Satyajit Ray Interviews Andrzej Wajda: A Tribute to Wajda
During the Film Festival in Delhi (1965), we (Film Fare) invited Satyajit Ray to interview Polish Director Andrej Wajda. Although Ray was the interviewer, Wazda occasionally came up with the question as the conversation veered round to technique. The interview was, therefore, an exchange of ideas between two great directors. Well-known Polish critic B. Michalech acted as interpreter.
Satyajit Ray Interviews Andrzej Wajda
Ray- what are you working on now, Mr. Wajda?
Wajda- Going slow actually. I’m engaged at the moment in making a historical film. Not quite my cup of tea, though.
Ray- Why, then are you making it?
Wajda- Well, it’s based on a very popular book, well known in Poland, very dear to poles. After three years of waiting, doing nothing, I feel the need to be in touch with my audience again.
Ray- Oh yes, I understand that. Was “Generation” your first film?
Wajda- My first independent film. I mean, made entirely by me: my very first feature film.
Ray- I saw it in Venice, out of competition. Wonderful, I thought.
Wajda- Now, Mr. Ray, I have a question for you.
Ray- Out with it.
Wajda- You being the… well, the best known and the most brilliant director of Indian films, do you think it is possible, I mean in the future, taking a long perspective, to make films independently, films like the ones you made without the support, the strong support of some national organisation like State.
Ray- Well, I make my films without the support of any national organisation. There is no question of such support the way I make films. They are financed by private producers and distributors. As for my first film “Pather Panchali,” of course, I started with my own money, and then because funds run out, we had shelved it and actually thought of giving it up. And then somebody who had some influence with Government, persuaded them to take it up and they took it up. I mean the West Bengal Government.
Wajda- My question, I’m afraid, is more delicate. You see, for us you are the only man who is practising a sort of an excellent national cinema, truly national, and therefore I put it to you: Do you think that the way you are doing it this sort of cinema can develop in India- not only a cinema which Indian in name but which is practically a sort of national cinema?
Ray- Well, theoretically it is possible. I mean just the way I make films it is possible for another person to make films. You need first of all a man with the same sort of urge and with a certain degree of talent, also a certain degree of tenacity.
Ray- Obstinacy, yes. Let’s put it this way. There is no bar, of course, if his films succeed. But supposing he makes one film, and if that is a failure at the box office- it may be an artistic success- and if he keeps on making failure financially, then it is difficult for him to make any headway, because after all, he depends on the producers, his backers, his distributors.
Wajda- But do you think there are a group of men in India, in any centre, who try to make the sort of films you have been making?
Ray- Well, I can speak about my own home state, Bengal. There are a number of young directors who engaged after “Pather Panchali”. Because I was new director and my films was a success, some distributors who had not backed young people, new people, before, now began backing them, and some of them have been reasonably successful. Oh, yes, there is such a young group in Bengal. Some haven’t succeeded as well as others, so they have to wait long for another contract. But there is backing for at least some people. There isn’t a big a big movement yet, not really, but there are people who are wanting to back them. It’s a healthy sign.
Wajda- Yes, but is the state itself interested in encouraging this sort of good and important- I mean socially and artistically important-productions? Does the state have an interest in encouraging such productions?
Ray- The state itself is not in a position to directly encourage them. Now we have this President’s Award in India which is an all India thing. Awards are supposed to be given to significant films. But of course they are chosen by committee all of whose members may not be experts, you see. Well, Government also gives a cash prize and a medal, and if the film gets a prize, it can get better distribution if it can be revived. On the strength of the prize, it can have a fresh start, you know.
Also there was some talk of forming a financial corporation which would be backing certain scripts which were thought suitable, but it hasn’t so far worked…but it’s in the air. It’s being considered. May I put a question to you? How many films have you made so far-five, six?
