Ray, Satyajit

views updated May 11 2018

RAY, Satyajit

Nationality: Indian. Born: Calcutta, 2 May 1921. Education: Attended Ballygunj Government School; Presidency College, University of Calcutta, B.A. in economics (with honors), 1940; studied painting at University of Santiniketan, 1940–43. Family: Married Bijoya Das, 1949; one son. Career: Commercial artist for D. J. Keymer advertising agency, Calcutta, 1943; co-founder, Calcutta Film Society, 1947; met Jean Renoir making The River, 1950; completed first film, Pather Panchali, 1955; composed own music, from Teen Kanya (1961) on; made first film in Hindi (as opposed to Bengali), The Chess Players, 1977; editor and illustrator for children's magazine Sandesh, 1980s. Awards: Grand Prize, Cannes Festival, 1956, Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1957, Film Critics Award, Stratford Festival, 1958, and president of India Gold Medal, all for Pather Panchali; Gold Lion, Venice Festival, 1957, Best Direction, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1958, and President of India Gold Medal, all for Aparajito; Selznick Award and Sutherland Trophy, 1960, for Apur Sansar; Silver Bear for Best Direction, Berlin Festival, for Mahanagar, 1964, and for Charulata, 1965; Special Award of Honour, Berlin Festival, 1966; Decorated Order Yugoslav Flag, 1971; Golden Bear Award, Berlin Film Festival, 1973, for Distant Thunder; D.Litt, Oxford University, 1978; life fellow, British Film Institute, 1983; Legion of Honour, France, 1989; Indian Awards, Best Picture and Best Director, 1991, for Agantuk; Academy Award for lifetime achievement in cinema, 1992. Died: Of heart failure, 23 April 1992, in Calcutta.

Films as Director and Scriptwriter:


Pather Panchali (Father Panchali) (+ pr)


Aparajito (The Unvanquished) (+ pr)


Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone)


Jalsaghar (The Music Room) (+ pr)


Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (+ pr)


Devi (The Goddess) (+ pr, mus)


Teen Kanya (Two Daughters) (+ pr); Rabindranath Tagore (doc)


Abhijan (Expedition); Kanchanjanga (+ pr)


Mahanagar (The Big City)


Charulata (The Lonely Wife)


Kapurush-o-Mahapurush (The Coward and the Saint); Two (short)


Nayak (The Hero)


Chiriakhana (The Zoo)


Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy andBagha)


Pratidwandi (The Adversary); Aranyer Din Ratri (Days andNights in the Forest)


Seemabaddha; Sikkim (doc)


The Inner Eye (doc)


Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder)


Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress)


Jana Aranya (The Middleman)


Bala (doc)


Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)


Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God)


Heerak Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds)


Sadgati (Deliverance) (for TV); Pikoo (short)


Ghare Bahire (The Home and the World) (+ pr, mus)


Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People)


Shakha Proshakha (Branches of the Tree)


Agantuk (The Visitor)


By RAY: books—

Our Films, Their Films, New Delhi, 1977.

The Chess Players and Other Screenplays, London, 1989.

My Years with APU, New York, 1994.

By RAY: articles—

"A Long Time on the Little Road," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1957.

"Satyajit Ray on Himself," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), July/Au-gust 1965.

"From Film to Film," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), no. 3, 1966

Interview, in Film Makers on Filmmaking, by Harry M. Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1967.

Interview, in Interviews with Film Directors, edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.

Interview with J. Blue, in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1968.

"Conversation with Satyajit Ray," with F. Isaksson, in Sight andSound (London), Summer 1970.

"Ray's New Trilogy," an interview with C. B. Thomsen, in Sight andSound (London), Winter 1972/73.

"Dialogue on Film: Satyajit Ray," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1978.

Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), May 1979.

Interview with U. Gupta, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 1, 1982.

"Under Western Eyes," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1982.

"Bridging the Home and the World," an interview with A. Robinson, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1984.

Interview with Charles Tesson, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1987.

Interview with Derek Malcolm, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.

Time Out (London), 29 April 1992.

"To Western Audiences, the Filmmaker Satyajit Ray Is Synonymous with Indian Cinema," an interview with Gowri Ramnarayan, in Interview, June 1992.

