Born: May 2, 1921
Died: April 23, 1992
Achievements: As a filmmaker he made a mark all over the world.
Honored with Lifetime Achievement Oscar Award and Bharat Ratna.
Satyajit Ray was a giant of Indian cinema. He was an excellent
filmmaker and his films made a mark all over the world. He is one of the
few Indian filmmakers whose work has been acknowledged abroad. For his
invaluable contribution to the world of cinema Satyajit Ray was honored
with Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Satyajit Ray was born on May 2,
in an intellectual and affluent family in Calcutta. His father's name
was Sukumar Ray and his mother's name was Suprabha Ray. His grandfather,
Upendrakishore Ray was a distinguished writer, painter, a violin player
and a composer. He was also a pioneer in half-tone block making and
founded one of the finest presses in the country - U. Ray & Sons. In
1880s, Ray family had embraced 'Brahmo Samaj', sect within Hindu
society. The progressive outlook of the Brahmo Samaj strongly influenced
Satyajit Ray's work.
In 1923, when Satyajit was only 2-years-old his father Sukumar Ray died
of kala-azar. In 1926, about three years after his father's death, the
ancestral printing business changed hands and Satyajit and his mother
had to move out of their spacious house. Satyajit Ray moved to his
maternal uncle's house along with his mother.
At an age of eight, Satyajit joined Ballygunj Government School. He was
an average student. While he was at school he developed interest in
films. He regularly read Hollywood trivia in magazines and also
developed interest in Western classical music. In 1936, Satyajit Ray
passed his matriculation and joined Presidency College for further
studies. He graduated in economics in 1939. He decided to give up
Satyajit Ray had a natural flair for drawing and he wanted to become a
commercial artist. At the suggestion of his mother he joined
Rabindranath Tagore's Vishva-Bharati University at Shantiniketan in
1940. Trips to nearby villages for sketching exercises, were his first
encounters with rural India. During this period, he discovered the
oriental art-Indian sculpture and miniature painting, Japanese woodcuts
and Chinese landscapes et al.
At Shantiniketan Satyajit Ray also found means to pursue his interest
in music and films. A German Jew, professor of English, had a collection
of western classical records. Ray would often listen to music at his
cottage in the evenings. He also found books on cinema in the university
library. In 1942, Satyajit Ray left Shantiniketan.
In April 1943, Satyajit Ray joined a British-run advertising agency,
D.J. Keymer, as a junior visualiser. 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 cousin. In 1950, Satyajit Ray
went on a business trip to
along with his wife. With him, he was carrying a notebook in which he
had made some notes on making a film of Pather Panchali. He wanted the
film to be shot on actual locations, no make-up with new faces. Shooting
on locations with unknown actors was thought be a totally unfeasible
idea in those times and he received negative reaction from most of his
friends in this regard.
In this six-months long stay abroad, Satyajit Ray saw about a hundred
films including Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves. The film made a
profound impression on Satyajit Ray. Bicycle Thieves reconfirmed his
conviction that it was possible to make realistic cinema with an almost
entirely amateur cast and shooting at actual locations.
After his return in late 1950, with absolutely no experience in
movie-making, Satyajit Ray collected a group of young men to work as
technicians. While looking for financial backers, he approached widow of
Bibhuti Bhusan Banerjee, the writer of Pather Panchali for film rights.
She gave her oral assurance and retained her faith in Satyajit Ray
despite a better financial offer. Satyajit Ray spent two years in vain
looking for a producer.
Unable to find a producer, Satyajit Ray decided that unless he could
prove his bona fides by producing a few sequences of the film, he was
not likely to find financial backing. He borrowed money and shot a few
scenes. The cast was a mix of professional actors and a few with no
prior experience in acting. Only Subir Banerjee who played Apu, Karuna
Banerjee who played Apu's mother, and the villagers who played other
smaller roles, had no prior experience of acting. The rest had either
acted in films or theatre. Boral, a small village on the outskirts of
Calcutta was the major location, where the film was shot.
Meanwhile, the State Government of West Bengal agreed to fund the film.
The money from the Government came in installments and before each
installment, the accounts had to be submitted and cleared by the
government. This was a time consuming process. Finally, on August 26,
1955, Pather Panchali was released in Calcutta. It was a box-office
success. The film was sent to the Cannes Films festival, 1956 and won
Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival.
Pather Panchali firmly established Satyajit Ray as a world-class
director and gave him total control over his subsequent films. Two
sequels based on the novel (Aparajito, The Unvanquished, 1956; Apur
Sansar, The World of Apu, 1959) completed the famous 'The Apu Trilogy'.
Satyajit Ray's other famous films include Parash Pathar (The
Philosopher's Stone, 1958), Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958), Devi (The
Goddess, 1960), Teen Kanya (Two Daughters, 1961), Kanchenjungha, (1962),
Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Pratidwandi (The Adversary 1970),
Shantranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977), Ghare-Baire (Home and
the World, 1984), Ganashatru (Enemy of the People, 1989), Shakha
Prashakha (Branches of the Tree, 1990) and Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991).
In 1992, he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Oscar from his sickbed in
Calcutta through a special live satellite-television event and was
honored with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. Satyajit
Ray died on April 23, 1992.