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Satyajit Ray

Teertha Anil, CEOEP, 18CV028A


Satyajit Ray (born May 2, 1921, Calcutta, India—died April 23, 1992, Calcutta)
was an Indian filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic artist, music composer and
author, widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century.
As a director Ray was noted for his humanism, his versatility, and his detailed
control over his films and their music. Satyajit Ray, an Indian filmmaker and
among the dozen or so great masters of world cinema, is known for his
humanistic approach to cinema. He made his films in Bengali, a language
spoken in the eastern state of India - West Bengal. And yet, his films are of
universal interest. They are about things that make up the human race -
relationships, emotions, struggle, conflicts, joys and sorrows.

Satyajit Ray, the master storyteller, has left a cinematic heritage that belongs
as much to India as to the world. His films demonstrate a remarkable
humanism, elaborate observation and subtle handling of characters and
situations. The cinema of Satyajit Ray is a rare blend of intellect and emotions.
He is controlled, precise, meticulous, and yet, evokes deep emotional response
from the audience. His films depict a fine sensitivity without using melodrama
or dramatic excesses. He evolved a cinematic style that is almost invisible. He
strongly believed - "The best technique is the one that's not noticeable".

Though initially inspired by the neo-realist tradition, his cinema belongs not to
a specific category or style but a timeless meta-genre of a style of story telling
that touches the audience in some way. His films belong to a meta-genre that
includes the works of Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, David
Lean, Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Luis
Bunuel, Yasujiro Ozu, Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson. All very different in
style and content, and yet creators of cinema that is timeless and universal.

Other than films, Ray worked as a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator,

calligrapher, graphic designer and film critic. He designed numerous book
jackets and magazine covers.
Early Life and Background

Born on May 2, 1921 in Calcutta, in an affluent Bengali family which boasted of

a rich heritage in art and literature, Satyajit Ray was the only son of Sukumar
and Suprabha Ray.Ray completed his formal education from Ballygunge
Government High School after which he enrolled at the Presidency College,
Calcutta to complete his BA in Economics.After much insistence and
persuasion from his mother, he reluctantly attended the Visva-Bharti
University at Santiniketan. The decision, however, turned fruitful as it was at
Santiniketan that he found his true love for Indian art. In Santiniketan, Ray
came to appreciate Oriental art.

He later admitted that he learned much from the famous painters Nandalal
Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee. Later he produced a documentary
film, The Inner Eye, about Mukherjee. His visits
to Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta stimulated his admiration for Indian art.

His first ever job profile was as a junior visualizer at a British-run advertising
agency. Additionally, he worked along with D.K Gupta at the Signet Press,
creating cover designs for various books.It was during this time at the Signet
Press that he worked on children’ novel, Pather Panchali, a work that so much
so inspired him that it later became his subject for his very first film.In 1947, he
along with Chidananda Dasgupta founded the Calcutta Film Society. The
organization screened foreign films, most of which became a guiding force for
his later career as a film-maker and writer.

In 1949, Ray married Bijoya Das, his first cousin and long-time sweetheart. The
couple had a son, Sandip, who is now a film director. In the same year, French
director Jean Renoir came to Calcutta to shoot his film The River. Ray helped
him to find locations in the countryside. Ray told Renoir about his idea of
filming Pather Panchali, which had long been on his mind, and Renoir
encouraged him in the project. In 1950, D.J. Keymer sent Ray to London to
work at its headquarters office. During his three months in London, Ray
watched 99 films. Among these was the neorealist film Ladri di
biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948) by Vittorio De Sica, which had a profound
impact on him. Ray later said that he came out of the theatre determined to
become a film-maker.

Ray decided to use Pather Panchali (1928), the

classic Bildungsroman of Bengali literature, as the basis for his first film.
Returning to India, he started working on his new-found passion of filmmaking.
Along with a group of inexperienced staff and amateur actors, he ventured
forth to realize his dream of making a film out of ‘Pather Panchali’. Three years
and several hardships later, he finally released the film in 1955.

