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Satyajit Ray

Occupation: Director

Born: May 2, 1921, Calcutta, West Bengal, British India
Died: April 23, 1992, Calcutta, West Bengal, India

Education: Presidency College, Calcutta (degree in economics, 1940), Viswa-Bharati University, Santiniketan (visual arts, left in 1943)

SATYAJIT RAY FILMOGRAPHY

    Ray is India’s best known filmmaker and one of the great masters of the art of cinematography. He came from a very influential family, who helped introduce him mainly to literature, but also to European culture and filmmaking. The director also traveled extensively in Europe during the 1950’s. When asked about the strongest influences on his decision to become a filmmaker, Ray mentioned The Bicycle Thief and the works of Jean Renoir, whom he met in India during Renoir’s filming of The River.

    His grandfather and father were both writers and publishers, and one of Ray’s later works would be based on the characters of Goopy and Bagha, both created by his grandfather. For two years, he studied in the art school of Rabindranath Tagore, a family friend. This experience has undeniably been a long-lasting influence on his career as a filmmaker.





    This influence is immediately noticeable in his first feature, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), the first part in the “World Of Apu” trilogy. Based on the novel by Bhibuti Bashan Bannerjee, it is a moving story set in a small Bengali village centered around a young boy Apu and his family. The depiction of life in the village is rich and full of beautiful shots. His family lives in poverty and Apu and his sister spend most of their days watching trains coming and going. One day, Apu will leave the small community on one of these trains. This was also one of the first films to be made in the Bengali language*, and Ray had many difficulties raising and maintaining funds for continuous shooting. It took him approximately two years to complete the film.

* Correction: There was already an established film production center in Tollygunge (a part of Calcutta) producing number of Bengali films every year. When Satyajit made Pather Panchali he literally showed this already established film industry of Bengal, how to make realistic films dealing with real life people. (Thanks to a learned guest for the above correction.)

    A year later, the shooting of the second part began. Apajarito (The Unvanquished) follows young Apu and his mother as they leave the village, before Apu returns to begin his education. Ray used two different boys for the role of Apu in the film that follows his youth and serves as a link to the third part: Apu Sansar (The World of Apu). Now a grown-up, Apu accepts an arranged marriage, only to find that he soon loves his wife. When she dies suddenly during the birth of their son, Apu refuses to see and accept the boy. This third part of the trilogy, as compared to the first two, suffers slightly from the naturalness of the story telling. But that does not stop us from enjoying it, especially some of the mesmerizing shots, accompanied by Ravi Shankar’s soundtrack.

    In between the filming of parts two and three of the trilogy, Ray made the moving Jalsaghar (Music Room). It is a story about a music-loving, ageing aristocrat who decides to spend the remainder of his fortune, already depleted by his reckless living, on a performance of Indian dance and music at his home. The music for the film was composed by Ray*, who was also a great music lover and a trained musician. Later, he would compose the music for many of his features, most notably for the trilogy about Calcutta.

* Correction: The music for Jalsaghar was composed by Ustaad Vilayat Khan. The first film with Ray's own music was the Kanchenjungha, shot entirely in Darjeeling, a hill station in the Himalayas. There onwards he always composed his own music, never entrusting this to any one else.
(Thanks to a learned guest for the above correction.)

    The exploration of the position women in modern society played an important part in Ray’s overall oeuvre. Each of his next four features played heavily on this theme. Devi (The Goddess) deals with a religious man trying to persuade his young daughter-in-law that she is a reincarnation of the goddess Kali, a slow painful process that results in the heroine’s losing sense of her own personality. Although this film did not have the same impact as the trilogy before it, it unquestionably remains a great work by a great artist.

    Two Daughters (Teen Kanya) is a film based on two stories by Tagore. The original title means three daughters, and Ray did shoot three stories, but later on decided to cut one of them out. The stories focus on three different women in different situations. The first story is one of a moving friendship that develops between a postman and an orphan girl in a small Indian village. The second story depicts about an arranged marriage that results in another arranged marriage, that ultimately ends in love and the third one, that was eventually left out, talks about a woman’s obsession with her jeweler.

    A year later, The Big City (Mahanagar) followed. It was one of the first Ray films to have an entirely urban feeling, presenting a wife and her struggle for emancipation in a society overridden with banks and modernization, as she takes up door to door selling in order to support her family.

    Charulata (The Lonely Wife) is another film based on a Tagore story about the neglected wife of a young and aspiring journalist. She tries to find solace and attention in a relationship with her husband’s cousin, but without much success.

    Ray subsequently worked on two interlocking trilogies. The former portrayed young men’s fight for a decent place in a modern society. The aspirations and nature of the young people are tested as they struggle to establish themselves and cope with modern day requirements. The period when the ideas for the films were developed was one of intense modernization for an Indian society under heavy English influence, something Ray suggests with his inclusion of the occasional English phrase. The trilogy starts with Days and Nights in the Forest (Ratri) about three young men and their adventures as they try to have a small holiday in an Indian countryside.

    The second part is The Adversary (Siddharta and the City), a deep and moving story about the difficult situation of a young student after the death of his father, when he is forced to abandon his studies and look for work in order to support his family. Ruthless and demanding society takes its toll on the young man.

    The third part is Company Limited (Seemabaddha) about a young and aspiring sales manager with ambitions of becoming a successful industrialist. In order to achieve this, he has to make number of compromises that go against his social and moral upbringing. All of three films are characterized by a form of storytelling that is very much Ray’s own, interwoven with a feeling of humor and irony.

    The second trilogy is dedicated to Calcutta though it differs only slightly from the previous one. It starts with Adversary, includes Company Limited and ends with The Middle Man (Jana-Arena), a story about the difficulties of a young man to find a job in Calcutta. With no other option, he accepts a position as a middleman, surrounded by corruption, smuggling and prostitution.

    A period of intensive and prolonged illness for Ray followed but it see the production of another two masterpieces of cinematography. An Enemy of the People (Ganashatru) is a moving story, beautifully filmed, with simple and convincing acting about a doctor’s fight against bureaucracy in a small town and his discovery that the water system is contaminated. The film was based on Henrik Ibsen’s play, and Ray successfully managed to change the setting to modern India without losing the spirit and the message of the play.

    One of his biggest admirers, Gerard Depardieu helped Ray to complete one of his last features, The Branches of a Tree (Shakha Proshakha), a powerful story centered around a dying father and his four sons. Three of them are successful businessmen and the fourth is a former musician, now suffering from a brain disorder. The seemingly successful and caring children show their true face and consideration for their father and young, suffering brother when they come to visit with their families.

Thanks to Filmworld UK for contributing this biography.

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