Growing up in a Bengali household introduced me to the world of art, music and cinema at an early age. If there was one thing common across Bengali families around the world, it would be backing their children to find their artistic passion. Willingly or otherwise, we had to learn to sing, paint, dance or recite and participate at several cultural shows. Like Music in Bengal was tantamount to Rabindra Sangeet, intellectual cinema was particularly defined by the artistic excellence of Satyajit Ray. My early memories of Ray’s films include Goopi Gayen Baagha Bayen , Hirok Rajar Deshe, Sonar Kella,Joi Baba Felunath and a host of children’s films that stood as illustrations of fine story telling.
As I learnt to appreciate the senses of world cinema, I agreed that the strength of Ray’s works were best depicted through average moments in his films. His remarkable capacity of transmuting the mundane into an exciting adventure was the most deeply felt emotion in his stories. His unique ability to establish immediate connect with a larger audience of vastly different cultures set him apart from his contemporaries. Ray’s greatest achievement was creating awareness of a common man by using simple yet powerful details such as a glance, vocal inflection, smile or gestures.
A prolific film maker, master story teller and an exceptionally gifted director, Ray directed films comprising of documentaries, features and short stories. Apu Trilogy(Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar), Jalshaghar, Postmaster, Charulata, Agantuk and Piko are among a host of his exemplary pieces of work. Born into an exceptionally talented household, Ray’s family were exponents of art and culture. He discovered his passions early in life – music and cinema. At one time, Ray studied art in Rabindranath Tagore’s University, Shantiniketan. His artistic opus contained a fusion of East and West, similar to the blend that was evident in Tagore’s school of thought.
He took to commercial advertising, designed several covers and illustrated books. It was during this time that he was deeply inspired by western movie making and decided to make realist cinema. After severe financial hardships, his journey as a film maker began with Pather Panchali(song of the little road) in 1955. The film went on to win numerous international accolades. Thus, with the onset of Ray’s films, Indian cinema assumed importance in the international stage at once.
An ardent admirer of Ray’s films, my favourite classic among his accomplished pieces of work is CHARULATA (The Lonely Wife). Filmed entirely in Calcutta, the story is based on Tagore’s novel – NashtoNeer( The Broken Nest), set up in the nineteenth century. It is considered to be one of the greatest films in Indian cinema and undoubtedly one of Ray’s masterpieces.
The film revolves around three central characters, Amal, Charulata and Bhupati. The sensitive tale of Charulata, the lonely wife, beautifully portrays hues of her myriad emotions trapped in the conscience of traditions and the fierce battle within her. The careful interplay of emotions between Charu(fondly referred as in the movie), her wealthy husband Bhupati and her brother in law Amal has an unmistakable nobility of innocence that is brilliantly captured through Ray’s lenses. Minimal dialogue, subtle portrayal of human emotion and an understated level of innocence lends it a timeless charm. Remarkable performances by the actors, Charulata is a visual delight that grows on the audience slowly through the adept mastery of Ray’s genius.
Ray, often regarded as one of the greatest film makers of world cinema was awarded several national and international honours and accolades in his lifetime, including the premier award in Indian cinema, the DadaSaheb Phalke award in 1984 followed by the highest Indian civilian honour, The Bharat Ratna in 1992. He was the only Indian film maker to be awarded an Honorary Award at the 64th Academy awards in 1991. Ray was also awarded the highest decoration of France, Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 1987. Apart from critical acclaim and international honours, Ray went on to win 35 national film awards in his film making career spanning across 4 decades.
The sureness of his work, richness of his thoughts and genial ability to transport his audience to an adventurous yet real plethora of emotions is sheer joy and pride for the lovers of art and cinema. Such was the oeuvre of his craft that films made in Bengali had an international appeal revering his style and content. Ray’s films invoke a certain emotional quest in his audience that is profound. The confident deposition of his characters, fine attention to detail and the magnificent flow of images in his films is evidence of Ray’s mastery.
I quite resonate with Akira Kurosawa when the great Japanese film maker said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon” , while watching Ray’s films.