Aranyer Din Ratri
(Days & Nights in a Forest)
When I look at this photograph I can almost smell the
forests of Chhipadohar !
The month long shoot for the film 'Arranyer Din Ratri"
was enveloped in magic.
No electricity in our cottage. No loos. No running water.
Spiders and insects crawling everywhere. Potatoes for
breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who cared?
A small price to pay for the camaraderie, the moonlit
walks, the Rabindra Sangeet – and the incredible good
fortune of working with one of the world's finest
directors – Satyajit Ray.
How could anyone envision that a 'westernized and
sophisticated' girl like me could play an Adivasi tribal
But then, I guess that's what sets a great
director apart.
The first sighting took place at Raj Kapoor's house. Ray had seen a preview
of 'Mera Naam Joker', and at the dinner that followed, I noticed him staring at
me throughout the evening. Everybody else noticed it too.
Within a month I got a letter from him offering me 'an important role' in his
new film. He wanted me to come to Calcutta for a screen-test.
He wrote, 'It's only a screen test for make-up. Not for your acting abilities -
because I have no doubt whatsoever about that.'
You can NOT imagine the level of my joy. I felt I could fly...
And the euphoria had only just begun…
We journeyed to Chhipadohar by train and car.
For a week Manikda' (as Ray was affectionately called) wouldn't
let me shoot. He'd take me to the 'baati-khaana' (the liquor shop)
where the Adivasis would gather at night to drink – and let
me just observe.
I saw women who were exactly like 'Duli', my character, and it
made it all so easy.
I relished my transformation. It took four hours to cover me with
the black paint (even in my ears!) – and it took 3 hours to remove
it later! And in the in-between I became another being, rustic,
uninhibited, untutored and raw.
Manikda' would come to our cottage after pack-up to play
word games. But first he would show me the story-board sketches
of the next day's shoot – and I would know exactly how he had
conceived the scene frame-by-frame.
It was then that I became fascinated with direction.
I make similar story boards when I direct now, following his line of
It was a turning point in my life..
Manikda' became a friend – and a pen-friend. I still have a pile
of his beautifully handwritten letters. So inspired was I by the
culture of Bengal that I learned Rabindra Sangeet - and Bengali
It was a memorable time, cocooned in this distant forest, making a film
that the world would soon applaud.
We were a small group and it seemed no one else existed on the planet.
It was surreal.. timeless..