For Satyajit Ray on his 100th birthday, with love and spoilers
There’s a subtle yet particularly cruel visual touch at the end of Satyajit Ray’s short feature The Coward (Kapurush), an added sting in an already cruel scenario. A man sits on a bench at a train station for hours, hoping against hope that his now-married ex-girlfriend, encountered by chance years after he disappointed her when she needed him most, will leave her husband and run away with him. Darkness falls; he nods off. Awoken by the whistle of a train, he’s startled and then delighted to see the woman standing beside him — until he discovers that she simply wants to retrieve the sleeping pills that he had borrowed while staying at her house. “Let me have them, darling,” she says. That “darling,” whether sincere or sardonic, is a devastating touch in its own right, as is the way she vanishes into the blackness of the night when she walks away from him a moment later, her pills recovered. Any viewer is able and apt to appreciate these details, but it takes a familiarity with certain other Ray works to grasp the full significance of a brief shot that falls between them: a close-up of the woman’s extended hand as she waits for the man to turn over the bottle.