Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray was an Indian filmmaker who was born in the city of Calcutta into a Bengali family prominent in the world of arts and literature. Starting his career as a commercial artist, Ray was drawn into independent filmmaking after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist The Bicycle Thieves (1948) during a visit to London. Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. He was also a publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, music composer, graphic designer, film critic and children’s fiction writer. In 1940, after receiving his degree in science and economics from Calcutta University he was later awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University. When Ray began shooting his first film Pather Panchali, he was simply a commercial artist in Calcutta with little money and no connections. Using all his personal savings to shoot the film, Ray was hoping to raise more money once he had some sequences shot. The completion of his first film is inspiring as Ray never directed a scene, his cameraman never photographed one, his child actors had not even been tested for their roles — and yet their early footage was so impressive it won the meager financing for the rest of the film. With a loan from the West Bengal government, Ray finally completed Panther Panchali, along with doing the scripting, casting, scoring and editing, while also designing his own credit titles and publicity material. The film was released in 1955 to great critical and popular success winning eleven international prizes, including the Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Panther Panchali, along with Aparajito (1956), and The World of Apu (1959) would ultimately form his masterful Apu Trilogy, which between 1950 and 1959, swept the top prizes at Cannes, Venice and London. Ray’s Apu Trilogy made such a strong impact on the films of his culture, that it literally created a new cinema for India, whose prolific film industry had traditionally stayed within the narrow confines of swashbuckling musical romances. Ray’s other acclaimed films include such titles as The Music Room (1958), The Big City (1963), Charulata (1964), Days and Nights in the Forest (1970) and Distant Thunder (1973). Ray’s work has been described as full of humanism and universality, and of a deceptive simplicity with deep underlying complexity. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” Ray received many awards including 32 Indian National Film Awards, a number of major awards at international film festivals, and an honorary Academy Award in 1992. Following Ray’s death in 1992, the city of Calcutta came to a virtual standstill, as hundreds of thousands of people from the India and Bengali communities gathered around his house to pay their last respects to a cultural icon.