On RAY: films—

Satyajit Ray, 1982.

Satyajit Ray: Introspections, 1991.

On RAY: books—

Seton, Marie, Portrait of a Director, Bloomington, Indiana, 1970.

Wood, Robin, The Apu Trilogy, New York, 1971.

Taylor, John Russell, Directors and Directions: Cinema for '70s, New York, 1975.

Rangoonwalla, Firoze, Satyajit Ray's Art, Shahdara, Delhi, 1980.

Satyajit Ray: An Anthology, edited by Chidananda Das Gupta, New Delhi, 1981.

Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Gandhy, Indian Cinema, London, 1982.

Armes, Roy, Third World Filmmaking and the West, Berkeley, 1987.

Nyce, Ben, Satyajit Ray: A Study of His Films, New York, 1988.

Robinson, Andrew, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, London, 1989.

Tesson, Charles, Satyajit Ray, Paris, 1992.

Sarkar, Bidyut, World of Satyajit Ray, UBS Publishers, 1992.

Banerjee, Tarapada, Satyajit Ray: A Portrait in Black and White, New York, 1993.

Moras, Chris, Creativity and Its Contents, Chester Springs, Pennsyl-vania, 1995.

Banerjee, Surabhi, Satyajit Ray: Beyond the Frame, Allied Publish-ers, 1996.

Das, Santi, editor, Satyajit Ray: An Intimate Master, Allied Publish-ers, 1998.

On RAY: articles—

Gray, H., "The Growing Edge: Satyajit Ray," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Winter 1958.

Rhode, Eric, "Satyajit Ray: A Study," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1961.

Stanbrook, Alan, "The World of Ray," in Films and Filming (London), November 1965.

Hrusa, B., "Satyajit Ray: Genius behind the Man," in Film (London), Winter 1966.

Glushanok, Paul, "On Ray," in Cineaste (New York), Summer 1967.

Malik, A., "Satyajit Ray and the Alien," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1967/68.

Mehta, V., "Profiles," in New Yorker, 21 March 1970.

Thomsen, Christian Braad, "Ray's New Trilogy," in Sight andSound (London), Winter 1972/73.

Dutta, K., "Cinema in India: An Interview with Satyajit Ray's Cinematographers," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), January 1975.

Hughes, J., "A Voyage in India: Satyajit Ray," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1976.

"Pathar Panchali Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 Febru-ary 1980.

Armes, Roy, "Satyajit Ray: Astride Two Cultures," in Films andFilming (London), August 1982.

Robinson, A., "Satyajit Ray at Work," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), September 1983.

Ray, B., "Ray off Set," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1983/84.

Das Gupta, Chidananda, and Andrew Robinson, "A Passage from India," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1985.

Dissanyake, W., "Art, Vision, and Culture: Sayajit Ray's Apu Trilogy Revisited," in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu), vol. 1, December 1986.

Gehler, F., "Wie der Tempel von Konarak," in Film und Fernsehen (Potsdam, Germany), vol. 16, July 1988.

Robinson, Andrew, "The Music Room," in Sight and Sound (Lon-don), Autumn 1989.

Armand, M., "Satyajit Ray au present," in Cahiers du Cinéma, July/August 1990.

Jivani, A., "Ray of Hope," in Time Out (London), 24 April 1991.

Sengupta, Shuddhabarata, "Reflections on Satyajit Ray," WorldPress Review, April 1992.

Schickel, Richard, "Days and Nights at the Art House," in FilmComment, May/June 1992.

Andersson, K., "Satyajit Ray," in Cinema Papers, May/June 1992.

Chatterjee, D., "Entretien avec Satyajit Ray," in Cahiers du Cinéma, June 1992.

Grafe, L., and O. Moller, obituary, in Film-Dienst (Köln), vol. 45, 12 May 1992.

McBride, J., and D. Young, obituary, in Variety, 27 April 1992.

Obituary, in Filmnews, vol. 22, no. 4, May 1992.

Niogret, H., and M. Ciment, "Les espaces de Satyajit Ray," in Positif (Paris), June 1992.

Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 4, June 1992.

Sight and Sound (London), special section, vol. 2, August 1992.

