Satyajit Ray was an Indian film director, writer, publisher, illustrator, graphic designer, and a film critic. He had born on 2nd May 1921 in a Bengali family which is well known for its contribution to the field of arts and literature. He was fortunate to spend his formative years under the guidance of Rabindra Nath Tagore, India’s first Nobel laureate. Satyajit Ray is a renowned personality and one of the very few of those people who left an ineradicable impression in the field they were part of.
He started his career as a junior visualizer but in 1943 he begun to work with Signet Press as an illustrator. He designed the covers of many world famous books like “Man Eaters” and “Discovery of India”. He was inspired from movie “The Bicycle Thieves” after watching to which he decided to enter in the field of film industry.
His debut film as a director ‘Panther Panchali’ won him many awards worldwide which was released in 1955. It was indeed the beginning of the phenomenon in world cinema. He soon entered into the ranks of elite filmmakers due to his hard work. He went onto produce 37 films which included documentaries and short stories and also movies like Nayak which depict human sentiments towards general stimuli.
He is known as one of the greatest detective and science fiction writer. He depicts his love for science through his thought provoking short story movies. He was also a great publisher. He published one of the most popular Bengali magazines for children “Sandesh”. He was also an amazing illustrator as designed numerous Bengali typefaces along with four Roman typefaces is well.
Satyajit Ray went on to receive 32 National awards and numerous international awards which included Golden Lion and Silver Bear, which happen to be one of the most prestigious awards in the universe. In 1992 he went to receive an honorary Oscar award which is the greatest award for any artist on this planet. He died on 23rd April 1992 after giving Indian Cinema a new identity in the eyes of the world.
Articles about Satyajit Ray
Here are some Top Articles written about Satyajit Ray by some authors.
An Introduction to Satyajit Ray by Sathyanarayanan Bhimarao
An Introduction to Satyajit Ray, The Celebrated Movie Director With Synopses of His Masterpieces written by Sathyanarayanan Bhimarao
I had already read something about movies of Satyajit Ray, doyen of Indian movies. The first film I saw was Pratitwandi (The adversary) in 1971. I was employed in an all India job and had the opportunity to work in all the metro cities of India. Wherever I went, I never missed to see Ray movies. It was a pleasant experience of life to watch his movies.
This article contains the impressions which the films created in me and I hope that readers will agree with my observation that he is a poet, artist and a sculpture among the film producers/directors. Also a synopsis of each film has also been given so that readers may have an understanding of the theme of the film under discussion.
However, a word of caution is that it requires a sense of appreciation of fine arts to enjoy movies of Ray. One should necessarily be a connoisseur to appreciate his movies. There are adverse critics also for some of his movies that he portrayed the poverty of India abroad. The fact is that he was bold enough to highlight which other producers were afraid to touch.
Synopses of some of his best movies in the chronological order of my viewing them are as follows:
1. Pratitwandi- The adversary:
Pratitwandi which means Adversary remains to be the first movie of Ray seen by me. It was a pleasant Sunday morning; the hall which screened the movie was most modern with high class equipment. The film Pratitwandi was a new release and the print of the film was very good. The moment the tiles started running on the screen, I was engrossed in the movie.
The story was about an educated, unemployed lad, whose mind was tilted to the path of violence gradually. The year 1971 witnessed a great exodus of refugees from Bangladesh (Erstwhile East Pakistan) to Calcutta. From South (Andhra Pradesh) a new violent movement called Naxalbari movement founded by Charu Majumdar started spreading and its loyalists were known as Naxalites.
Famous writer Sunil Gangobadhyaya wrote the story and Mr Ray portrayed it in an exemplary manner.
The hero’s name was Siddhartha. He was a calm and quiet lad whereas his younger brother chose the path of a naxalite, wedded to bomb culture.
The essential part of the film was to explain how Siddhartha’s mind was also tilted towards violence because of unemployment. He started brooding violence in his mind gradually and finally when a mob was seen mercilessly beating a cab driver responsible for an accident, he joined them in beating the driver even without knowing the reason.
“Individual Bengali is a poet, but a Bengali crowd is a violent mob”, this is a famous proverb and it was proved well by this scene.
The last scene was about an interview. Dozens of youth were called to attend. But there was no seating arrangement, no drinking water and only suffocation was there. One by one, the candidates started swooning for want of water and air and the hero entered the cabin with a bang. In a spate of anger he threw all the papers on the faces of interview board members and got out of the chamber. Naxalite thoughts were running over his mind along with portraits of Naxalite leaders..
