BollyGuide

Golden Era

Satyajit Ray (1921-1992)

In a 1948 article entitled, “What is Wrong with Indian Films,” Ray criticized India’s movement away from art and towards either musicals or heavy mysticism:

The raw material of the cinema is life itself. It is incredible that a country which has inspired so much painting and music and poetry should fail to move the moviemaker. He has only to keep his eyes open, and his ears. Let him do so.

All the more reason that the wonderful early films of India’s most notable auteur, the Bengali director Satyajit Ray, should be considered one of the highest achievements in world cinema. While not quite on the level of Tarkovsky or Bresson, Ray’s cinema does contain enough poeticism and individuality to lift his work out of the mundane mud and earn it the moniker “transcendent”. (With all due respect to Paul Schrader and his book “Transcendental Style in Film,” Ray’s work is certainly more transcendent than Ozu’s, whose films are constantly being marred by his fixation on the family melodrama – as if voluntary family bondage was supposed to be the ultimate goal of every human’s existence!) In fact, the great Japanese autuer Akira Kurosawa himself once remarked,

Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.

SPIRITUAL LESSONS IN THE EARLY FILMS OF SATYAJIT RAY

Satyajit Ray, who incidentally worked as an uncredited assistant to Mr. Renoir during the making of The River, would soon build on this scene in his groundbreaking first film Pather Pancheli (Song of the Road). Eventhough Ray’s film was shot in B&W and in circumstances that were as impoverished as the world being portrayed in the film, the poetic juxtaposition of man to nature has hardly ever been done better. There is actually very little plot to speak of, reminding one more of the improvised naturalness of De Sica’s Bicycle Thief than anything that had come before in Indian Cinema. The image and the sound are the real protagonists in this work of art. Once seen, who can ever forget those insects skitting along the surface of a pond, while the thrillingly precise accompaniment provided by the legendary Ravi Shankar finds just the right pulse of nature! Or Apu and Durga’s walk through a field of tall, white, willowy reeds as they discover a train outside their village. Or Durga’s ritual dance during the first monsoon rain. Or the terrifying night as the storm rips apart Durga’s room as she lies dying. Or the long-absent father’s approach to the crumbling house, the fallen Mango tree branch and the lone chewing cow. Each one of these images has infinitely more weight than the multitudinous factory of images supplied by Bollywood and most other cinemas of the world.

FILMOGRAPHY

Pather Panchali
Aparajito
Parash Pathar
Jalsaghar
Apur Sansar
Devi
Teen Kanya
Rabindranath Tagore
Kanchenjungha
Abhijan
Mahanagar
Charulata
Two
Kapurush – O – Mahapurush
Nayak
Chiriyakhana
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
Aranyer Din Ratri
Pratidwandi
Seemabaddha
Sikkim
The Inner Eye
Asani Sanket
Sonar Kella
Jana Aranya
Bala
Shantranj Ke Khilari
Joi Baba Felunath
Hirak Rajar Deshe
Pikoo
Sadgati
Ghare-Baire
Sukumar Ray
Ganashatru
Shakha Prashakha
Agantuk

FINAL OFFERINGS

In 1992, He accepted a Lifetime Achievement Oscar from his sickbed in Calcutta through a special live satellite-television event and Bharat Ratna (the Jewel of India), the ultimate honour from India.

Satyajit Ray died on April 23, 1992.

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