Bonneville, L., in Séquences (Haute-Ville, Québec), November 1992.

Heifetz, H., "Mixed Music: In Memory of Satyajit Ray," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 14, 1993.

Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), special section, January 1993.

Andersson, K., "Lo scambio di culture nell'opera di Satyajit Ray," in Cinema Nuovo (Rome), vol. 42, January-February 1993.

Positif (Paris), special section, no. 399, May 1994.

Ganguly, Keya, "Carnal Knowledge: Visuality and the Modern in Charulata," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), no. 37, Janu-ary 1996.

Van der Heide, Bill, "Experiencing India: A Personal History," in Media International Australia (North Ryde, NSW), no. 80, May 1996.

* * *

From the beginning of his career as a filmmaker, Satyajit Ray was interested in finding ways to reveal the mind and thoughts of his characters. Because the range of his sympathy was wide, he has been accused of softening the presence of evil in his cinematic world. But a director who aims to represent the currents and cross-currents of feeling within people is likely to disclose to viewers the humanness even in reprehensible figures. In any case, from the first films of his early period, Ray devised strategies for rendering inner lives; he simplified the surface action of the film so that the viewer's attention travels to (1) the reaction of people to one another, or to their environments, (2) the mood expressed by natural scenery or objects, and (3) music as a clue to the state of mind of a character. In the Apu Trilogy the camera often stays with one of two characters after the other character exits the frame to see their silent response. Or else, after some significant event in the narrative, Ray presents correlatives of that event in the natural world. When the impoverished wife in Pather Panchali receives a postcard bearing happy news from her husband, the scene dissolves to water skates dancing on a pond. As for music, in his films Ray commissioned compositions from India's best classical musicians—Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Ali Akbar Khan—but after Teen Kanya composed his own music and progressed towards quieter indication through music of the emotional experience of his characters.

Ray's work can be divided into three periods on the basis of his cinematic practice: the early period, 1955–66, from Pather Panchali through Nayak; the middle period, 1969–1977, from Googy Gyne Bagha Byne through Shatranj Ke Khilari; and the final period, from Joy Baba Felunath and through his final film Agantuk, in 1991. The early period is characterized by thoroughgoing realism: the mise-enscène are rendered in deep focus; long takes and slow camera movements prevail. The editing is subtle, following shifts of narrative interest and cutting on action in the Hollywood style. Ray's emphasis in the early period on capturing reality is obvious in Kanchanjangha, in which 100 minutes in the lives of characters are rendered in 100 minutes of film time. The Apu Trilogy, Parash Pather, Jalsaghar, and Devi all exemplify what Ray had learned from Hollywood's studio era, from Renoir's mise-en-scène, and from the use of classical music in Indian cinema. Charulata affords the archetypal example of Ray's early style, with the decor, the music, the long takes, the activation of various planes of depth within a composition, and the reaction shots all contributing significantly to a representation of the lonely wife's inner conflicts. The power of Ray's early films comes from his ability to suggest deep feeling by arranging the surface elements of his films unemphatically.

Ray's middle period is characterized by increasing complexity of style; to his skills at understatement Ray adds a sharp use of montage. The difference in effect between an early film and a middle film becomes apparent if one compares the early Mahanagar with the middle Jana Aranya, both films pertaining to life in Calcutta. In Mahanagar, the protagonist chooses to resign her job in order to protest the unjust dismissal of a colleague. The film affirms the rightness of her decision. In the closing sequence, the protagonist looks up at the tall towers of Calcutta and says to her husband so that we believe her, "What a big city! Full of jobs! There must be something somewhere for one of us!" Ten years later, in Jana Aranya, it is clear that there are no jobs and that there is precious little room to worry about niceties of justice and injustice. The darkness running under the pleasant facade of many of the middle films seems to derive from the turn in Indian politics after the death of Nehru. Within Bengal, many ardent young people joined a Maoist movement to destroy existing institutions, and more were themselves destroyed by a ruthless police force. Across India, politicians abandoned Nehru's commitment to a socialist democracy in favor of a scramble for personal power. In Seemabaddha or Aranyer Din Ratri Ray's editing is sharp but not startling. In Shatranj Ke Khilari, on the other hand, Ray's irony is barely restrained: he cuts from the blue haze of a Nawab's music room to a gambling scene in the city. In harsh daylight, commoners lay bets on fighting rams, as intent on their gambling as the Nawab was on his music.

