Two:A Film Fable

Decoding Indian Cinema

What begins as a competition turns sinister in this silent short film by Satyajit Ray. As we celebrate the legendary filmmaker’s birth centenary on May 2, Sunday Shillong reviews “Two: A Film Fable”.

Perhaps, one of the lesser-known films in the legendary filmmaker, Satyajit Ray’s body of work is “Two: A Film Fable”.

Critics often regard this film to be a prelude to his social satire, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) not only because of the thematic similarity between the two, but also the clever use of self-referencing. Ray references “Bhooter Raja” (The King of Ghosts) from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne in “Two” as a toy robot.

Made in 1964, this Indian black-and-white short film was restored by the Academy Film Archive (part of the Academy Foundation) whose objective is film restoration, documentation, research and preservation. Among the 19 Ray films restored so far, this one found its way on YouTube in 2016.

Ray was an admirer of short film and decided to make this short, as part of a trilogy, at the request of the American public broadcasting television PBS.

PLOT

We see a boy of about 11, from a privileged background,whiling away time in his big house after seeing his parents off. That his birthday may have been just celebrated is alluded to, at the very beginning of the film. He is curious as he moves about, observing his toys while drinkinga bottle of cola; soon, boredom sets in.

Until the sound of a flute gets his attention. Another boy of his age, possibly a slum dweller, is shown playing the flute, lost in his own thoughts. What begins as one-upmanship between the two children turns sinister as the stark differences between the two become obvious, even violent.

In the end, we see how simplicity remains even with the dependence on technology.

Themes/Motifs

Similar to the famous magical illusion, “Bhooter naach” (The Dance of the Ghosts) in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, this film too presents the stark reality of caste system in our society. The dance which celebrates co-existence, on the one hand, is also a scathing commentary on caste, on the other. Ray wondered if the rules of the caste system applied in the otherworld – and, in doing so, places the four varnas, upside down.

In this film, the same is presented through the window of the big house which separates the two children. The exchange between the two happens through this window. Never once do they meet face-to-face in an actual duel.

Ray makes a strong anti-war statement in this film. The competition between the two children begins with toys – a flute versus an electronic flute, drum versus a toy monkey playing the drums, mask versus a toy sword – and, a kite is shown flying free.

It has to come down and this time, with a real gun. He succeeds, yet the kite remains defiant as it moves to the sound of the breeze. Its owner, the other child is mocked in return.

The film ends with the sound of the flute in the sky, triumphant over the mechanical world of toys. Our protagonist ponders as the robot moves in a rhythm and shatters the carefully constructed world of the machine.

In a very subtle manner, Ray makes a political statement. Whether he is critical of just the Vietnam War and not the Indian Government of the time is subjective and viewerscan only guess. But the anti-imperialist stance of the filmmaker is clear.

In his trademark humanist gaze, Ray shows how empathy can make a society. No wonder then that in 12 minutes, hepacks quite the punch. What makes this short so compelling? There is no dialogue and only the background score plays with the thematic structure of the story.

As 2021 marks his birth centenary year, Sunday Shillong pays respect to Satyajit Ray for his immense contribution to Indian cinema.

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