Timeline History

Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray (May 2, 1921 – April 23, 1992) was an Indian filmmaker who is widely regarded as one of the greatest auteurs of 20th century cinema. Born in the city of Kolkata (then Calcutta) into a Bengali family prominent in the world of arts and letters, Ray studied at Presidency College and at the Visva-Bharati University, at the famed poet Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan. Starting his career as a commercial artist, Ray was drawn into filmmaking after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing the Italian neorealist film, Bicycle Thieves during a visit to London.
A prolific and versatile filmmaker, Ray directed 37 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. Ray's first film, Pather Panchali won 11 international prizes, including Best Human Document at Cannes. Along with Aparajito and Apur Sansar, the film forms the Apu trilogy widely regarded as Ray's magnum opus. Ray worked extensively on an array of tasks, including scripting, casting, scoring, cinematography, art direction, editing and designing his own credit titles and publicity material. Apart from making films, he was a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, graphic designer and film critic. Ray received many major awards in his illustrious career, including an Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1991.

Satyajit Ray considered script-writing to be an integral part of direction. This is one reason why he initially refused to make a movie in any language other than Bengali. In his two non-Bengali feature films, he wrote the script in English, which under his supervision translators then interpreted in Hindi or Urdu. In fact, as he and his art director Chandragupta considered that a "set exists only in relation to the script", he would always write scripts in English first, so that the non-Bengali Chandragupta would be able to read it. Camerawork in Ray's early films are a tribute to the craft of Subrata Mitra, whose (bitter) departure from Ray's crew, according to a number of critics, lowered the quality of cinematography in his films. Though Ray openly praised Mitra, his single-mindedness made him to take over operation of the camera since Charulata, a reason why Mitra stopped working for Ray after 1966. Pioneering works of Subrata Mitra included development of "bounce lighting", a technique of bouncing light off cloth to create a diffused realistic light even on a set. Ray also acknowledged debt to Jean-Luc Godard and Franηois Truffaut of the French New Wave for introducing new technical and cinematic innovations. Though Ray had a regular editor in Dulal Datta, he usually dictated the editing while Datta did the actual work. In fact, because of financial reasons and Ray's meticulous planning and complete control, his films were mostly cut "on the camera" (apart from Pather Panchali). At the beginning of his career, Ray worked with very talented Indian classical musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan. However, the experience was painful for him as he found that their first loyalty was to musical traditions, and not to his film; also, his greater grasp of western classical forms, which he regarded as essential, especially for his films set in an urban milieu, stood in the way. This led him to compose his own scores starting from Teen Kanya. Acting in Ray's film is praised as uniformly high, though he used actors of diverse backgrounds, from famous film stars to people who have never seen a film (such as in Aparajito). Robin Wood and others have lauded him as the best director of children, pointing out memorable performances including Apu and Durga (Pather Panchali), Ratan (Postmaster) and Mukul (Sonar Kella). Depending on the talent or experience of the actor Ray's direction would vary from virtually nothing (actors like Utpal Dutt) to using the actor as "a puppet" (Subir Banerjee as Apu or Sharmila Tagore as Aparna). Ray films are markedly diverse in their subject matter. He said in 1975, "Critics have often accused me of a grasshopperish tendency to jump from theme to theme, from genre to genre... rather than pursue one dominant subject in an easily recognizable style that would help them to pigeonhole me, affix me with a label...All I can say in self-defence, if one is needed, is that this diversity faithfully reflects my own personality and that behind every film lies a cool decision."

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