Assuming full auteurship, he expanded his zone of filmmaking, working not just
as a director and script-writer but also as a cameraman and music scorer. The
motion-picture director also established a parallel career in Bengal as a writer
and an illustrator, chiefly for young people. He ventured forth trying new and
different themes in his films.In 1961, together with Subhas Mukhopadhyay, he
revived children’s magazine, Sandesh. The magazine, informative and
entertaining in content, helped him initiate a career in writing and illustration
that stayed with him for the better part of his later life. Ray was the author of
numerous short stories and novellas, and in fact writing, rather than
filmmaking, became his main source of income. His stories have been
translated and published in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

From 1965 to 1982, he ventured into varied genres of filmmaking, trying his
hand at fiction, fantasy, detective films and historical dramas. He even took up
issues of contemporary India and portrayed them on-screen.After a failed
attempt for a US-India co-production of the film ‘The Alien’, he came up with a
musical fantasy ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’. It went on to become his
commercially most successful film to date. The success of the film led him to
come up with a sequel of the same titled, ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’, which mocked at
the Indira Gandhi’s implemented emergency period.

‘Ghare Baire’ released in 1984 marked his last film before he was struck with
medical illness.

With medical complications and health issues to be addressed, his career

graph slowed down. In the last nine years of his life, he came up with only
three films, ‘Ganashatru’, ‘Shakha Proshakha’ and ‘Agantuk’, all of which were
not at par with his earlier productions.
Ray’s Body of Work

His debut movie, ‘Pather Panchali’ was a ground-breaking film in all aspects
and received a cult status. A semi-autobiographical, the movie won eleven
international prizes. The success and grand reception of the film led to a
trilogy, with the release of ‘Aparjito’ and ‘Apur Sansar. Ray's international
career started in earnest after the success of his film, Aparajito (The
Unvanquished). Pather Panchali and its sequels tell the story of Apu, the poor
son of a Brahman priest, as he grows from childhood to manhood in a setting
that shifts from a small village to the city of Calcutta. Western influences
impinge more and more on Apu, who, instead of being satisfied to be a rustic
priest, conceives troubling ambitions to be a novelist. The conflict between
tradition and modernity is the great theme spanning all three films, which in a
sense portray the awakening of India in the first half of the 20th century.

Ray never returned to this saga form, his subsequent films becoming more and
more concentrated in time, with an emphasis on psychology rather than
conventional narrative. He also consciously avoided repeating himself. As a
result, his films span an unusually wide gamut of mood, milieu, period,
and genre, with comedies, tragedies, romances, musicals, and detective stories
treating all classes of Bengali society from the mid-19th to the late 20th
century. Most of Ray’s characters are, however, of average ability and
talents—unlike the subjects of his documentary films, which
include Rabindranath Tagore (1961) and The Inner Eye (1972). It was the inner
struggle and corruption of the conscience-stricken person that fascinated Ray;
his films primarily concern thought and feeling, rather than action and plot.
Some of Ray’s finest films were based on novels or other works
by Rabindranath Tagore, who was the principal creative influence on the

