Satyajit Ray was an Indian director, screenwriter, filmmaker, author, essayist, lyricist, magazine editor, illustrator, calligrapher, and composer. He is widely considered one of the greatest film-makers of all time. Ray is celebrated for works including The Apu Trilogy (1955 - 1959), Jalsaghar (1958), Mahanagar (1963) and Charulata (1964) and the Goopy–Bagha trilogy.
Satyajit Ray (2 May 1921 – 23 April 1992) was born to Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was two years old. Ray grew up in the house of his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury. He was attracted by the machines and process of printing from an early age, and took particular interest in the production process of Sandesh, a children's magazine started by Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury. Ray studied at Ballygunge Government High School in Calcutta, and completed his B.A. in Economics at Presidency College, Calcutta. During his school days, he saw several Hollywood productions in cinema. The works of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Ernst Lubitsch and movies such as The Thief of Baghdad and Uncle Tom's Cabin made lasting impression on his mind. He developed keen interest in Western classical music.
In 1940, he get admitted in Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan for higher studies in Fine 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.
His visits to Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta stimulated his admiration for Indian art. Three books that he read in the university influenced him to become a serious student of film-making: Paul Rotha's The Film Till Now, and two books on theory by Rudolf Arnheim and Raymond Spottiswoode.
Ray designed covers for many books, including Jibanananda Das's Banalata Sen and Rupasi Bangla, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's Chander Pahar, Jim Corbett's Maneaters of Kumaon, and Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. He worked on a children's version of Pather Panchali, a classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, renamed Aam Antir Bhepu (The mango-seed whistle).
Ray founded the Calcutta Film Society in 1947. They screened many foreign films, many of which Ray watched and seriously studied, including several American and Russian films.
In 1950, Ray went to London to work. During his six months in London, Ray watched 99 films, including Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth (1930) and Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939). However, the film that had the most profound effect on him was the neorealist film Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948) by Vittorio De Sica. Ray later said that he walked out of the theatre determined to become a filmmaker.
After being "deeply moved" by Pather Panchali, the 1928 classic, Ray decided to adapt it for his first film. Pather Panchali is a semi-autobiographical novel describing the maturation of Apu, a small boy in a Bengal village. Pather Panchali did not have a script; it was made from Ray's drawings and notes.
Ray gathered an inexperienced crew, the cast consisted of mostly amateur actors. After unsuccessful attempts to persuade many producers to finance the project, Ray started shooting in late 1952 with his personal savings and hoped to raise more money once he had some footage shot, but failed on his terms. As a result, Ray shot Pather Panchali over two and a half years, an unusually long period. He refused funding from sources who wanted to change the script or exercise supervision over production. He also ignored advice from the Indian government to incorporate a happy ending, but he did receive funding that allowed him to complete the film. With a loan from the West Bengal government, Ray finally completed the film; it was released in 1955 to critical acclaim.
Ray's international career started in earnest after the success of his next film, the second in The Apu Trilogy, Aparajito (1956) (The Unvanquished). This film depicts the eternal struggle between the ambitions of a young man, Apu, and the mother who loves him. Upon release, Aparajito won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, bringing Ray considerable acclaim.
He finished the last of the trilogy, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) in 1959.
Ray followed Apur Sansar with 1960's Devi (The Goddess), a film in which he examined the superstitions in Hindu society. Sharmila Tagore starred as Doyamoyee, a young wife who is deified by her father-in-law.
In 1961, Ray was able to revive Sandesh, the children's magazine which his grandfather had founded. Ray began to make illustrations for it, as well as to write stories and essays for children.
In 1962, Ray directed Kanchenjungha, Based on his first original screenplay, it was also his first colour film.
At the 15th Berlin International Film Festival, Charulata earned him a Silver Bear for Best Director. Other films in this period include Mahanagar (The Big City), Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), Abhijan (The Expedition), Kapurush (The Coward) and Mahapurush (Holy Man). The first of these, Mahanagar drew praise from British critics; Philip French opined that it was one of Ray's best.
The first major film in post-Charulata period is 1966's Nayak (The Hero), the story of a screen hero travelling in a train and meeting a young, sympathetic female journalist.
In 1969, Ray directed one of his most commercially successful films; a musical fantasy based on a children's story written by his grandfather, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha). It is about the journey of Goopy the singer, and Bagha the drummer, endowed with three gifts by the King of Ghosts, to stop an impending war between two neighbouring kingdoms.
Next, Ray directed the film adaptation of a novel by the poet and writer, Sunil Gangopadhyay. Featuring a musical motif structure, Aranyer Din Ratri (1970) (Days and Nights in the Forest) follows four urban young men going to the forests for a vacation.
After Aranyer Din Ratri, Ray addressed contemporary Bengali life. He completed what became known as the Calcutta trilogy: Pratidwandi (1970), Seemabaddha (1971), and Jana Aranya (1975), three films that were conceived separately but had similar themes. The trilogy focuses on repression, with male protagonists encountering the forbidden.
Also in the 1970s, Ray adapted two of his popular stories as detective films. Although mainly aimed at children and young adults, both Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) became cult favorites.
In 1977, Ray completed Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players). It was Ray's first feature film in a language other than Bengali. Despite the film's limited budget, The Washington Post critic gave it a positive review; "He possesses what many overindulged Hollywood filmmakers often lack: a view of history".
In 1980, Ray made a sequel to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, a somewhat political Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds).
His film, Ghare Baire, an adaptation of the novel of the same name, was completed in 1984 with the help of Ray's son. It is about the dangers of fervent nationalism. In 1987, Ray directed the film Shakha Proshakha (Branches of the Tree). Ray's last film, Agantuk (The Stranger), is lighter in mood but not in theme; It provokes far-ranging questions in the film about civilisation. Critic Hal Hinson was impressed, and thought Agantuk shows "all the virtues of a master artist in full maturity".