‘That is how a naxalite is created’. This was the message of the film…
But the picture ended with positive note. He did not turn into a naxalite. He got a small assignment of a medical representative and he had a sweetheart who influenced him to be a normal youth, shunning the way of violence. There was place for love also in his life..
The Impressions: The directorial touches were excellent in various scenes. One important scene was about the naxalite turned brother. When he was an urchin he was unable to tolerate a chicken being killed by butcher, but later he used to kill mercilessly by throwing bombs. What a dramatic irony!
I could never forget the facial expression of the school child sitting inside the car, watching the violence with bewildered eyes, when the car driver was beaten to death by the mob.
After coming out of the hall, I was unable to go to my residence. The whole day, I was wandering around the city, the contents of the film lingering upon my mind.
No doubt, it is one the best pictures of Indian Cinema.
2. Teen Kanya- Stories of Three girls.
The next film I saw was Teen Kanya, a story of three girls. Three independent stories of three girls were clubbed into a single movie and perhaps might be the first such attempt in India. The names of the three stories are, ‘Post Master, Monihar and Samapti’ respectively. The story was by the great Poet Rabindra Nath Tagore. Though the film was produced in 1961, I saw it only in 1972. It was an old print and images were not clear. Yet I was able to appreciate the movie because of its rich contents.
First story: ‘Post Master’ was about a young person posted as the post master in a hamlet. The only fellow who was to help him was a young orphan girl child. Gradually good friendship blossomed between them He took personal interest to teach her to read and write. Alas, when she started learning something, he got a transfer and had to leave.
Impressions: Words could not explain the despair in the girl’s eyes, when the post Master left the hamlet.
Two scenes are worth mentioning. The post master got severe fever. When he was hesitant to swallow the tablet, the urchin grabbed the tablet and started chewing on his behalf to demonstrate how easy to swallow a tablet. In another scene, he had an encounter with horrible mad fellow. The whole night he was sitting before him sleepless out of fear. But, the next morning, when the girl visited him she just shouted ‘go, go’ and the ‘horrible’ lunatic ran away.
The second story was about a beautiful, rich and married lady who had an un-natural death and haunted a villa. Unfortunately, this portion was not available to view.
The third story was about an un-willing young bridegroom wedded to an immature girl who was not aware of marital relationships. How she came in term with her husband and started loving him was told in a jovial manner. This episode was later produced as a full length Hindi movie.
3. Pather Panchali- The Roadside Song:
Pather Panchali was the first film produced by Ray (in 1955) with the financial support of Government of West Bengal. But it took five years for me to view that film after I saw first a Ray film. I could vouchsafe that it was an experience of life. The recognition and awards given to the film were too little compared to the greatness of the movie.
The original story was written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, a famous Bengali author and the screenplay was by Ray himself. The music was scored by Pandit Ravisankar, a famous sitar player.
The story revolved around a poor family of five from a village viz: The family head
Harihar, his widowed sister, wife, daughter Durga and son Apu. The film was about their poverty and yet they used to find pleasure in enjoying the small pleasures Nature provided them with. The children walked kilometres from the village to watch a moving train. The scene could easily be compared to the train scene of Dr Zhivago.
Mother had the weakness of stealing coconuts from the neighbour’s garden. One day the neighbourhood lady lost her bead necklace and the blame fell on the daughter. But she firmly refuted the charge. The father left the village and went to an unknown town for betterment of his livelihood. The family entered into utter poverty. The girl Durga fully drenched in rain water was severely attacked with viral fever and without getting any medical relief she was dead. The house is in utter ruins.
After some years, the father chose to return to the village. He was shocked to see the ruins of the house. However, he started showing the valuables, he brought from town. When he was in search of Durga his wife fell to his feet and started crying. He also started crying after realising that his daughter was no more alive.
They decide to leave the village for good and started moving in a bullock cart.
The film ended with a totally touching scene. When clearing the old vessels. Apu found the neighbour’s once lost necklace from a mud pot. For one second he was perplexed, but the next moment, he threw it into the pond and joined the bullock cart.
No doubt, the film richly deserves the ‘Best Human document’ award in the Cannes film festival of 1956 and it remains to be one of the best films of the world. This is first of the three films known as Apu Trilogy.
4. Charulata, The lonely wife:
This is the story of a young married girl. The lonely wife was disillusioned with her husband who was a workaholic, always busy with his publishing works, not finding time to take care of her. The bewildered wife got solace in the company of brother of her husband and fell in love with him. Because of the extreme love and affection, the brother had for his elder brother, he gently rejected her love and nothing untoward happened. However, when the husband knew about the intention of his wife, the couple were psychologically separated.
