Satyajit Ray was born on 2 May 1921 in Calcutta, British India & died on 23 April 1992 in Calcutta, India, was an Indian Bengali filmmaker. He is regarded as one of the greatest auteurs of 20th century cinema. Ray was born in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) 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 the Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves during a visit to London.
Satyajit Ray’s ancestry can be traced back for at least ten generations. Ray’s grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray was a writer, illustrator, philosopher, publisher, amateur astronomer and a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a religious and social movement in nineteenth century Bengal. Sukumar Ray, Upendrakishore’s son, was a pioneering Bengali writer of nonsense rhyme and children’s literature, an illustrator and a critic.
Ray was born to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray in Kolkata. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was barely three, and the family survived on Suprabha Ray’s meager income. Ray studied at Ballygunge Government High School, Calcutta, and then completed his B.A. (Hons.) in economics at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta, though his interest was always in fine arts. In 1940, his mother insisted that he study at the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore.
Ray was reluctant due to his love of Kolkata, and due to the generally low opinion of the intellectual life at Santiniketan. His mother’s persuasion and his respect for Tagore finally convinced him to try this route. In Santiniketan, Ray came to appreciate oriental art. He later admitted that he learned much from the famous painters Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee about whom Ray later produced a documentary film, “The Inner Eye.” With visits to Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta, Ray developed an admiration for Indian art.
Ray directed thirty-seven films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. He was also a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, graphic designer and film critic. Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali (1955), won eleven international prizes, including Best Human Documentary at the Cannes film festival. Alongside Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), the three films form The Apu Trilogy. Ray did the scripting, casting, scoring, cinematography, art direction, editing and designed his own credit titles and publicity material. Ray received many major awards in his career, including 32 Indian National Film Awards, a number of awards at international film festivals and award ceremonies, and an Academy Honorary Award in 1991.
In 1943, he joined a British-run advertising agency, D.J. Keymer, as a “junior visualiser,” earning just eighty rupees a month. Although visual design was something close to Ray’s heart, and for the most part he was treated well, there was palpable tension between the British and Indian employees of the firm. The British were much better paid, and Ray felt that “the clients were generally stupid.” Soon after, Ray also became involved with Signet Press, a new publishing house started up by D. K. Gupta. Gupta asked Ray to create cover designs for books published from Signet Press and gave him complete artistic freedom. Ray designed covers for many books, including Jim Corbett’s Maneaters of Kumaon, and Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. He also worked on a children’s version of Pather Panchali, a classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, renamed as Am Antir Bhepu (The mango-seed whistle). Ray was deeply influenced by the work, which became the subject of his first film. In addition to designing the cover, he illustrated the book; many of his illustrations ultimately found their place as shots in his groundbreaking film.
Along with Chidananda Dasgupta and others, Ray founded the Calcutta Film Society in 1947, through which he was exposed to many foreign films. Throughout this time, Ray continued to watch and study films seriously. He befriended the American GIs stationed in Kolkata during World War II, who would inform him of the latest American films showing in the city. He came to know a RAF employee, Norman Clare, who shared Ray’s passion of films, chess and western classical music.
In 1949, Ray married Bijoya Das, his first cousin and longtime sweetheart. The couple had a son, Sandip, who is now a film director. In the same year, Jean Renoir came to Kolkata to shoot his film The River. Ray helped him to find locations in the countryside. It was then that Ray told Renoir about his idea of filming Pather Panchali, which had been on his mind for some time, and Renoir encouraged him to proceed. In 1950, Ray was sent to London by D.J. Keymer to work at its head office. During his three months in London, he watched 99 films. Among these was the neorealist film Ladri di biciclette Bicycle Thieves (1948) by Vittorio De Sica which had a profound impact on him. Ray later said that he came out of the theater determined to become a filmmaker.
In 1962, Ray directed Kanchenjungha, which was his first original screenplay and colour film. The film tells the story of an upper-class family spending an afternoon in Darjeeling, a picturesque hill town in West Bengal, where the family tries to engage their youngest daughter to a highly paid engineer educated in London. The film was first conceived to take place in a large mansion, but Ray later decided to film it in the famous hill town, using the many shades of light and mist to reflect the tension in the drama. An amused Ray noted that while his script allowed shooting to be possible under any lighting conditions, a commercial film contingent present at the same time in Darjeeling failed to shoot a single shot as they only wanted to do so in sunshine.
In the sixties, Ray visited Japan and took particular pleasure in meeting filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, for whom he had very high regard. While at home, he would take an occasional break from the hectic city life by going to places like Darjeeling or Puri to complete a script in isolation.
In 1983, while working on Ghare Baire (Home and the World), Ray suffered a heart attack that would severely limit his output in the remaining 9 years of his life. Ghare Baire was completed in 1984 with the help of Ray’s son (who would operate the camera from then on) because of his health condition. He wanted to film this Tagore novel on the dangers of fervent nationalism for a long time, and even wrote a (weak, by his own admission) script for it in the 1940s. In spite of rough patches due to his illness, the film did receive some critical acclaim, and it contained the first full-blown kiss in Ray’s films. In 1987, he made a documentary on his father, Sukumar Ray.
Ray’s last three films, made after his recovery and with medical strictures in place, were shot mostly indoors, have a distinctive style. They are more verbose than his earlier films and are often regarded as inferior to his earlier body of work. The first, Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People) is an adaptation of the famous Ibsen play, and considered the weakest of the three. Ray recovered some of his form in his 1990 film Shakha Proshakha (Branches of the Tree). In it, an old man, who has lived a life of honesty, comes to learn of the corruption three of his sons indulge in with the final scene shows him finding solace only in the companionship of the fourth, uncorrupted but mentally ill son. After Shakha Prashakha, Ray’s swan song Agantuk (The Stranger) is lighter in mood, but not in theme. A long lost uncle’s sudden visit to his niece’s house in Kolkata raises suspicion as to his motive and far-ranging questions about civilization.
In 1992, Ray’s health deteriorated due to heart complications. He was admitted to a hospital, and would never recover. An honorary Oscar was awarded to him weeks before his death, which he received in a gravely ill condition. He died on 23 April 1992; he was seventy one .
Numerous awards were bestowed on Ray throughout his lifetime, including 32 National Film Awards by the Government of India, in addition to awards at international film festivals. At the Berlin Film Festival, he was one of only three filmmakers to win the Silver Bear for Best Director more than once and holds the record for the most number of Golden Bear nominations, with seven. At the Venice Film Festival, where he had previously won a Golden Lion for Aparajito (1956), he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award in 1982. That same year, he received an honorary “Hommage à Satyajit Ray” award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
Ray is the second film personality after Chaplin to have been awarded honorary doctorates by Oxford University. He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987. The Government of India awarded him the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna shortly before his death. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray an honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. It was one of his favourite actresses, Audrey Hepburn, who represented the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on that day in Calcutta. Ray, unable to attend the ceremony due to his illness, gave his acceptance speech to the Academy via live video feed in his home. In 1992 he was posthumously awarded the Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing at the San Francisco International Film Festival; it was accepted on his behalf by actress Sharmila Tagore.
In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics’ Top Ten Poll ranked Ray at #7 in its list of “Top 10 Directors” of all time, making him the highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll. In 2002, the Sight & Sound critics’ and directors’ poll ranked Ray at #22 in its list of all-time greatest directors, thus making him the fourth highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll. In 1996, Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Ray at #25 in its “50 Greatest Directors” list. In 2007, Total Film magazine included Ray in its “100 Greatest Film Directors Ever” list.