Ray valued work more than anything else. He would work 12 hours a day, and go to bed at two o'clock in the morning. He also enjoyed collecting antiques, manuscripts, rare gramophone records, paintings, and rare books.
In 1992, Ray's health deteriorated due to heart complications. He was admitted to a hospital but never recovered. Twenty-four days before his death, Ray was presented with an Honorary Academy Award by Audrey Hepburn via video-link; he was in gravely ill condition, but gave an acceptance speech, calling it the "best achievement of his movie-making career." He died on 23 April 1992, 9 days before his 71st birthday.
Ray created two popular fictional characters in Bengali children's literature— Pradosh Chandra Mitter (Mitra) alias Feluda, a private detective, and Professor Shonku, a scientist. The Feluda stories are narrated by Tapesh Ranjan Mitra aka Topshe, his teenage cousin, something of a Watson to Feluda's Holmes. The science fiction stories of Shonku are presented as a diary discovered after the scientist had mysteriously disappeared.
Ray also wrote a collection of nonsense verse named Today Bandha Ghorar Dim, which includes a translation of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky". He wrote a collection of humorous stories of Mullah Nasiruddin in Bengali.
Ray wrote an autobiography about his childhood years, Jakhan Choto Chilam (1982), translated to English as Childhood Days: A Memoir by his wife Bijoya Ray. In 1994, Ray published his memoir, My Years with Apu, about his experiences of making The Apu Trilogy.
He also wrote essays on film, published as the collections: Our Films, Their Films (1976), Bishoy Chalachchitra (1976), and Ekei Bole Shooting (1979). During the mid-1990s, Ray's film essays and an anthology of short stories were also published in English in the West. Our Films, Their Films is an anthology of film criticism by Ray. The book contains articles and personal journal excerpts. The book is presented in two sections: Ray first discusses Indian film, before turning his attention toward Hollywood, specific filmmakers (Charlie Chaplin and Akira Kurosawa), and movements such as Italian neorealism. His book Bishoy Chalachchitra was published in translation in 2006 as Speaking of Films. It contains a compact description of his philosophy of different aspects of the cinemas.
Ray designed four typefaces for roman script named Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis, and Holiday script, apart from numerous Bengali ones for the Sandesh magazine. Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre won an international competition in 1971.
As a graphic designer, Ray designed most of his film posters, combining folk art and calligraphy to create themes ranging from mysterious, surreal to comical; an exhibition for his posters was held at British Film Institute in 2013. He would master every style of visual art, and could mimic any painter, as evidenced in his book and magazine covers, posters, literary illustrations, and advertisement campaigns.
Ray had been subconsciously paying a tribute to Jean Renoir throughout his career, who influenced him the most. He also acknowledged Vittorio De Sica, whom he thought represented Italian Neorealism best, and taught him the cramming of cinematic details into a single shot, and using amateur actors and actresses.
Ray professed to have learnt the craft of cinema from Old Hollywood directors such as John Ford, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. He had deep respect and admiration for his contemporaries Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman, whom he considered giants. Among others, he learnt the use of freeze frame shots from François Truffaut, and jump cuts, fades and dissolves from Jean-Luc Godard.
At the beginning of his career, Ray worked with Indian classical musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, and Ali Akbar Khan. He found that their first loyalty was to musical traditions, and not to his film. He obtained a greater understanding of Western classical forms. Starting with Teen Kanya, Ray began to compose his own scores. Beethoven was Ray's favourite composer. Ray also went on to become a distinguished connoisseur of Western classical music in India. The narrative structure of Ray's films are represented by musical forms such as sonata, fugue and rondo. Kanchenjunga, Nayak and Aranyer Din Ratri are examples of this structure.
Ray's work has been described as full of humanism and universality, and of a deceptive simplicity with deep underlying complexity. The Japanese director Akira Kurosawa said, "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." But his detractors find his films glacially slow, moving like a "majestic snail." Some critics find his work anti-modern; they criticise him for lacking the new modes of expression or experimentation found in works of Ray's contemporaries, such as Jean-Luc Godard. Kurosawa defended him by saying that Ray's films were not slow; "His work can be described as flowing composedly, like a big river".
Praising his contribution to the world of cinema, Martin Scorsese said: "His work is in the company of that of living contemporaries like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini." Francis Ford Coppola praised 1960's Devi, which he considers as his best work and a "cinematic milestone"; Coppola admits to learning Indian cinema through Ray's works. On a trip to India, Christopher Nolan expressed his admiration for Ray's Pather Panchali. Nolan said, "I have had the pleasure of watching Pather Panchali recently, which I hadn't seen before. I think it is one of the best films ever made. It is an extraordinary piece of work."
Ray is a cultural icon in India and in Bengali communities worldwide.
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 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.
Ray is the second film personality after Charlie Chaplin to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University.
He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985, and the Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987.
The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 1965 and the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, shortly before his death.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray an Honorary Award in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement.
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.
In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll ranked Ray at No. 7 in its list of "Top 10 Directors" of all time, making him the highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll.
In 2002, the Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll ranked Ray at No. 22 in its list of all-time greatest directors.
Participants in a 2004 BBC poll placed him No. 13 on the "Greatest Bengali of all time".
Birth centenary celebrations:
Award in recognition of legacy:
In recognition of the auteur's legacy, Lifetime Achievement Award was named as 'Satyajit Ray Lifetime Achievement Award' from 2021, to be given at the festival.