Impressions: The woman watching the innocent brother in law from a swing was a very popular scene known as ‘the swing scene’ and the change in her mind from affection to love was very powerfully depicted. In India, a sister in law (brother’s wife) is considered equivalent to mother. It is very difficult to portray a woman otherwise which Ray did powerfully.
The story was by Rabindranath Tagore and reported to be a reflection of some incidents in his life.
5. Ghare Baire, Home and the world:
It is an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s story with the same title which means Home and the world. It powerfully exposes the pseudo patriots (swadeshis), who cheat local Indians saying that they are fighting imperialism and promote local economy.
The story was about a broad minded vicar who gave total freedom to his wife. He invited his friend, supposed to be a ‘Swadeshi’ (Patriotic Indian leader) but really not so. The leader, by his cunning ways won the heart of vicar’s wife who wished to take part in the freedom struggle. When a communal fight with huge violence (involving local Hindu-Muslim population) occurred in the village, the leader fails to face the situation, whereas, the vicar, supposed to be a selfish rich man, went and met the violent crowd. There was a sound of distant gunshot indicating that he sacrificed his life. His wife got disillusioned and it was too late. The screenplay was in a flashback narrated from her angle.
Impressions: It requires lot of boldness to write and to portray such an off-beat story exposing pseudo leaders. This film received sharp criticism from local leaders (Naturally).
The story: A father in law got a peculiar dream that his daughter in law was none other than Devi (Durga, The Goddess) and started worshiping her. Soon people in and around the neighbouring villages started pouring in to worship her. When her husband returned from studies, she never allowed him to touch her since she was afraid of offending the Divine power. However, finally he was able to convince her that she was only a human and they were able to escape the village to go to a faraway place and live a normal life.
Impressions: The scenes, when people were converting her as God incarnate and she herself believing it are worth remembering.
7. Ashani shankat (Distant Thunder)
Ashani Shankat is another movie depicting the 1942 famine in Bengal taken in the style of Pather Panchali. This is a 1973 movie, in colour. It is a powerful depiction of human psychology subjected to poverty and hunger.
8. Seemapadha (company Limited).
This film, though only in black and white, is one of the most modern themes of Ray. It portrayed how an executive did all the cunning tricks in getting a coveted promotion. He engineered even an internal strike by creating artificial fight. He was ruthless, made one of his poor staff getting physically hurt to get a strike proposal materialise. Finally he got the promotion by hook and crook.
But in this process, he lost the great respect and appreciation his young and beautiful sister in law had for him who was disillusioned with her brother in law that he would stoop down to any level to get his promotion. A realistic approach indeed!
9. Jalsa Ghar (merriment room)
The story: Jalsa Ghar means a house or a hall reserved for merriment. The story revolves around a Zamindar (landlord, vicar) who lost all his wealth in independent India to be taken over by the Government. Unfortunately he lost his only son also in a ship wreck. What he retained was only his palatial building and a faithful servant and lived only in the past spending most of the time in the empty Jalsa Ghar in the palace which was a permanent reminder of his hay days.
But, a friend of him, who was a mediocre, became a millionaire by political influence and getting huge contracts. He invited the vicar also to join him in the business to mint money but he firmly refused considering his past prestige. The respect shown by the friend reduced day by day and finally he refused even to recognise his presence.
Enraged by this, the land lord ordered his servant to sell his personal belongings, renovate the Jalsa Ghar and ordered to have a merriment day at least once to celebrate the past memoirs. On that day, fully drunk, he drove the horse to beach side, lost control and fell down to death.
The servant took a drop of his blood from his forehead and cries “Khoon” meaning that ‘finally the blood is same red for all’.
Impressions: The picture very powerfully portrayed the feelings and emotions of a king who lost his power and lived in past glory, ingratitude of the Government, the cunning ways of politicians, and finally the tragic end of a ruler who wished to have his past glory at least for a single day and to have his Swan song. To some extent it portrayed the situation prevailing in post Independent India wherein ex-rulers were thrown into mud and Neo-politicians took their position by crooked means.
The story was by Sri Tarashankar Bandopadhyay and the lead role was powerfully played by Chabhi Biswas.
I was able to recognise the feelings of the ruler and emotions and my heartfelt sympathies went with him.
This film remains to be my most liked movie of Ray.:
I have recorded my impressions of 9 movies produced and directed by Mr Ray. There are some more films which impressed me very much. Some of them are:
Shatranj Ke kiladi (Chess players) the only Hindi movie,
Nayak (The Hero),
Aranyer Din Rat (Day and night in a forest) with typical Ray touch.
Kanchan Junga (A Himalayan Peak)
Since they have themes of fantasy, they were not recorded here.