His 1964 released film, ‘Charulata’ became the most accomplished film of his
career. The film received wide critical recognition and audience appreciation.
Based on "Nastanirh", a short story of Tagore, the film tells of a lonely wife,
Charu, in 19th-century Bengal, and her growing feelings for her brother-in-law
Amal. Critics have referred to this as Ray's Mozartian masterpiece. He said the
film contained the fewest flaws among his work, and it was his only work
which, given a chance, he would make exactly the same way.The film has been
considered as a magnum opus of his career. Charulata won him the Best
Director prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
Teen Kanya(1961; “Three Daughters,” English-language title Two Daughters) is
a varied trilogy of short films about women, while Ghare Baire (1984; The
Home and the World) is a sombre study of Bengal’s first revolutionary
movement, set in 1907–08 during the period of British rule.
Ray’s major films about Hindu orthodoxy and feudal values (and their potential
clash with modern Western-inspired reforms) include Jalsaghar (1958; The
Music Room), an impassioned evocation of a man’s obsession with
music; Devi (1960; The Goddess), in which the obsession is with a girl’s divine
incarnation; Sadgati (1981; Deliverance), a powerful indictment of caste;
and Kanchenjungha(1962), Ray’s first original screenplay and first colour film, a
subtle exploration of arranged marriage among wealthy, westernized
Bengalis. Shatranj ke Khilari (1977; The Chess Players), Ray’s first film made in
the Hindi language, with a comparatively large budget, is an even subtler
probing of the impact of the West on India. Set in Lucknow in 1856, just before
the Indian Mutiny, it depicts the downfall of the ruler Wajid Ali at the hands of
the British with exquisite irony and pathos.
Although humour is evident in almost all of Ray’s films, it is particularly marked
in the comedy Parash Pathar (1957; The Philosopher’s Stone) and in the
musical Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne(1969; The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha),
based on a story by his grandfather. The songs composed by Ray for the latter
are among his best-known contributions to Bengali culture.
The rest of Ray’s major work—with the exception of his moving story of the
Bengal Famine of 1943–44, Ahsani Sanket (1973; Distant Thunder)—chiefly
concerns Calcutta and modern Calcuttans. Aranyer Din Ratri (1970; Days and
Nights in the Forest) observes the adventures of four young men trying to
escape urban mores on a trip to the country, and
failing. Mahanagar (1963; The Big City) and a trilogy of films made in the
1970s—Pratidwandi (1970; The Adversary), Seemabaddha (1971; Company
Limited), and Jana Aranya (1975; The Middleman)—examine the struggle for
employment of the middle class against a background (from 1970) of
revolutionary, Maoist-inspired violence, government repression,
and insidious corruption. After a gap in which Ray made Pikoo (1980) and then
fell ill with heart disease, he returned to the subject of corruption in
society. Ganashatru (1989; An Enemy of the People), an Indianized version
of Henrik Ibsen’s play, Shakha Prashakha (1990; Branches of the Tree), and
the sublime Agantuk (1991; The Stranger), with their strong male central
characters, each represent a facet of Ray’s own personality, defiantly
protesting against the intellectual and moral decay of his beloved Bengal.
Awards & Achievements

In his life, he was bestowed with 32 National Film Awards. At the 11th Moscow
International Film Festival in 1979, he was awarded with the Honorable Prize
for the contribution to cinema. At the Berlin International Film Festival, he was
one of only four filmmakers to win the Silver Bear for Best Director more than
once and holds the record for the most number of Golden Bear nominations,
with seven. At the Venice Film Festival, where he had previously won a Golden
Lion for Aparajito (1956), he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award in
1982. That same year, he received an honorary "Hommage à Satyajit Ray"
award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival

He is the second ever film personality after Chaplin to receive the honorary
doctorate from Oxford University.

In 1985, he received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award and two years
later received France’s most prestigious award, ‘Legion of Honor’.

The Government of India bestowed him with the highest civilian honor, ‘Bharat
Ratna’ in 1992. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray
an Honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. It was one of his
favourite actresses, Audrey Hepburn, who represented the Academy on that
day in Calcutta. Ray, unable to attend the ceremony due to his illness, gave his
acceptance speech to the Academy via live video feed from the hospital bed. In
1992 he was posthumously awarded the Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime
Achievement in Directing at the San Francisco International Film Festival; it was
accepted on his behalf by actress Sharmila Tagore.
An In - Depth Analysis of Ray’s Body of Work.

There is perhaps no filmmaker who exercised such total control over his work
as Satyajit Ray. He was responsible for scripting, casting, directing, scoring,
operating the camera, working closely on art direction and editing, even
designing his own credit titles and publicity material. His films come as close to
complete personal expression as may be possible in cinema. Ray’s style grows
out of the material itself, and from an inner compulsion to express it clearly.
The thread that ties the body of his work together is its strong humanist basis.
By his own admission his films are the antithesis of conventional Hollywood
films, both in style and content. His characters are generally of average ability
and talents. Perverted or bizarre behaviour, violence and explicit sex, rarely
appear in his films. His interest lies in characters with roots in their society.
What fascinates him is the struggle and corruption of the conscience-stricken
person. He brought real concerns of real people to the screen. His works serve
to remind us of the wholeness and sanctity of the individual. Above all, Ray’s is
a cinema of thought and feeling, in which the feeling is deliberately restrained
because it is so intense. Although Ray continued to experiment with subject
matter and style more than most directors, he always held true to his original
conviction that the finest cinema uses strong, simple themes containing
hundreds of little, apparently irrelevant details, which only help to intensify the
illusion of actuality better. These themes cannot come from the passing
fashions of the period; they must be drawn from permanent values.

