By Phil Hall | August 8, 2010

In 1992, when India’s master director Satyajit Ray was slated to receive a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, the Academy Award ceremony producers faced an unexpected dilemma: a severe lack of usable clips from Ray’s classic films.

Priyanka Kumar’s is designed to show why Ray’s work nearly vanished despite his importance within global cinema. Unfortunately, this film is a clumsy mess that does little justice to its celebrated subject. There is only scant discussion by film restorer David Sheppard on the challenge to preserve the negatives of Ray’s films – it is never clear who is paying for the restoration or how it is being done.

However, there is an abundance of talk by the likes of filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Ismail Merchant, composer Ravi Shankar and critic Peter Rainer about Ray’s importance in film history. For no clear reason, Kumar puts the focus is exclusively on the films from the first decade of Ray’s career – this gives the impression that Ray’s creative output abruptly stopped in the mid-1960s.

Even more irritating is Kumar’s decision to present the celebrity interviews as a series of somewhat unflattering still photographs accompanied by a tinny-sounding audio track. If this was intentional, it was a truly terrible idea.

There are a few classic shots from Ray’s films included here – most notably, the father’s death in “Aparajito” – and these provide the production with a lyricism and artistry that is sorely lacking. For any serious Ray fan, this tribute is unsatisfactory.

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