Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Satyajit Ray was born on May 2, 1921 in Calcutta to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray. He graduated from the Ballygunge Government School and studied Economics at Presidency College. He then attended Kala Bhavan, the Art School at Tagore's University, Santiniketan during 1940-1942. Without completing the five-year course, he returned to Calcutta in 1943, to join the British-owned advertising agency D. J. Keymer as a visualizer. Within a few years, he rose to be its art director.
In 1948, he married Bijoya Das, a former actress/singer who also happened to be his cousin. Their only offspring, Sandip, was born in 1953. In 1983, Satyajit Ray suffered a massive heart attack. He died on April 23, 1992 in Calcutta after having some 40 films and documentaries and numerous books and articles to his credit.

As a youngster, Ray developed two very significant interests. The first was music, especially Western Classical music. He listened, hummed and whistled. He then learned to read music, began to collect albums, and started to attend concerts whenever he could. These interests and skills were to prove most useful when he chose to score music for his own films.
His second interest was cinema, or "bioscope," as it was called in the early years of motion pictures. He saw silent films as well as "talkies" and started to compile scrapbooks with clippings culled from newspapers and magazines on Hollywood stars. He wrote fan letters to Deana Durbin who replied. Manik carefully put it in his scrapbook, along with pictures of Durbin. The Ray family has preserved this early scrapbook to this day. Ray wrote to Ginger Rogers too, but did not receive a reply. Billy Wilder received a "massive missive," a twelve-page long letter from Ray, now a young man who had developed a keen interest in the craft of cinema. The occasion was Ray's fascination in the Golden Age American Cinema and its profound impact on his own craft which remains an untold story.

In 1950, Satyajit Ray was asked by a major Calcutta publisher to illustrate a children's edition of Pather Panchali, Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee's semi-autobiographical novel. On his way back from London, with little to do on a two-week boat journey, Ray ended up sketching the entire book. These formed the kernel and the essential visual elements in the making of Pather Panchali, Ray's very first film and the film that brought him instant international recognition and fame. At the Cannes Film Festival, in 1956, Ray received in absentia, the Best Human Document Award for this hauntingly beautiful film, its carefully executed details of joys and sorrows in the life of a little boy named Apu in a tiny village in Bengal in the 1920s. Instant fame, however, did not bring in its wake instant fortune.

Ray resigned from his job as a visualizer in the British advertisement firm soon after Pather Panchali was released. The die was cast: Ray was now a full-time professional filmmaker. After the completion of the Apu Trilogy (1959), regarded as a classic of World Cinema, Ray continued to work with amazingly diverse and varied material. With each film made in the 1960s, his reputation soared to new heights. Many distinguished awards and prizes came his way.
Satyajit Ray made modest amounts directing and making films. The producers reaped the profits from films that earned substantial revenues, e.g. The Apu Trilogy, and The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1968). In the mid-sixties, for a couple of years he had no work. The solution to making ends meet for his small family surfaced this way. In 1968, a prominent editor of a widely read literary magazine in Bengali persuaded Ray to write a novella for its annual number. Ray the writer of whodunits, adventure stories, science fictions, appropriately illustrated by himself, made a dramatic appearance on the Bengali literary scene. In addition, there was no surcease since then in his literary output until the time he was taken to the hospital in 1992. His last writing, My Years With Apu, was published posthumously in 1994. He wrote some seventy novellas, stories and translations and each one of them became a best seller in Bengali. The royalties from these various writings supported the Ray family, easing somewhat his anxiety to provide for his family. In the 70s and the 80s he chose to make a few films based on these stories: Sonar Kella (1974), Joi Baba Felunath (1978), Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), Pikoo (1980), Shakha Proshakha (1990), Uttoran (1993). Sandip Ray directed the last film after Ray had passed away.

He was awarded Oscar for Honorary Lifetime achievement when he was bed ridden in Kolkata Hospital.

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