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Netflix’s Ray: Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad, Shruthy Menon On ‘Forget Me Not’, Humans Playing God, And The Dark Spin On A Satyajit Ray Classic

June 22, 2021 | by Jinal Bhatt

For a trio that is talking about a dark and twisted story of a man who thought he was invincible but really isn’t, Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad and Shruthy Menon kept things so much fun! They are the cast of Forget Me Not, one of the four short stories that make up an upcoming anthology series created by Sayantan Mukherjee for Netflix, called Ray. The anthology takes four classic short stories of Satyajit Ray, and gives them a dark, modern upgrade that, from their synopses and trailers, looks and sounds quite an irresistible treat for fans of Ray’s work, Netflix’s anthology format and the cast and crew. Forget Me Not is the first in the lineup, based on Satyajit Ray’s short story Bipin Chowdhury-r Smritibhrom. It is directed by Srijit Mukherji, with a screenplay by Siraj Ahmed. Swapnil Sonawane is the director of photography and Nitin Baid, the editor.

 

 

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If you’ve seen the solo trailer for Forget Me Not, you know that it is the story of a man, Ipsit Nair, who has the memory of a computer and understandably a hubris to match that power. How could he not, when he is so invincible and infallible, and everyone is in awe of him, ready to lay the world at his feet? But we all know that playing God rarely ends well. In fact, that’s kind of the running theme of Ray, methinks!

Ali Fazal plays the invincible Ipsit, with Shruthy Menon playing Amala, his wife, and  Shweta Basu Prasad playing Ipsit’s loyal assistant, Maggie.

Now I’ll admit, I was in a dilemma over how to talk about such an interesting array of characters, their motivations, their fates and all the layers of this story without making it too spoiler-y! It’s all so fascinating! But full props to Ali, Shweta, and Shruthy, who had the perfect icebreaker to make Zoom conversations fun—pretend you can’t hear the other person! Right away, I realised what an absolute riot it must’ve been on set with all these pranks being played and such talent at display.

We then went on to talk bout their characters, the process of how they played out certain scenes, and of course, a totally non-spoiler-y take on that shocker of an ending! Read on!

Q: Starting off, this is such a fascinating idea of a darker re-telling of Satyajit Ray’s classic stories. What drew you to the project? Did you read the original short story before or during the making of the film?

Ali Fazal: I hadn’t read it before. Though I thought it was a bit late to start reading it once this project began because I was already invested in the version we had on the page from our director Srijit Mukherji, and how our DOP Swapnil Sonawane visualised it with his camera. But of course, we’ve all been well versed with Satyajit Ray’s work, so that’s pretty much how I came on board.

Shweta Basu Prasad:I’ve been a huge fan of Srijit Mukherji, our director. I’ve followed his work for over a year. His first film, Autograph, is actually an homage to Satyajit Ray’s Nayak. I have also been well-versed with Ray’s films, having watched a lot of them growing up, starting with Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, followed by Sonar Kella, and I’ve even read his short stories.

I only read Bipin Chowdhury-r Smritibhrom, the one our story ‘Forget Me Not’ is inspired from, consciously after the shoot was over because otherwise the original might start influencing my acting choices. But also because, interestingly, the female characters weren’t there in the original text. It’s a  really, interesting 1012 page short story. But some of the female characters you will see, like my character Maggie are actually written so for the screen. They exist in the original story, but as men and not as women. And that is an interesting take on, actually, all the four stories that are the anthology. I am looking forward to the other three stories too!

Shruthy Menon: I did not read it before; I just heard what my director had to say about the story and the way he had written it. And for good reason, because, first, as Shweta said, the female characters are not present in the original story. And second, it influences me a lot. So I decided not to read it. Having said that, there are times when you have to do a particular reading, but for Forget Me Not, I just wanted to follow my director.

It’s rare that as journalists, you get asked a question in return during such interviews! And we pondered if it makes actors look unprepared if they don’t do their homework by reading the available literature. But it makes absolute sense to keep influences at bay, especially when the page to screen adaptation is an indirect one with major changes, as in the case of Ray. Moreover, not everyone has material to borrow from, and perhaps going in blind and trusting your director results in a more authentic performance, right?

Q: Ali, how did you prep for your character? How much of it was fleshed out on paper and how much was you improvising? Because Ipsit’s mannerisms as this big-shot entrepreneur in some of the scenes are so on point!

A: Lot of it was on paper, because even though Srijit did not want me to merely stick to what was on the script, he did want me to stick to a measurement that we made for ourselves within the scene so that it was all in tandem with our camerawork. Usually that’s not the case. But here, we were using the lenses to tell the progression of the story, so I had to be slightly (not too rigidly) mindful.

