The Hero Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The actor prepares in front of the mirror, combing his hair to perfection and moving into a well-tailored suit. But he’s not about to step before a camera. He has been selected as the recipient of a prestigious award. The actor has no interest in the award; he just wants to get away from it all–the attention, the newspaper articles–for a bit.
This will be a challenge. He is, after all, the hero of so many movies. On the train to Delhi for the honor–his last-minute decision to accept has put him here instead of a private plane, which would be more fitting for his stature–Arindam Mukherjee (Uttam Kumar, RAJKANYA) encounters Aditi Sengupta (Sharmila Tagore, SAWAN KI GHATA), a young journalist/editor. She knows little about Arindam and never publishes stories on movies. But this is an opportunity for the journalist to widen her readership, and could even be an opportunity for the star to reveal what he has yet to.
THE HERO offers a sometimes delicate look at the insecurities of the famous. It asks, Who is this man when he’s not on the screen? Throughout THE HERO (NAYAK in its native Bengali), flashbacks are utilized to answer that question, to provide the secrets Arindam has never revealed to the public and certainly not directly to the media. There, too, is something intriguing with Aditi. She, serving as the media, admits no interest in the subject yet latches on to exploit for the purpose of more readers/viewers and, in turn, money.
By the end of the interview, Aditi must make a moral decision–does she publish the actor’s revelations and ensure her magazine’s place, or does she shred her notes and allow the actor’s own legacy to live? One of these is chosen, and the appreciation for the decision from the viewer will vary. This reviewer finds the ending to be phony, an easy out that tries to better serve the “Oh, isn’t that nice” feeling rather than the characters and the film as a whole.
Both Arindam and Aditi are complicated characters. That is, until it’s clear by the end that nothing has really changed–the actor will go on being heralded, the journalist will go on filling a niche. Arindam has spilled his guts, but it’s only self-therapy; Aditi has discovered abilities in her field, but she won’t use them. These add only a minor touch of development, far less than what THE HERO deserves in its journey.
Director Satyajit Ray, whose APU TRILOGY remains one of the finest achievements in world cinema, has placed two distinct individuals at the same table. But the conflict is lacking, and the strokes seem less masterly than easy. THE HERO offers quite human performances from its leads (Kumar was one of the most beloved figures in his home country; Tagore, now in her 70s, is simply stunning here), but it falters too often and lacks the power of so many of Ray’s works.
THE HERO won the Special Jury Award at the 1966 Berlin International Film Festival, where it also competed for the Golden Bear.
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital master was produced from a restoration undertaken by RDB Entertainments, under the supervision of Kamal Bansal and Varsha Bansal. For the restoration, a digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative and a 35 mm print at Pixion in Chennai, India.”
THE HERO looks excellent in this high-definition transfer, with fine details and strong contrast.
Audio: Bengali Mono with English subtitles. “The original monaural soundtrack was restored by the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from a 35 mm composite optical print at Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California. Additional remastering and restoration was completed by the Criterion Collection in New York.”
The film sounds quite nice and crisp overall.
Sharmila Tagore (11:53): This 2008 interview features actress Tagore
Meheli Sen (25:01): Sen, who is an associate professor of cinema studies at Rutgers University, discusses director Satyajit Ray and THE HERO.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: a booklet featuring an essay by author Pico Iyer and a 1980 tribute to actor Uttam Kumar by director Satyajit Ray.