Audiences in India who responded warmly to Ray's early films have sometimes been troubled by the complexity of his middle films. A film like Shatranj Ke Khilari was expected by many viewers to reconstruct the splendors of Moghul India as the early Jalsaghar had reconstructed the sensitivity of Bengali feudal landlords and Charulata the decency of upper class Victorian Bengal. What the audience found instead was a stern examination of the sources of Indian decadence. According to Ray, the British seemed less to blame for their role than the Indians who demeaned themselves by colluding with the British or by ignoring the public good and plunging into private pleasures. Ray's point of view in Shatranj was not popular with distributors and so his first Hindi film was denied fair exhibition in many cities in India.

Ray's concluding style, most evident in the short features Pikoo and Sadgati, pays less attention than earlier to building a stable geography and a firm time scheme. The exposition of characters and situations is swift: the effect is of great concision. In Pikoo, a young boy is sent outside to sketch flowers so that his mother and her lover can pursue their affair indoors. The lover has brought along a drawing pad and colored pens to divert the boy. The boy has twelve colored pens in his packet with which he must represent on paper the wealth of colors in nature. In a key scene (lasting ten seconds) the boy looks at a flower, then down at his packet for a matching color. Through that action of the boy's looking to match the world with his means, Ray suggests the striving in his own work to render the depth and range of human experience.

In focussing on inner lives and on human relations as the ground of social and political systems, Ray continued the humanist tradition of Rabindranath Tagore. Ray studied at Santiniketan, the university founded by Tagore, and was close to the poet during his last years. Ray once acknowledged his debt in a lyrical documentary about Tagore, and through the Tagore stories on which he based his films Teen Kanya, Charulata, and Ghare Bahire. As the poet Tagore was his example, Ray has become an example to important younger filmmakers (such as Shyam Benegal, M. S. Sathyu, G. Aravindan), who have learned from him how to reveal in small domestic situations the working of larger political and cultural forces.

—Satti Khanna

Ray, Satyajit

views updated May 14 2018


RAY, SATYAJIT (1921–1992), renowned Indian filmmaker. In 1955, with the release of his first feature film, Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray became an internationally acclaimed filmmaker. His reputation further surged with the completion of the Apu Trilogy (1959), considered by some critics to be the greatest cinematic suite ever made. By the time of his death in 1992, Ray had made twenty-nine features and seven documentaries and shorts. Working with simple tools, he fashioned tales, both visual and literary, that were straightforward in their presentation yet richly complex in their capacity to suggest multiple meanings and interpretations. He wrote his own screenplays, handled the camera, and did his own editing work as well. After 1962, he began scoring the music for all his films. Trained as a graphic artist, he sketched out each scene before shooting and designed the posters that publicized his new releases.

Ray worked under two severe constraints: all his films, made for relatively small Bengali-speaking audiences in India, had to be modestly budgeted, and he had to rely on stories and themes that he found filmable in modern Bengali fiction. These included some of his own; he is Bengal's best-selling adventure and science-fiction writer to this day. During his life and filmmaking career, Ray received many honors. In addition to the Honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, which he received in 1992 in his hospital room, a few weeks before he passed away, he was presented with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor. Oxford University conferred on him an honorary doctorate; the University of California, Berkeley, awarded him the Berkeley Medal. President François Mitterrand of France went to Kolkata (Calcutta) to personally award him the Légion d'Honneur.

Satyajit Ray was born on 2 May 1921 in Kolkata to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray. He was born into a distinguished family of artists, writers, musicians, scientists, and physicians. His grandfather, Upendra Kishore, was an innovator, a writer of children's storybooks (popular to this day), an illustrator, printer, and musician. Ray's father, Sukumar, trained as a printing technologist in England, was Bengal's most beloved nonsense rhyme writer, illustrator, and cartoonist. He died when Satyajit was only two and a half years old.

