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His Life in a Nutshell



 

Satyajit Ray was born May 02, 1921 in Calcutta. His father died when he was young. He grew up under the protective wings of a young, widowed mother. She was with him till the end of her days, worrying about his health, looking after his little needs. When he left to shoot the film in Benares, she saw him off with a million instructions for his welfare. She was at the airport to receive him, when Ray returned from Italy with the prize. Ray depicts this relationship in his second film, Aparajito, probably the only film in which he puts a little bit of himself. It charts the young protagonist's anguished journey towards freedom from his mother's fierce protection and love.

After graduating from Presidency College, Cal, in 1940, he studied art at Rabindranath Tagore's University at Shantiniketan, West Bengal. By 1943, Ray was in Calcutta and working as a Visualizer in a British advertising agency. He was also designing covers and illustrating books brought out by the Signet Press, including an edition of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhya's novel, Pather Panchali, which he was later to turn into a film. It was around this time he developed an interest in films, with a passion for writing scenarios of prospective films.

He established the Calcutta Film Society in 1947. During a six month trip to Europe in 1950, he became a member of the London Film Club and managed to see 99 filmsRelated Link2 in four and a half months, including Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief. He returned with the conviction that it was possible to make realistic cinema with an almost entirely amateur cast. Upon his return he married his cousin, Bijoya and they have a son, Sandeep who has also made a few films, most based upon Ray's stories and screenplays.

In 1955, he made Pather Panchali (the Song of the Road), his first film, with financial assistance from the West Bengal Government. The film won many awards abroad including one at Cannes. Thus began his film making career which ended with Agantuk (the Stranger) in 1991.

Feature Films apart, Ray has made several documentaries including a controversial one (eventually banned) on Sikkim, one about Tagore, and one about his own father Sukumar Ray who was Bengal's most famous writer of nonsense verse and children's books. Ray's grandfather - Upendrakishore Ray was also a famous writer of children's books as well as a pioneer of books and magazine printing in India. He founded the above mentioned Signet Press (one of the oldest in India) and started a magazine called Sandesh for kids. Ray even filmed one of his grandfather's most popular stories - Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne - a musical fantasy comedy (his first) for children ...... Satyajit Ray revived Sandesh in 1961 and contributed poems, essays and stories to it. He published several highly acclaimed short stories and detective stories (two of which he made into movies - Sonar Kella [The Golden Fortress] and Jai Baba Felunath) featuring Prodosh Mitter alias Feluda as the inimitable middle-class Bengali private investigator. Ray's only film in Hindi (well, Urdu mostly) was Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

While a lot has been written of Ray's work and his creative genius, little is known about the man within. His physical and intellectual stature together combined to set him apart from his contemporaries. With his acute powers of perception, it would be wrong to assume that the man behind the public image was unaware of his own isolation. In his recorded interviews, when he spoke of his own achievements, there was no false humility, but neither was there any arrogance. He always appeared to know his own mind, even when he started shooting his very first film with a team of enthusiasts who had little or no experience of the cinematic medium. Members of that team would still vouch for it. But how much of his extraordinary mind he actually revealed to others is a matter for speculation. Despite a body of work that spans more than three decades, across various artistic disciplines, critics who evaluated his films in minute detail, found little reflection in them of their creator, and usually fell back upon familiar superlatives to describe the man.

Ray was awarded a hon. D. Litt from Oxford university in 1978, the Bharat Ratna in 1992 and the Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1992, among other awards and encomiums, including France's highest civilian honour, the Legione De Honeur. He died in April 1992.


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