Satyajit Ray
Friday, February 20, 2004 11:19 IST
By Santa Banta News Network
If we can mention the greatest Indian contribution to the history of world cinema in one word it undoubtedly has to be Satyajit Ray. His outstanding works have left an indelible impression on the evolution of celluloid world.

Born on May 2nd in 1921 in Calcutta in an illustrious family of intellectuals, Ray was a rare blend of genius, good upbringing, modern education and inheritance. His father, Sukumar Ray, was a writer of repute and his mother was a melodious singer. His grandfather, Upendera Ray Kishore, was an astronomer, scientist, illustrator, musician, writer and a publisher. It was this versatility in blood, which allowed Satyajit Ray to vividly depict and portray a vast array of human emotions, conflicts, characters and situations transcending times and social strata with ease.

He was barely three years old when his father died leaving the family in a lurch. He moved with his mother to the house of his maternal uncle where the mother supplemented the family income by teaching needlework. He went to school here and showed initial signs of interest in the world of cinema. He would read trivia about the western movies in magazines. After matriculation he joined the Presidency College and graduated in economics. Though he was in no mood to continue formal education, his mother's insistence made him join the Shanti Niketan as a student of fine arts.

He developed profound interest in oriental art of paintings, miniatures, sculptures and wood cut. He would make jaunts into the countryside and came face to face with rural India, an experience he fruitfully used years later, in his films. Later he worked with a British advertising agency owned by D. J. Keymer, as a graphics designer. In 1949, the famous French filmmaker Renoir came to Calcutta to choose locations for shooting, ‘The River'. Satyajit with his profound knowledge of films deeply impressed Renoir who in turn motivated him to take up film making as a profession. When Keymer transferred him to their London office, Ray didn't let the opportunity to go by.

He saw around hundred films in London and was deeply influenced by Vittorio de Sica's ‘Bicycle Thief', which later inspired him to make Pather Panchali. Completed in 1955 it was the first film of Apu Triology. Pather Panchali tries to see life in rural Bengal through the eyes of young children of an impoverished poet -priest. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who sent it to Cannes Film Festival where it won a special prize for Best Human Document, viewed the film. Apu series was completed with Aparjito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). Aparajito won the 'Lionne d'Ore' at Venice in a jury presided by Rene Clair.

A prolific period of interesting filmmaking followed for Ray Jalsagar (1958), Devi (1960), Teen Kanya (1961), Abhijan (1962. Kanchenjunga (1962) was his first film in colour. Mahanagar (1963) perhaps was his next masterpiece but the most perfectly crafted film was Charulata (1964). Ray developed no fixed genre unlike many of his contemporaries. A song and dance children's fantasy film - Goopy Gyne (1969) was followed by Pratiwandi (1970), Seemabaddha (1974) and Jana Aranya (1975)- a modern urban trilogy that had the common theme of corruption. Detective crime fiction followed in Sonar Kella (1974) and Jai Baba Felunath (1978). Historical Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977) was his first film in Hindi.

He had once said that he hated to see life as a struggle between good and bad, black and white and heroes and villains. Rather he perceived it in the shades of gray with an equal measure of all ingredients. This is what all his films are about.

He was declared one of the three all time best film directors at the Berlin Film Festival. In the decade of 80s he had a long stint out of film making due to ill health. His physical condition never really allowed him to come back to his glorious self again. Agantuk (1991) was the solitary Satyajit Ray movie, which many thought, was a prelude to his comeback. But it was not to be. The cruel hands of destiny snatched him away from us in April 23,1992. It was this very year when he received the honorary Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement in recognition of... " his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world." He was also decorated with Bharta Ratna, the highest civilian Honor of the Republic of India. About him the famous Japanese film director Kurusawa said, "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray is like existing in this world without having seen the sun and the moon"

Ray wrote his autobiography encompassing his childhood years, Jakhtan Choto Chilam (1982) and essays on film: Our Films, Their Films (1976), Bosoy Chalachchitra (1976), Ekei Bole Shooting (1979).

He was married to his childhood love and his cousin Bijoya. Satyajit Ray's works will always serve as beacons of inspiration for the future generations of creative film- makers.

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