Apart from one-off screenings at retrospectives in 2002 and 2006, Satyajit Ray’s doc “Sikkim” has hardly been seen anywhere. And, until recently, India had banned the doc by its most celebrated filmmaker. But now the ban has been lifted and the pic has been restored by AMPAS from one of only two prints in existence.
It was a troubled project to begin with. In 1971, Palden Thondup Namgyal the chogyal (or king) of the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim and his American wife, Hope Cooke, commissioned Ray to make a documentary about the state. Although initially reluctant, the helmer was persuaded that the experience would be akin to a well-paid holiday, and agreed to do the film. When the royal couple saw the finished pic, they were unhappy — Ray had shots of Sikkim’s poor alongside royal grandeur. The king demanded a number of changes and a dissatisfied Ray complied. In 1975, Sikkim merged with India and the democratic Indian government banned the film as it felt the doc glorified monarchy.
On May 2, the film will unspool across India on what would have been Ray’s 90th birthday.