Portrait of the Artist as a Coward
The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists..... He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize
- Oscar Wilde , The Picture of Dorian Gray
In Satyajit Ray's Kapurush (Coward) - the protagonist Amitabha is a screenwriter is traveling to collect material for his film he is going to write. Novelists writing about novelists is the oldest cliche in the book. Screenwriters writing about screenwriters is relatively rare and on occasion has resulted in phenomenal awesomeness. However, it is interesting to see how Ray shows a screenwriter.
As the crux of the short film is about the protagonist meeting his ex-girlfriend now married to a 'lesser' man, there is no scope to depict the agonizing process of exercising the craft of screenwriting itself. But there seems to be much about what being a writer is.
The flashback - one of the many scenes wonderfully weaved in and out with the present - reveals that they broke-up because Amitabha declines to step-up at a crucial point when Karuna wants him to. He hasn't made much of himself to feel ready to make a big decision yet. So he says, much to the scorn of Karuna.
And later he meets her, as the wife of a man. A seemingly simple-minded man, who hosts him when he stranded on a rainy night. The idea of the writer studying life to create, gets disproportionate mention. The non-writing public, who go about the daily business of life. Whereas the artist, labours to achieve verisimilitude, and floats in his unique position of being both amongst and above.
And *poof* goes that unspoken feeling of superiority, when his host shows off his wife's artistic side. Something about Karuna hitherto unknown to Amitabha.
And suddenly one is encouraged to read into all this. That his choice of vocation as a writer is also about the cowardice of not choosing to live when the moment was on offer. And the agony of having no-one but oneself to blame for it. The painting seems to mock that his choice of vocation had little to do with any unique talent, but about what one chooses it over.
And now, having relatively secured his position, Amitabha has the audacity to propose to invite Karuna back into his life. But the language within which he couches that is still one of earnest superiority. He is convinced his host is no match for her and that he has more to offer her than her 'simple minded' husband.
"You do not know him. No one can be known in a day" are her choice of words in dismissing him.
Would the writer get to know anything in his travels, undertaken for the express purpose of material collection? Isn't that itself cutting to the core challenge of the screenwriter. Who needs his audience to get to 'know' from the slivers, slices of life-moments that he depicts?
The coward writer can only watch the husband snooze, after having lit a cigarette, which is burning itself to a butt unsmoked. That doesn't leave him with perhaps time enough to dare to do much. And there he is, between life and time running out on him.