Now I will record the tribute I paid him. I have never attended the funeral of any political leader nor film personality though there were several deaths in places where I lived. But I broke the rule and in 1992, when Ray breathed his last, in Calcutta I went to the place where his body was kept, waited in the queue for hours and paid my last respects.
This is the greatest tribute a common man like me would be able to pay to an artist whom he admired most.
Pather Panchali Sang The Perfect Song Of Humansim by Moumita Dasgupta
1956, the Cannes Film Festival, a Bengali filmmaker got the award of “Best Human Document” for his low budget film “Pather Panchali”. The greatest film ever made in Indian History of Cinema. A novel turned into a motion frame just became eternal at the hands of legendary film director “Satyajit Ray“.
Produced by the Government of West Bengal, it was a directorial debut for Satyajit. The promising movie brought him fame that lasted until the day he won the Oscar.
The film is an adaptation of the 1929 “Bhibutishan Bandhopadhyay’s” Bengali Novel of the similar name. “Pather Panchali” is the first sequel of “The Apu Trilogy” by Satyajit Ray. It shows the early life of Apu showing his childhood days that he spent with his family in “Nishchindipur”.
If you ask me about the cast and crew, I will say that they were the gems of the film. Who turned them into gems? It was Satyajit Ray, his Midas touch made the amateur and novice actors and his crewmembers get fame for their whole life.
A Frame So Real
Satyajit was strongly influenced by Italian Neorealism, and he impoverished his own lyrical style in the film to give it more depth. It was the first film from India that won major International acclamation, making India proud.
The young protagonist in the film “Apu” (Subir Banerjee) who stays with his father “Harihar Ray” (Kanu Banerjee), mother “Sarbajaya” (Karuna Banerjee) and his elder sister “Durga” (Uma Dasgupta) another member was elderly aunt-in-law “Indir Thakurun” (Chunibala Devi).
A dilapidated family, which runs on a meager income as their father, is a poor priest in the village of “Nishchindipur”. From the beginning of the movie, what we view is the beautiful rural settings. The place is very near to Kolkata, (the then Calcutta) the village is called Boral. I think it’s the location, that has framed the entire movie to have a mass appeal worldwide, making it humanistic and spread the earthly smell.
Let us get a little into the skin of the characters.
Sarbajaya, Apu’s mother, has strong resentment against Aunt Indir, but the old woman is the best partner of young Durga.
Durga is the easy-going girl, but her mischievousness harasses Sarbajaya. As the elder sister to Apu, she nurtures him with motherly affection that he deserves.
A simple source of joy made the duo (Apu and Durga) happy. Cinema exhibits the childhood days of both of them and their activities like running after the candy man, watching “Jatra” (local theater), watching pictures in the bio-scope, finally comes the great scene where they both views a train passing by “Kaash” (a herbaceous flower grown in the autumn ) fields. The remorse stricken scenes follow next where we see Indir Thakurun pass away.
After this Harihar explores outside his village to make some extra earnings, his absence makes the family suffer deeper consequences.
The monsoon appears soon and with the downpour, their house gets the extreme setback, loss of Durga, due to high fever. Harihar returns home making money and faces the reality with a heavy heart. The family decides to leave their very own “Nishchindipur”.
The movie has a lovely ending, No, I am not talking about that slow moving ox-drawn cart rather the snake, which hissed and entered the house of those poor souls.
Why Ray Chooses “Pather Panchali”?
Ray chose the novel practically for two reasons: one because of its humanism and the next is the bitter truth of real life, which he showed through his reels. In English, “Pather Panchali” means “Song of the Road” and I think the title is apt enough to depict the real essence of being a human.
Renoir, the French director was there in Calcutta just before Satyajit began to shoot and he became the source of inspiration for him. Finally, it was the neorealist film Bicycle Thieves, that made his realistic cinema become a success that too with an amateur cast. Apart from foreign influence, classical Sanskrit dramas do have a good impact on Satyajit Ray.
Renowned Sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar, who featured all the ragas and themes from Indian Classical music, arranged the background score for the movie. “Pather Panchali” was also the first Indian film after independence to receive international critical acclamation. The film received lovely praises from the newspapers and film critics, and got 17 different category awards in various Award ceremonies.
A creation that did justice to the novel in all aspects, I think hardly a director could have done that. Salute to Satyajit Ray the man with the Midas touch and he will remain the legend of the Indian Film Industry.