Ray- Let’s see… “Generation,” “Kanal,” “Ashes and Dimonds,” “Lotna,” “Samson”…
Wajda- “Sorcerers”… another made in Siberia- “Lady Macbeth of Minsk.” Then, of course, a sketch for a French film…
Ray- Oh yes, yes….
Wajda- “Lost on the Frontiers” which was a very nice sketch but I am sorry now that this subject has been put into a new film, because it is the subject of an old film. And then the film I am making now is in two parts… I mean from the production point of view it is even more than two films.
Ray- Only one film was in colour….or were there others?
Wajda- Only one… “Lotna.”
Ray- Do you like working in colour?
Wajda- It is certainly very interesting but one is handicapped by poor quality of laboratories in Poland and then not only the labs, but also the quality of the colours themselves. One can never foresee if it will work or not. So I am a little afraid of colour at this stage. Maybe because I am an artist, I am more sensitive to colour. For normal colour production, we may be all right. But my requirements are not so easily satisfied.
Ray- Well, it is more or less the same with me. I have made one colour film. Of course this was special because it was all outdoors, all location. But I was worried because processing facilities were not adequate in India and it had all to be processed not in Calcutta but in Bombay. But I was quite surprised with the results which wouldn’t have been as good had we shot in studio. We don’t have the lights, etc. But outdoors was a different matter. And I had this special kind of a story- I wrote the story specially for the films.
Wajda- Reverting to colour. We have another difficulty. In our climate the differences in colour during the day are enormous, unlike India where you have approximately the same intensity of light the whole day.
Ray- Now in Delhi? (Laughter)
Wajda- Yes. We have in Poland, during the day, ten or even twenty colour changes.
Ray- Well! I will tell you how we shot the film in Darjeeling, way up in the hills. I knew there would be differences in colour because there would be clouds, there would be mist, there would be sun, there would be morning and evening. The shooting had to meet all contingencies. It was a two-hour-long story, two hours continuous, unbroken time you see…I had scenes, mist scenes and cloudy scenes and sunny and shadowy scenes. We’d be shooting a sunny scene-and then the mist would come and we would all run with the camera and take another part of another scene. That’s how it was shot.
In a way it was easy because there was no chance of costume involved. Everything happened within the radius of, say, one square mile. As soon as we felt there were clouds coming up, we changed, folded up there, and went over the next spot for that part of the scene. And so on.
Wajda- Weather back home is so capricious. A solution would be to use several cameras simultaneously as some time, Kurosawa does in black and white. Yes, because the difference between one take and another can be sometimes quite terrible. It’ is necessary to eliminate then afterwards. Eight or ten cameras very well placed, in a carefully thought out way, could well be the solution for a good colour film.
Ray- Tell me, Mr. Wajda, do you always make films of your own choice? I mean your own subject, your own cast and everything. You have complete freedom, I suppose?
Wajda- The initiative is mine. But after the script has been chosen and accepted by me, the last word is a committee’s which has to approve of it. In a way, I have complete freedom, although someone else has the last word. This is understandable because the state being the producer has at one stage to interfere and to say yes or no. But once production starts, I am complete master. There is no interference. I may even change a lot of things, departing from the original script. Ray- Can you really?
Wajda- Yes. From the script, from the approved script, I can change a sequence here, an entire scene there…
Ray- And they see the finished film?
Wajda- The committee does, yes. But of course when the film is finished the situation is much better because the money has been expended (laughter). This is more serious, so practically nobody interferes then.
Ray- Have you ever had to completely abandon an idea because it wasn’t approved?
Wajda- Yes, some of them. For the ten films I have made in my career. I had 35 scripts. In a way I suppose I have more experience in making scripts (laughter) than of actually making films. But not all of them, of course, have been abandoned because the committee didn’t approve of them. Some I abandoned myself. Unfortunately in Poland we do not have professional script-writers and sometimes one comes across a very good idea which cannot be well expressed in a script.
