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Reminiscing Ray – Finest Indian Filmmaker of All Time

Born on May 2 1921, to Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray, Satyajit Ray is regarded as one of the greatest Indian filmmakers of the 20th century; often referred to as the Bergman of Bengal.

Birth and Early Life

Ray was born to a distinguished family of artists, litterateurs, musicians, scientists and physicians. His grandfather Upendra Kishore was an innovator, a writer of children’s story books (popular to this day), an illustrator and a musician. His father, Sukumar Ray, trained as a printing technologist in England, was also Bengal’s most beloved nonsense-rhyme writer, illustrator and cartoonist (best known for his work Abol Tabol). He died young when Ray was barely three years’ old.

Ray graduated from the Ballygunge Government School and studied Economics at Presidency College. He then attended Kala Bhavan, the Art School at Tagore’s Vishwa Bharati University, Santiniketan from 1940-1942. However, without completing the five-year course, he returned to Calcutta in 1943, to join the British-owned advertising agency D. J. Keymer as a visualizer. Within a few years, he rose to be its art director.

In 1948, he married Bijoya Das, a former actress/singer who also happened to be his first cousin. Their only son, Sandip, was born in 1953. (Sandip Ray is a renowned filmmaker today).

Education, Passion and Career

As a youngster, Ray developed two very significant interests. The first was music and the second of course films or ‘bioscope’. He saw silent films as well as “talkies” and started to compile scrapbooks with clippings culled from newspapers and magazines on Hollywood stars. He even wrote fan letters to Deana Durbin (who replied), Ginger Rogers (dint reply) and Billy Wilder. Also during his days at Santiniketan, Ray developed excellent skills like sketching and painting.

His job at D. J. Keymer saw Ray blossom into a great graphic artist, typographer, book-jacket designer and illustrator (he would later sketch frames of his films). While at Keymore, he visited Jean Renoir and had intense discussion on cinema with him when the great French director was shooting The River outside Calcutta.

Before this, he had established the Calcutta Film Society where he saw films by Capra, Ford, Huston, Mileston, Wilder and Wyler among others. He also saw films by Eisenstein (he heard Bach in them) and Pudovkins (where he heard Beethoven). During a six-month stint in London in 1950 he saw over one hundred films. Among them were The Bicycle Thief and La Regle du Jeu. Both made a deep impression on Ray and later inspired him to undertake the making of Pather Panchali.

Foraying into Filmmaking

In 1950, Satyajit Ray was asked by a major Calcutta publisher to illustrate a children’s edition of Pather Panchali, Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee’s semi-autobiographical novel. On his way back from London, with little to do on a two-week boat journey, Ray ended up sketching the entire book, which formed the basis of his first ever cinematic venture Pather Panchali. The film brought him instant international recognition and fame.

How he managed to make the film, pawning his rare music albums, his wife Bijoya’s jewelry and his mother, Suprabha’s networking in the Government circles in Calcutta, has now become a by-word in the annals of Indian film history. It also provides a paradigm on the “modes of production” in the kind of world cinema that refuses to give in to commercial pressure.

Ray made modest amounts directing and making films. The producers reaped the profits from films that earned substantial revenues, e.g. The Apu Trilogy, and The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1968). In the mid-sixties, for a couple of years he had no work. The solution to making ends meet for his small family surfaced this way.

Literary Works

In 1968, a prominent editor of a widely read literary magazine in Bengali persuaded Ray to write a novella for its annual number. Ray the writer of whodunits, adventure stories, science fictions, appropriately illustrated by himself, made a dramatic appearance on the Bengali literary scene. His most celebrated literary works remain the Feluda series and the science fiction Professor Shonku series.

The Last Phase

Ray went on to make as many as 40 films spanning across his career. In 1992, Ray’s health deteriorated due to heart complications. He was admitted to a hospital, but never recovered. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an Honorary Academy Award. Ray is the first and the only Indian, yet, to receive the honor. Twenty-four days before his death, Ray accepted the award in a gravely ill condition, calling it the “Best achievement of movie-making career.” He died on 23 April 1992 at the age of 71.

Source: Wikipedia; Satyajit Ray University of Californis



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