By depicting physical environments with the utmost truth and by exploring

human relationships to their limits, Ray reveals many aspects of the human
condition. Through particulars, he reaches universality, conveying through his
cinema this co-existence. Much of his cinema’s strength lies in the total
impression of its average moments, moments that can’t be picked out as
necessarily striking scenes. This is because he strikes a carefully judged balance
between form and content. He does not let one part override the other. He
was known to reject locations because he thought them too spectacular and
overpowering, stating they would upset the balance.

In the last few decades we have seen greater emphasis on form and technique
in film at the expense of content. Form has come to be identified as the
content of film. With formalism reigning supreme, subject matter has
disappeared. Meaning has been divorced from the subject and a steady
dehumanisation in cinema has resulted. What is refreshing about Satyajit Ray
and his films is that they represent sanity and faith in humanity. With him, the
subject comes first and with the material on hand he allows it to dictate the

Throughout his career, Satyajit Ray maintained that the best technique of
filmmaking was the one that was not noticeable, that technique was merely a
means to an end. He disliked the idea of a film that drew attention to its style
rather than the contents. That is why his work touches one as a revelation of
artistry. For at the same time, he reveals his attitude, his sympathies, and his
overall outlook in a subtle manner, through hints and via undertones. There
are no direct messages in his films. But their meanings are clear, thanks to
structural coherence.

Ray makes us re-evaluate the commonplace. He has the remarkable capacity of

transforming the utterly mundane into the excitement of an adventure. There
is the ability to recognise the mythic in the ordinary, such as in the train
sequence of Pather Panchali where the humming telegraph poles hold Durga
and Apu in a spell. In addition, he has the extraordinary capacity of evoking the
unsaid. When viewing one of his films we often think we know what one of his
characters is thinking and feeling, without a single word of dialogue. This ability
to create a sense of intimate connection between people of vastly different
cultures is Ray’s greatest achievement. More then any of his contemporaries in
world cinema, he can create an awareness of the ordinary man, and he doesn’t
do it in the abstract, but by using the simplest, most common and concrete
details such as a gesture or a glance.

What is also distinctive in Ray’s work is that the rhythm in his films seems
almost meditative. There is a contemplative quality in the magnificent flow of
images and sounds that evokes an attitude of acceptance and detachment,
which is profoundly Indian. His compassionate work arises from a philosophical
tradition that brings detachment and freedom from fear, celebrates joy in birth
and life and accepts death with grace. This perspective attempts to create the
whole out of a fineness of detail. Ray succeeded in making Indian cinema, for
the first time in its history, something to be taken seriously, and in so doing,
created a body of work of distinct range and richness.
Quotes by Satyajit Ray

“The only solutions that are ever worth anything are the solutions that people
find themselves.”

“I never imagined that any of my films, especially Pather Panchali, would be

seen throughout this country or in other countries. The fact that they have is
an indication that, if you’re able to portray universal feelings, universal
relations, emotions, and characters, you can cross certain barriers and reach
out to others, even non-Bengalis.”

“Somehow I feel that an ordinary person–the man in the street if you like–is a
more challenging subject for exploration than people in the heroic mold. It is
the half shades, the hardly audible notes that I want to capture and explore.
[…] My films are about human beings, human relationships, and social
problems. I think it is possible for everyone to relate to these issues. On a
certain level, foreign audiences can appreciate Indian works, but many details
are missed. For example, when they see a woman with a red spot on her
forehead, they don’t know that this is a sign showing that she is married, or
that a woman dressed in a white sari is a widow. Indian audiences understand
this at once; it is self-evident for them. So, on certain level, the cultural gap is
too wide. But on a psychological level, on the level of social relations, it is
possible to relate. I think I have been able to cross the barrier between
cultures. My films are made for an Indian audience, but I think they have
bridged the gap.”

“When I write an original story I write about people I know first-hand and
situations I’m familiar with. I don’t write stories about the nineteenth century.”