In this psychologically rich character study, written and directed by Satyajit Ray, Bengali film star Uttam Kumar draws on his real-world celebrity to play Arindam Mukherjee, a matinee idol on the brink of his first flop. When Mukherjee boards an overnight train to Delhi to accept an award, a journalist (Sharmila Tagore) approaches him seeking an exclusive interview, which initiates a conversation that sends the actor reeling down a path of self-examination. Seamlessly integrating rueful flashbacks and surreal dream sequences with the quietly revelatory stories of the train’s other passengers, The Hero is a graceful meditation on art, fame, and regret from one of world cinema’s most keenly perceptive filmmakers.
Satyajit Ray’s The Hero makes its Blu-ray debut in North America thanks to the Criterion Collection, who present the film on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a 2K restoration performed by RDB Entertainments, scanned from the 35mm original negative and a 35mm print to fill in (I assume as the notes don’t directly specify) missing or badly damaged sections.
I’m never sure what to expect when we get new restorations and presentations for Ray’s films but this one is undoubtedly a splendid surprise. Multiple sources have been used but other than a handful of softer shots with darker contrast I can’t say it was blatantly obvious when the sources shifted. Most of the film looks stunningly sharp and crisp, with superb details in both longer shots and close-ups. Textures look nice, fine patterns are cleanly rendered without shimmering effects, and the film’s fine grain structure looks clean and natural. Contrast looks excellent (except for those aforementioned slight shifts when, I assume, we’re jumping to the non-negative source) and blacks are really clean, predominantly helpful in some of the film’s darker sequences, which present excellent shadow details.
Restoration wise it’s incredibly clean. I was expecting some damage but nothing significant ever pops up. In the end this is one of the better looking restorations and presentations for one of Ray’s films I’ve seen so far.
The audio, presented in lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono, is a bit flat but it gets the job done. There is some background noise but no pops or drops ever show up.
It’s a fairly sparse edition but Criterion at least includes two worthwhile interviews: one from 2008 with actor Sharmila Tagore and then another with Meheli Sen, associate professor of cinema studies at Rutgers University. They run about 12-minutes and 25-minutes respectively.
Tagore talks a bit about her work with Ray before talking specifically about The Hero. She provides her perspective on the role of her character within the film and talks about Ray’s form of directing. Sen’s contribution is more academic, explaining how the film, which may appear simple at first, rewards with multiple viewings. She breaks the film down into layers, explaining how it and its characters represent Ray’s thoughts on art and cinema, and various other subjects. She also talks about the film’s star, Uttam Kumar, his star power at the time, and the significance of him showing up in this film, especially since Ray hated using stars.
The included booklet also provides some great content, starting with an excellent essay by Pico Iyer, covering some of the same material Sen does, though gets a little more into how the film (with its star) was an attempt to appeal to a bigger audience without Ray having to drop his introspective nature. This is then followed by a reprint of a wonderful tribute Ray wrote up about Uttam Kumar following his death in 1980.
Ultimately it’s not a big special edition by any means but the booklet and two interviews are all excellent, even helping the viewer look at the film from a slightly different perspective.
Criterion’s The Hero is one of their sparser editions for a Ray film but the material is strong and the edition boasts a superb looking high-def presentation.