Ray's mother, Suprabha, was a singer. After his father's death, they lived with Suprabha's brother's family and with Ray's paternal uncles. The extended family had many talented uncles, aunts, and cousins, including artists and musicians. One of the uncles was a cameraman, who later became a director of films. As a youngster, Ray developed two significant interests. The first was music, especially Western Classical music. He learned to read music, collected albums, and started to attend concerts. The second was movies. He saw silent films as well as "talkies," and began to compile scrapbooks with clippings from newspapers and magazines on Hollywood stars. As a young man, Ray developed an avid interest in the craft of cinema. He read books on filmmaking and theoretical works on cinema, and wrote screenplays for his own amusement.

Upon graduating from Presidency College, Kolkata, majoring in economics, he joined the art school Kala Bhavan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore, at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan, at Tagore's personal encouragement. Tagore had been close to both Upendra Kishore and Sukumar Ray. At Santiniketan, Ray learned to draw from the great master teachers, Nandalal Bose and Binode Behari Mukherjee. Bose and Mukherjee were pioneers of what became known as the Bengal School, innovating and inventing an art form that emphasized an Asian style, combining Chinese and Japanese calligraphy with traditional Indian elements. Ray later developed this style in his illustrations and graphic designs.

While in Santiniketan, Ray was exposed to film theory and read books on cinema. He discovered that his two passions—music and film—actually convergenced. After returning to Kolkata, he began the habit of going to the theater with a notebook. He was not just watching, he was studying as well. His apprenticeship in filmmaking thus began.

Ray joined the British advertising agency D. J. Keymer in Kolkata in 1943 as a junior designer. The job helped him bloom into a graphic artist, typographer, book-jacket designer, and illustrator. He went to London in 1950 on a commission from the company. While there, he saw many films, including Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief, 1948) and Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu (Rules of the Game, 1939), which made abiding impressions on him.

While returning from London by sea, Ray illustrated a children's edition of Pather Panchali, a semi-autobiographical novel by noted Bengali author Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee. The sketches became storyboard elements when he elected to make a film from the novel. He managed somehow to make the film, using mostly amateur actors, shooting outdoors in natural light, financing it by pawning his rare music albums and his wife's jewelry, and calling on his mother's connections in government circles in Kolkata. This became typical of his mode of independent filmmaking—an endless search for the elusive producer who would agree to his nonnegotiable artistic terms.

The release of Pather Panchali in 1955 brought Satyajit Ray instant international as well as national recognition. It was first screened without subtitles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955 to critical acclaim. It was shown the following year at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Human Document award. The die was cast: Ray resigned from his post at D. J. Keymer, and he became a full-time filmmaker, directing one or more films every year until 1983, when he suffered a massive heart attack. He remained an acute heart patient, which drastically reduced his ability to make films, though he continued to produce provocative work.

Ray earned very modest amounts from directing his small-budget films, not sufficient to support his small family. He started writing and illustrating stories for Sandesh, the children's magazine that his grandfather had founded, and which Ray revived in 1961. In 1968 the editor of Desh, a popular Bengali literary magazine, persuaded Ray to write a novella for its annual edition. Ray, the writer of mysteries, adventure stories, and science fiction, all appropriately illustrated by him, thus made his debut on Bengal's literary scene. This was the beginning of his prolific literary output of some seventy novellas, stories, and translations, each of which became a bestseller in Bengali.

One can identify three major compositional periods in Ray's life. The first period (1955–1964) was remarkable for its robust optimism, celebration of the human spirit, and creative satisfaction. Ray was not only directing and scripting, but also scoring the music and taking charge of the cinematography. During this period, he directed, arguably, his greatest films. This period coincided with India's early years of independence and Jawaharlal Nehru's experiments with secular democracy based on humanism, internationalism, and modernism.

The second period (1965–1977) saw India come under a dark spell. There was the war with China (1962), during Nehru's last years, and a war with Pakistan (1965). Growing urban unemployment and an agricultural crisis brought about by a command economy created near-famine conditions in parts of the country. The war in Vietnam and the Cultural Revolution in China had radicalized Kolkata's youth, artists, writers, and intellectuals. Revolutionary and counterrevolutionary violence gripped the city. Kolkata, once known as a friendly and safe city, became a dangerous place to live. The Bangladesh War (1971) caused an influx of millions of refugees fleeing the Pakistani army, filling Kolkata and its outskirts. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, battling a massive opposition to her government, imposed "National Emergency" rule on the country. India came under draconian control, but there were few signs of serious protests: people followed orders, the streets looked cleaner, the economy showed growth, and the trains were running on time.