Wajda- …And therefore I do the scripting myself, though I am not always satisfied with my own work. Sometimes is happens that the script is not bad, the idea is good, but still there is a lack of good actors for some particular characters. Here again we are handicapped because we do not have good professional film actors, only theatre actors playing in films. And always the choice is limited and then everything depends on the goodwill of an actor or of a theatre. In Warsaw, for instance, there are 20 dramatic theatres. And Warsaw is not a very big town, about a million of population.
Ray- How many takes do you shoot normally? I often have to do with just one. It’s a question of raw stock-which is rationed here.
Wajda- We try to adopt the same method. Of course, one has to have a certain idea of the shape the film is going to take. But there is a certain pleasure in shooting much more than the final requirements. The pleasure of making a film is repeated thrice-firstly, when you are writing the script; secondly, when you are editing it.
Ray- Yes. Even if you shooting with a clear cut idea in your mind, at the cutting stage there are always small things you can do.
Ray- It is not rigid, never rigid, particularly in dialogue scenes.
Wajda- I agree.
Ray- When you are cutting back and forth you can do a lot and you can control and modify the acting.
Ray- So there is still a lot left, but again here in Bengal we have to be very disciplined because we can’t be spending too much. That would be disastrous. Ours is a small market.
Wajda- But you have never used some popular stars of India?
Ray- I have not used the biggest stars, but one of them whom I introduced for the first times is now a very big star, but he is still making films for me. Another I introduced has now gone to Bombay; she too is now a big star. It’s like you see. As soon as they begin acquiring mannerism, I am a little afraid of using them.
Wajda- Now may I ask you about rehearsals? I have a double technique. For young inexperienced actors, I usually do not rehearse very much because here the only thing which matters is a certain —
Ray- A certain freshness, exactly…
Wajda- But for experienced actors, rehearsals are good. For the young actor who lacks the technique it is very difficult to get a good performance during rehearsal and to continue it when shooting.
Rehearsing Without Props
Ray- Do you find, as I do sometimes, that it is a difficult to rehearse a film scene as a stage scene in a drawing room…you know, I find that unless I am surrounded with the right props on the set I can’t rehears, I get no inspiration.
Wajda- This sort of rehearsal, if you call it rehearsal, with the actors is very useful in the beginning. More in the nature of a free discussion with the actors.
Wajda- Just to reconstruct some characters, indicate the general line they are following. But then, of course I feel it is not useful, it is not effective, except maybe for a film which is entirely based on dialogue, which is quite a different thing.
Ray- Yes, particularly if you are planning fairly long takes where the actors have sustain the scene, it can be quite a problem.
Wajda- Yes, but so long as the actors are not in costume and in the place where the shooting is going to be done, they are for the director a little dead, a little…(Laughter).
Ray- Exactly… It’s the same with me. That’s why I put the question.
Wajda- You see, there is a very natural interaction of all the elements on the set.
Ray- Exactly. Do you agree with, for instance, Antonioni, when he says that an actor is nothing but a puppet in the director’s hands? That the actor will have to do exactly as he says, he shouldn’t be given any initiative of his own?
Wajda- I am sharply against it.
Ray- Ah, yes. You know of course that Antonioni said this…
Wajda- Yes, yes, of course…
Ray- I think Antonioni lies when he says that.
Wajda (laughing)– Maybe Antonioni thinks he can influence actors because his principal actress is his wife and therefore he has a very strong influence on her. If one were to make a film in this way one would be tapping only half the possibilities of a good performance. The actor’s own interpretation of the character gives fullness to his performance. I suppose to call actors puppets is a reaction against the star system. Films are made to suit stars. Of course, sometimes it works as in the cases of Paul Newman and Marlon Brando. All the films they have made are made round them, and still it works.
Ray- Yes it’s like a concerto.
Wajda- But I myself am interested in making this sort of film.
Ray- Because the artists get an excessive prominence, it is not part of general pattern. They stick out, you see….
Published in Film Fare, 1965