Satyajit Ray was only the second Indian to win an Oscar after Bhanu Athaiya. While Athaiya got hers for the costumes for Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic Gandhi, Ray was awarded his in 1991 for a lifetime of achievements, starting with Pather Panchali in 1955. The filmmaker was severely ill when he was given the award, and he died the following year.
Apart from features and documentaries, Ray made two fictional shorts. The better known is Pikoo (1980), which explores a young boy’s world against a backdrop of adults at play (his mother is having an extra-marital affair, for one thing). The behaviour of children in the absence of adults features more prominently in Two (also known as Parable of Two). Made in 1964, the same year as Ray’s masterpiece Charulata, the dialogue-less film is a sharply observed account of the encounter between two boys, one privileged and plump and the other poor and lean.
The unnamed rich boy, who is alone at home, keeps himself occupied by playing with his numerous toys, but he is soon distracted by the sound of a flute being played by a child from the shack next door. The rich boy’s competitive instincts are aroused, and he decides to match his rival, one toy at a time. But this game has only one winner.
The 12-minute film’s restored version is available on the YouTube channel maintained by the Academy Picture Archive. “Two was made as part of a trilogy of short films from India that were commissioned by the US Public Television under the banner of Esso World Theater,” said the online resource www.satyajitray.org. “The other two films featured Pandit Ravi Shankar and a ballet troupe from Bombay. Ray was asked to make a film in English in a Bengali setting. Not very happy with the prospect, he opted to do away with the spoken word. A great admirer of the silent cinema, Ray pays a tribute to the genre.”