Ray was troubled. The films he made during this period clearly projected a troubled vision of India. The Calcutta Trilogy—The Adversary, Company Limited, and The Middleman—created powerful portraits of alienation, waywardness, and moral collapse. Days and Nights in the Forest and Distant Thunder, made during the Bangladesh War on the subject of the Bengal famine of 1943, showed rape and violence in a straightforward manner. The Chess Players, made during the Emergency, used the metaphor of a chess game to show how the king of Oudh, more a poet and composer than a ruler, submitted to the British takeover of his kingdom in 1856 as his people fled their villages. The two short films Pikoo and Deliverance raised the issues of adultery and untouchability. Even his so-called escapist films—the Goopy and Bagha musicals and the detective film Golden Fortress—carried messages against wars, criminality, and greed. In midlife, at the height of his creative powers, Ray seemed to have adopted a dark worldview. Socially, he became increasingly isolated.

In the third and last phase (1977–1992), Ray's world-view came full circle. In the 1980s he became even more isolated and distant. In the films he made during this period, he related his messages in definitive terms: unlike his early work, his films became didactic and frank. Gone were the carefully crafted shades of gray. Home and the World (1984), based on a Tagore novel, is a diatribe against nationalism, the mix of religion and politics, and political opportunism and dishonesty. Although the theme is the Swadeshi movement of 1905, Home and the World addressed issues of critical concern in the 1980s. Stricken by two heart attacks, Ray was not able to make films with his characteristic rigor. He made modest family dramas, shot indoors under the watchful eyes of his doctors. He made three films, all based on his own stories, in 1988, 1989, and 1990. The first, Enemy of the People, an adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play to Bengali in 1988, addressed questions of capitalist corruption and manipulation of religion, people, politics, and environment. Branches of a Tree (1989) also addressed issues of capitalism as it impacts family values and ethics. The protagonist, a heart patient like Ray, is obsessed with honesty, mediated by mood swings of music and madness. The third film, The Stranger (1990), literally carries Ray's own voice in three places, where he sings. The protagonist is clearly Ray himself. His global concerns are articulated locally. Who is an artist? Who is civilized and who is primitive? The protagonist is against narrowness of all sorts, against boundaries and borders. "Don't be a frog in the well," he tells his grandnephew as the film comes to an end.

Ray was a product of the Anglo-Bengali encounter of the nineteenth century. His cultural, intellectual, and ideological roots can be traced to what is known as the "Bengali Renaissance." As a powerfully creative artist, his craft was influenced as much by the West as by the Bengal School. One can argue that, in the final analysis, he was more than a product of the "Calcutta modern"—a synthesis of the East and the West. His creativity, he once remarked, remained grounded both in what is uniquely Bengali and in what is universal.

Ray's mother had taken him to visit Rabindranath Tagore when he was five years old. Young Ray extended his autograph book to Tagore. Tagore wrote in it in verse:

For a long time, over many miles,
I've been to many countries.
I've spent a lot of money.
I've seen the highest peaks;
I've seen the greatest oceans.
But I still have yet to open my eyes,
glance over at the field next to my house,
and see a dewdrop on a blade of grass.

Tagore then told Ray, "When you grow up, you'll understand what I've written for you here."

Years later, while filming Pather Panchali, Ray realized that all his theoretical knowledge and study of film proved inadequate to the challenge he faced. He wrote, "One day's work with camera and actors taught me more than all the dozen books [I read on film making]. [I found out for myself] how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village, when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass, and the smoke from the ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and near are joined by the chorus of crickets which rise as the light falls, until all one sees are stars in the sky, and the fireflies that blink and swirl in the thickets" (Satyajit Ray: An Anthology of Statements on Ray and by Ray, pp. 23–24).

Satyajit Ray died on 23 April 1992. A million mourners marched in the funeral procession, the greatest outpouring of public grief in Kolkata since Tagore's death fifty years earlier.