Reviewing ‘Pather Panchali’ by Sashank Krishna Kini
For twenty whole years of my life I lived in ignorance without having seen the sun or the moon but today I have finally seen the Ray and I feel holy and blessed now. Akira Kurusawa, the man behind Japanese classics like Rashomon and Ran rightly said years ago that living in a world without having seen a Satyajit Ray film is similar to living without having seen the sun or moon; almost every film I’ve watched feels effete after living in Ray’s world. It is a transcending experience watching the late Bengali director’s debut effort Pather Panchali, one that deeply impacts the very core of your soul in a way that makes you feel afterwards as though you’ve lived two lives – one before having watched Pather Panchali and one after. It achieves the remarkable feat of invoking your senses to a higher state of consciousness; the experience watching Pather Panchali is similar to reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace or James Joyce’s Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man or some of William Blake’s or Emily Dickinson’s finest achievements, or watching Meryl Streep’s iconic turn as Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice. The feeling is so powerful that it took me more than an hour to get back to my original state; the hardest part for me was to return the DVD to the movie rental store because I knew the true worth of what I was holding. May god bless the guy who recognized Pather Panchali’s worth years ago and preserved the original prints so the world today can have a chance to be transported to the precious little magical world of Apu, the film’s protagonist.
This little world is black and white to the outer eye, but the film is so richly filmed and composed that it colors our mind with the most exquisite palette. The opening credits, which wouldn’t be understood by anyone who can’t read Bengali, still captures the spirit of Pather Panchali though Ravi Shankar’s playful, whimsical and yearning tabla beats and sitar strums; only Michael Danna could hypnotize us in 2012’s Life of Pi with a similarly evocative score. Ray’s world opens not with Apu or his sister Durga but with the film’s most antagonistic character, the rancorous neighbor of Apu’s family who’s worshipping the tulsi plant early in the morning. Satyajit follows her as she notices Durga, the still-unborn Apu’s sister, stealing fruits from her courtyard. Durga runs along the woods to her shanty home and hands the fruits to her senescent grandaunt Indir Thakrun after keeping milk for her three little cats. Ray then cuts back to the nagging neighbor who is berating Durga and cursing her family for raising a thief; in an excellently composed sequence, Ray is able to seamlessly capture her, the lady listening in the next house balcony listening to her and Durga’s pregnant mother Sarbajaya and her empathic friend collecting water from the well behind the neighbor’s house, well within earshot of the woman’s bitter rant. Sarbajaya confronts her daughter for stealing fruits and then berates Indir Thakrun for encouraging Durga’s bad behavior. Indir Thakrun leaves the house temporarily, frustrated by Sarbajaya’s nagging, but returns soon as Sarbajaya gives birth to Apu.
A couple of dissolves then takes us some years ahead and we see Apu now as an innocent school-going kid who’s most fond of his sister Durga. His family is barely able to fulfill their basic needs, with Apu’s soft-mannered father Harihar Roy being too lax about asking his dues from his employer; he is neither able to make much as a playwright. This situation makes it especially tough for Sarbajaya to manage the household needs as she herself doesn’t like begging others for monetary or any other help; she therefore is all the more harsh on Indir Thakrun, who sometimes like Durga is wont to taking food items from Sarbajaya’s kitchen without permission. There are two sequences at different points in the film which include Harihar and Sarbajaya; both retain the same posture in the sequences but while in the first sequence, Harihar gives a more optimistic image to Sarbajaya to pacify her, in the second he sounds less enthusiastic while Sarbajaya looks more worried for their future. Apu is still too young to be affected by the family problems and we only see him enjoying his childhood days with Durga and his friends. Durga is extremely supportive of everybody including her mother, who reacts violently towards Durga when same neighbor in the beginning accuses Durga of stealing her daughter’s beaded necklace. The family’s problems persist after Harihar travels to nearby city to find work and tragedies strike one after the other; the family’s only hope, as told by Harihar in his letters to Sarbajaya after leaving, is to leave everything to God’s Grace keeping in mind that everything happens for the better.
To Satyajit Ray, every image and every sound, both on-screen and off-screen matter. It’s his craftsmanship as a movie visionary that segues the film so well that you are bemused to hear that it’s his debut film. I’ve read one of his books, a compilation of his essays and theories on film, and he mentions how his inexperienced crew hadn’t even operated a camera before filming Pather Panchali and so the first half was a little choppy in editing. I don’t have any clue what he’s talking here because to my eyes, every image was seamlessly stitched together. To me he didn’t capture images but rather created images on film; it’s difficult to express just how wonderfully he captures Sarbajaya’s gradual breakdown in the film without using superlatives. And his genius picture is complemented by Ravi Shankar’s background score, which includes the sound of bells that ring during a cheerful sequence with a candy man and also during some of the haunting moments; it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant poem The Bells. Pather Panchali is scintillating, and Satyajit is the Ray of Light.