Sponsored Links

Satyajit Ray- Indian Under Spotlight

Satyajit Ray was born in 1921 in Calcutta to eminent Bengali poet and writer Sukumar Ray and his wife Suprabha. He went to the Ballygunge Government School and graduated in economics from Presidency College, Calcutta. At his mother's insistence, he attended Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan from 1940-1942 for fine arts. This was to incline him to appreciate Indian and oriental art.


Satyajit Ray


Without finishing his art studies, he came back to Calcutta to join a British-owned advertising agency D. J. Keymer as a visualizer.

In 1947, Ray founded the Calcutta Film Society with film maker-critic Chidananda Dasgupta. This paved way for his studying films at close quarters. In 1949, he married his long term sweetheart Bijoya Das and had their only child, Sandip, in 1953. In 1950, Ray was sent by Keymer on a work assignment to London where his interest and exposure to occidental cinema vastly stimulated his interest in film making especially Vittorio De Sica's 'Ladri di biciclette' (Bicycle Thieves- 1948) and Renoir's 'La Règle du Jeu' (Rules of the Game- 1939). Thus began his film career during which Ray remained prolific with forty feature films, documentaries, short subjects, books and articles punctuated with national and international recognition, awards and honours. Ray suffered a massive heart attack in 1983. After a prolonged hospitalisation, he succumbed to his heart problems on April 23rd, 1992.


Ray's first film was 'Pather Panchali' adapted from Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay's 1928 novel about a small boy growing up in a village. The film was made with Ray's personal savings over a period of three years by a mostly amateur crew. Released in 1955, it received an instant international recognition and fame. Apu, the protagonist of his first film grows up in 'Aparajito' (1956) and settles down and gets disillusioned with life in 'Apur Sansar' (1959), the final offering in what is called the Apu Trilogy. Few know this, but it was Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar, who had composed music for Ray's Apu Trilogy. Before Apur Sansar, however, two other of Ray's films- 'Parash Pathar' (1958) and 'Jalsaghar' (1958) had been released.

Ray's films were a commentary on contemporary life seen through his lens be it Hindu superstitions and mass fanaticism in 'Devi' (1960) or the emptiness of a secluded high life existence of a bored housewife in 'Charulata' (1964) or the metropolitan middle class existence through changing times in the loosely held Calcutta trilogy of 'Pratidwandi' (1970), 'Seemabaddha' (1971) and 'Jana Aranya' (1975). Even though based on themes of religious or political oppression, disillusionment, nationalism, tradition v/s values etc. that that adult audience would identify with, some of Ray's works resonated with young audience as well such as the fantastic 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne'(1968), Sonar Kella' (1974) and 'Joy Baba Felunath' (1978)
Indian Summer with Satyajit Ray

Native Hindi speakers are mostly familiar with his Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977) that starred Sanjeev Kumar, Farooq Shaikh, Shaban Aajmi, Saeed Jaffry among others. The film is set in a pre-colonial British India. Satyajit Ray's work and personal life remained separated for most part of his career as he lived in a rented house with his joint family unless the boundaries ceased during the periods of no-work in mid 60s. In order to support his family, he took to writing fiction and also during 1983 filming of 'Ghare Baire' (1984) where he suffered a massive heart attack that limited his capacity to work. Since then, till the time of his death, some of his works include 'Ganashatru' (1990), 'Shakha Proshakha' (1990) and 'Agantuk' (1991).


Satyajit Ray is without doubt the most prominent Indian director the world has seen so far. His films have found a global recognition with an award list tailing him. Some of these prominent awards are Special lifetime achievement award at the 1992 Academy Awards; Golden Bear for Ashani Sanket in 1973, 7 Golden Bear nominations, 2 Silver Bear Wins for 'Mahanagar' in 1964 and 'Charulata' in 1965 at the Berlin Film Festival; Golden Seal at Locarno in 1961 for 'Rabindranath Tagore'; Golden Lion for 'Aparajito' in 1975 at the Venice Film Festival; Indian President's Gold Medal for 'Pather Panchali' in 1955, 'Devi' and 'Rabindranath Tagore' in 1961, 'Seemabaddha' in 1972, President's Silver Medal for 'Teen Kanya' in 1961, 'Pratidwandi' in 1971, 'Sonar Kella' in 1974; National award for Best Feature Film in Hindi for 'Shatranj ke Khiladi' in 1977. 'Pather Panchali' is his most awarded film with the Best Human Document at Cannes in 1956, Golden Carbao at Manila in 1956, Best Film and Direction at San Francisco in 1957 and the Best Foreign Film at Tokyo in 1966, among others. Ray was member of jury at various film festivals including at Venice in 1982.


For his contribution to Indian Cinema and its image in the world, he has been awarded the Dadasaheb Plahke Award in 1985. The French Government awarded him the Legion d'Honneur in 1987 by the then President François Mitterand. He was also awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, by the government of India in 1992.


Related program

The Worlds of Satyajit Ray- A retrospective of Ray's films & documentaries

The Worlds of Satyajit Ray- Conference