Besides, as actors, a little bit of research and observing is always there, in terms of gestures and mannerisms. I think there’s a two-way debate on this. There are people who feel that a lot of things come organically, which I do agree. In certain contexts, some things are better done organically. But sometimes in, let’s say, for example, intimate scenes, they have to be heavily choreographed for them to look organic, which I don’t think a lot of people agree on.

So yes, some scenes are endlessly choreographed. As an actor, you want to do more but you have to hold back, or you want to do less and you still go ahead and do that much, because it just fits. In Forget Me Not, it was all quite measured.

 

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Q: Shweta, your character, Maggie, has this poker-face presence that has a lot more going on underneath. Can you elaborate on how you got into the skin of the character?

A: I think a lot of it followed the script. It was all right there. But I do this personal exercise with all my characters. I write a backstory of where this person was born, what her formative years were like, so that I understand what her psyche is now.

Srijit is a very unique director in that he will not come and tell you what to do. In fact, in one of the scenes, set in a hospital, which featured Shruthy, Ali and me, we nosedived into the take directly. I’m not a huge fan of rehearsals, but as an actor, you know that one or two technical rehearsals will happen. But then the director and the team announced “Take!” I thought that’s brilliant because Srijit is a director who casts his actors and then lets them play their way.

However, the last scene is a sort of a longish-one take, and completely choreographed. For that, I asked Srijit sir and Sayantan Mukherjee, our show runner, if I could share notes as a woman on what my character, Maggie would say. The dialogues were written from a male or neutral gaze and to make them seem like a woman’s words, I needed to do some research and understanding. And they were very open to that, which  was so refreshing and encouraging. Srijit sir incorporated those notes in that scene!

I think it’s great that you have a team like this and fabulous co-actors like Ali, Shruthy and Anindita Bose who make your job easier because you are reacting to their wonderful performances.

 

Q: Shruthy, your character, Amala, feels the most mysterious because we don’t know what’s going on in her mind, after the big revelation that changes her life. She doesn’t look like she’d standby and let a man walk all over her, or is she? Can you tell us more about your acting choices in that scene?

A: Oooh it’s a very interesting thought! Yes, I don’t think she would take any of that. And in her final scene, you can tell by the way she reacted that she wouldn’t let anyone just walk over her. When we were shooting that scene, it came very naturally to me that Amala would react by saying just this one word. But our director, Srijit sir, insisted that we try it without any dialogue.

And at that moment, for me as an actor, it felt more close to how my character would possibly react. So without giving out spoilers, Amala wouldn’t engage in what was happening in the story, but she’d find another route to make her point, definitely!

 

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Also Read: Sherni Review: Vidya Balan Starrer Isn’t About The Roar, But Silent Resilience. Did It Have To Be This Silent Though?

 

Q: I believe the common thread in Ray is human beings thinking of themselves as invincible Gods, and then something brings their downfall. Do you think Ipsit’s character deserved what he got?

Ali: I don’t think he deserved that much!

Ali is ready to have a nice debate with Shweta on this, because he thinks she might disagree. But in keeping with the thriller theme of Ray, kahaani mein twist!

Shweta: No, even I don’t think he deserved that much! I mean, think of an after story, and the repercussions of what Ipsit’s character goes through on the lives of the people around him, like Amala or Maggie.

Shruthy: I think with anyone trying to play God, the end result is that they and everyone around them get hurt.

Talking about Forget Me Not’s ending veers our conversation into this very interesting discussion, and we all agree that neither should the consequences of people’s actions be gender-based nor should it be “an eye for an eye” because historically, that has never been a good example of a solution. 

At this point, we’re all visibly charged about this conversation but holding back because you guys deserve to enjoy Ray, spoiler free, and make your own minds about the fates of these interesting characters! 

Ray, created by Sayantan Mukherjee, directed by Srijit Mukherji, Vasan Bala and Abhishek Chaubey, and starring Ali Fazal, Kay Kay Menon, Manoj Bajpayee, Harshvardhan Kapoor, Gajraj Roa, Shweta Basu Prasad, Shruthy Menon, Anindita Bose, Neeraj Purohit, Radhika Madan, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, Rajesh Sharma, Bidita Bag, Kharaj Mukherjee, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Loveleen Mishra, Manoj Pahwa and Raghuvir Yadav, premieres on Netflix on June 25, 2021.

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Jinal Bhatt

Sharp-tongued feminist. Proud nerd. Opinions with on-point pop-culture references about films, books, your toxic BF, the patriarchy, and the Oxford comma.

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