Dilip K. Basu

See alsoTagore, Rabindranath


Dasgupta, Chidananda. The Cinema of Satyajit Ray. New Delhi: Vikas, 1980.

Robonson, Andrew. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye. London: Andrew Deutsch, 1989.

Satyajit Ray: An Anthology of Statements on Ray and by Ray. Delhi: Film India, 1981.

Seton, Marie. Portrait of a Director: Satyajit Ray. London: Dennis Dobson, 1971.

Satyajit Ray

views updated May 18 2018

Satyajit Ray

The Indian film director Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) was noted for his refined and subtly moving studies of native family life. His creations possess a humanistic warmth, crystalline purity, and mythic evocativeness which enable them to transcend the barriers of alien cultural sensibility.

Satyajit Ray was born in Bengal into one of the nation's most prominent artistic families. His grandfather was a painter, a poet, and a scientist who edited the first children's magazine in Bengal. Ray's father was the author of, among other works, Bengal's classic Book of Nonsense. In 1940 Satyajit Ray graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Calcutta. With the encouragement of Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian writer-philosopher and close friend of the Ray family, the youth undertook graduate courses in painting and graphics at the Santiniketan Institute. Ray was subsequently hired as an art director for the Calcutta branch of a British advertising agency in 1945. Sometime later he was transferred to the firm's London office, where, besides his regular assignments, he designed a new abridged edition of Bibhui Banerji's popular two-volume novel, Pather Panchali. With the cinematic version already germinating in his mind, Ray, a movie enthusiast from childhood, attended all the current films of John Ford and William Wyler; he was particularly impressed by Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thief; and, in addition, he studied the cinema theories of Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

When Ray returned to India in 1950, he met the French film maker Jean Renoir, who, while completing the location shooting of The River, gave Ray invaluable technical training. Stimulated by Renoir's personal interest, Ray began work on the scenario for the Banerji story. Produced on an extremely tight budget and employing such De Sica devices as the use of nonprofessional actors in their natural environs, Ray's sensitive visualization of the life of a poor Brahmin family, released in 1955, earned over 100 international film awards and fervent critical praise. Ray continued the events of Banerji's tale in his next production, Aparajito, a film as lyrical as the first, though more advanced technically and structurally. Before undertaking the concluding portion of the trilogy, the director shifted his focus from the physical hardships of the impoverished to the spiritual malaise of the declining aristocracy, creating The Music Room (1958). The final chapter in Ray's national epic, The World of Apu (1960), contrasting the joys of married life and childbirth with the desolation of defeat and bereavement, provided an ideal ending for a work of art which functioned with equal intensity on the particular and mythical levels. "It is fascinating to note," wrote critic Stanley Kauffmann (1966) of the trilogy, "how in the most commonplace daily actions—gesturing, walking, carrying a jug—these people move beautifully, how in the poorest homes the bowls and platters, the windings of the ragged shawls, have some beauty … not dainty aestheticism but an ingrained ethos."

With Devi (1960) Ray examined with intelligence and compassion the controversial problem of Hindu superstition, and in Two Daughters (1961) he explored the tension resulting from unyielding family ritual. Kanchenjanga (1962), the director's first color film, again dealt with domestic conflict.

In 1992 he was honored with a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He died on April 23, 1992. His funeral ceremony was conducted with full state honors and declared an official holiday by the government of West Bengal. Over one million mourners attended.

Further Reading

Ray gives his views in Hugh Gray's revealing interview with him, recorded in Andrew Sarris, ed., Interviews with Film Directors (1967). The most thorough and perceptive analysis of Ray's cinematography is in Erik Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy, Indian Film (1963). See also sections of Pauline Kael, I Lost It at the Movies (1965); Eric Rhode, The Tower of Babel (1966); and Stanley Kauffmann, A World on Film (1966). □

Ray, Satyajit

views updated May 23 2018

Ray, Satyajit (1921–92) Indian film director. Ray introduced Indian cinema to the West. His “Apu Trilogy” – Pather Panchali (1955), The Unvanquished (1956), and The World of Apu (1959) – is a beautiful, humanist series of films about life in post-colonial India. Other films include The Big City (1963), The Hero (1966), and The Visitor (1992).