In the little-known corner of Satyajit Ray’s life as a board game lover, from Scrabble to chess-Entertainment News, Firstpost
“My father was deeply interested in word games, quizzes and anagrams. These were purely private concerns, and known only to a small circle of family members. Sporadically, his deep interest was also manifested in his films, ”says Sandip Ray in an exclusive interview.
To celebrate the centenary of Satyajit Ray, arguably the most remarkable filmmaker born on Indian soil, Firstpost will explore lesser-known aspects of his life in our Ray-esque column.
The world is more than familiar with Satyajit Ray, the author of the film. But very few people would likely know that the master, far from the shooting ranges and locked in his famous office in Bishop Lefroy Road (South Kolkata), was also immersed in strange passions.
“My father was deeply interested in word games, quizzes and anagrams. He was also drawn to alliteration. These were purely private concerns, and known only to a small circle of family members, especially my mother (Bijoya Ray) and myself. Of course, sporadically, his deep interest in hobbies like puns and alliteration had also entered his films, ”says Sandip Ray, filmmaker and son of Satyajit.
“For example, he incorporated a word game (the memory game) into the script of Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and nights in the forest), and alliteration in Charulata (The lonely woman) in a conversation between Charu and Amal (the two protagonists). Some of these elements, encompassing IQ and personality games, were also infused into some of his Detective Feluda stories. While dwelling on Feluda, it is essential to observe that the author Ray infallibly incorporated the work of his father Sukumar Ray Absurdity verses from his books hovering around his literary detective. But a lot of the puns revolved around his personal life, ”adds Sandip.
Among the word games that Satyajit devoutly loved and loved to play were Accrossticks, Categories, Memory Games, Crosswords, Scrabble, and Boggle. He particularly relished the Scrabble and Boggle brand from the British company Parker Brothers. He also devised a pun himself, which reflected undertones of Scrabble, but without naming it.
“While traveling for the shoots, on trains or buses, the father would play some of these games,” Sandip recalls. “Categories and Accrossticks could be played with pen and paper. One did not require any particular formal playing tool. I remember mom and dad sharing a few sets of Categories while traveling on the train to the filming location of Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), ”Sandip recalls.
When traveling abroad, especially to London, he dropped by stores like Parker Brothers and Just Games. Just Games also posted a journal called Games & Puzzles on its shelves, for word games, puzzles, and magnetic games, to which Satyajit subscribed. Games & Puzzles kept him up to date with the evolution of word games around the world. He would also choose the Parker Brothers and Just Games word games if he found them fascinating, and bring them with him to Kolkata. He was so passionately passionate about puns that he indulged in them as soon as he found some leeway.
“If he was at home between sets or writing a novel or a short story, he would come back from his office and spend some time playing a pun with his mother. My mother was her main partner in this hobby, “says Sandip.” But sometimes I remember Reena di (renowned actress-director Aparna Sen) visiting our home with her husband and spending time with her mom and dad in a game of, say, Scrabble. “
Incidentally, Sen broke into the cinema with his first film Samapti (The conclusion), which was one of the maestro’s three short films teen kanya (The three girls), written by literature laureate Rabindranath Tagore. In reality, The three girls was produced by Satyajit in 1961 as a tribute to Tagore on the occasion of the Centenary Year of the literary virtuoso.
“It turns out that Scrabble, which is a centuries-old invention, was also part of fatherhood, in our old home on Lake Temple Road (south of Calcutta), and migrated to our current home on Bishop Lefroy Road ( also south of town). ”Sandip agrees that the roots of his grandfather’s fascination with puns lie in his supreme mastery of the English vocabulary. It must be documented, however, that the master filmmaker later did woven puzzles in Bengali, especially in his writings Feluda.
Satyajit was also deeply interested in chess and played with himself on stray occasions. “But father acquired several books of chess when he decided to lead Shatranj Ke Khilari (Chess players) to research moves so that he gets them with precision when the film’s two steadfast chess enthusiasts, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali, unforgettablely played by the late actors Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey respectively, continued their chess fights, ”Sandip leads home.
Satyajit also managed to make it to Foyles Bookstore in London, Winsor & Newton for art supplies, HMV Music Store and, weather permitting, Selfridges for pens, refills and cartridges. “When he fell ill after his heart attack in 1984, he also asked me to visit these outlets every time I went to London,” Sandip informs.
In tandem, back to Calcutta, he was occasionally found at Kallicharan, Shukla, Khanna and Tiwari in the immortal New Market for books and magazines, the Oxford Bookstore on Park Street for books, notebooks and stationery, and plus century-old GC Laha store in Esplanade (central Calcutta) for art supplies.
“He fleshed out concepts and ideas from everyday life. In the family magazine Sandesh, the father asked the children riddles. These included, for example, half of the famous Bata or Coca-Cola logo, a banknote or a matchbox label. Sometimes the puzzles saw part of Rabindranath Tagores’ signature, which the young people had to discover in its entirety. Sandesh’s interrogation section also contained silhouettes of well-known characters from my grandfather’s unrivaled book Sukumar Ray. Absurdity rhymes, Abol Tabol, or famous monuments like the Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar or Machu Picchu. There was also a range of varied games and competitions in Sandesh. Father never got tired of shaping these elements to Sandesh because he cherished them. Of course, he also wrote stories and translations of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll for the magazine, ”says Sandip.
From an early age, Satyajit also subscribed to comics like Binos, Dandy, Whores, and The boys own the paper, to only cite a few. “In fact, hardly anyone would know that a picture of my father on a shikara, when he visited Kashmir as a young boy, has been published in The boys own the paper and won an award, ”reveals Sandip.
The intense interest in retrieving information from a variety of journals remained until the end. Even when he became a filmmaker, Satyajit subscribed to periodicals like Omni, American scientist, National geography magazine, Life, and See (where world-famous British director Stanley Kubrick began his career as a photographer), and Heavy metal and Argosy science fiction magazines. During his travels abroad, he collected periodicals edited by Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen and Isaac Asimov. Funny, he did not fail to be upset by Hergé Tintin comics, and read them until his last days. “Even when he was about 68 years old (just two years before his death) he had read Tintin and the PicaroSandip reflects, betraying this tinge of emotion.
A face largely unknown to Satyajit could possibly end with an event the maestro cherished. A favorite occasion for him was when Sandip’s birthdays came every year. That was, of course, until Sandip’s elementary and middle school days lasted. Kolkata sported a range of Hollywood studio desks during this era, which were armed with some of the most fabulous film libraries. Needless to say, those responsible for all these film repositories were all in constant contact with the city’s grand master of cinema.
The sixteenmm film titles, spanning Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello were purchased by Satyajit from movie libraries spread across Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal Studios and 20e Century Fox, and screened on Sandip’s birthdays. As Sandip grew, Satyajit turned to films from directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and other renowned filmmakers. So, a turning point at the conclusion of those birthday parties at the Ray family home was the unfolding of a movie for the guests. One of them retired at night overflowing with thoughts of a memorable movie.
Ashoke Nag is a veteran art and culture writer with a particular interest in legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
All photos from the Satyajit Ray Society.