Filmmaker Satyajit Ray was known to meticulously plan his films before they went to the floors. His homework was exhaustive and most of the shots were approved in one or two takes since he had a clear idea of how the film would look like once it hit the theatres.
Each of Ray’s films was a lesson in technical mastery with the skeletal infrastructure that the industry could afford back in those days. He never compromised with his filmmaking aesthetics. But when he had to, under adverse circumstances, Ray ensured that the final product was seamless in every sense.
Released in December 1974, Sonar Kella was one of the biggest hits in Ray’s career as a filmmaker. Extensively shot outdoors in Rajasthan, the budget for the film was approximately ₹7 lakh, quite expensive by the then standards. It returned ₹13 lakh in box office collections, with minimal branding and no television, satellite or digital rights.
Sonar Kella was shot on location in winter. Most of the outdoor scenes were canned during the day as nighttime temperatures often dropped to single digits. The train and circuit house room sets were erected inside Indrapuri Studio in Kolkata to shoot the interior scenes.
But there was one scene in the climax that deserves special mention. Soumitra Chatterjee (Feluda), Siddhartha Chatterjee (Topse), and Santosh Dutta (Jatayu) are seen waiting for a late night train at Ramdewra. Feluda explains Jatayu how to operate a revolver. The station is in the middle of nowhere. A breeze blows across the desert, and Topse and Jatayu sit cringed in the cold, with their hands folded.
The fact is that this entire scene was shot on a set erected by production designer Ashoke Bose at Indrapuri Studio. It was impossible to shoot the scene on location at Lathi (Ramdewra in the film) because of logistics issues, and with the biting cold desert air blowing onto the face of the cast and crew.
The shooting took place in the heat and humidity of May. Most film studios back then lacked even the basic amenities and power cuts were frequent. Felu, Topse, and Jatayu were all dressed in winter Rajasthan clothing. The heat at the time of shooting the scene, as Siddhartha Chatterjee would later recall, was unbearable and their makeup had to be retouched frequently.
Ray and his director of photography Soumendu Roy used the famous bounce lighting technique to forge the perfect ambience light for the scene, since it was supposed to be outdoors on the film.
Pics: Siddhartha Chatterjee