. His strategies reek of hollowness when he sweet talks his wife Molly into giving sexual favours to his client. And yet, when the wife asks him to talk to Arindam so that she can enter films, he considers that deplorable!!! Hypocrite!
While Aditi is surreptitiously jotting down whatever Arindam says, the actor bears his heart out to the woman who he sees as a sensible person. Or should we say enigmatic? Their war of words is fabulous and so is the power play between them. While Aditi tactfully gleans out the stories from him, Arindam gradually succumbs to this intelligent woman's bait.
Then comes the topic of Arindam and Promila (Sumita Sanyal), the fiercely ambitious woman who seduced him to get into films. Did Arindam have an affair with her out of his own free will, or was he duped into the relation? Anyways, once bitten, twice shy, Arindam asks Molly to send her husband to talk to him when she seeks his help to get into films. Obviously the clever man that he is, Arindam will not burn his fingers once again.
Sharmila Tagore became a totally different actor in Ray's hands. Confident, natural and absolutely spectacular. As Aditi she draws a brilliant line between play-acting and spontaneity. And every time she blushed or smiled in the film, you will find your breath been taken away. Another reason why Arindam, inspite of himself, is drawn to talk to her...
So, whether Soumitra Chatterjee is better than Uttam Kumar in the history of Bengali cinema, I believe this 1966 film puts a stop to the debate quite boldly, flamboyantly and emphatically...