The Genius Behind the Camera: Satyajit Ray

The year 1992 created history for Indian Cinema. It was the year when India received its first Oscar and it was a Bengali, a man of extraordinary genius, who made it possible with his rare gift of filmmaking. He was Satyajit Ray, a man with distinct mastery over the art of filmmaking, influenced several filmmakers and audiences all over the world with his work. The year 2021 marks the birth-centenary of this genius called Satyajit Ray, often affectionately referred to as ManikDa.

Satyajit-The Genius Behind the Camera
The Genius Behind the Camera

Ray made his debut as a director with the pathbreaking film, PatherPanchali in the year 1955. It was the first part of the Apu Trilogy, which won the best human document award at Cannes. The Trilogy also included Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). 

The fact that he had no formal training in filmmaking never prevented him from creating masterpieces. Ray began his career by working in an ad agency in Kolkata. He learned the art of filmmaking by watching films and reading articles by renowned filmmakers and film critics from all over the world. His films covered a wide range of themes like rural life, urban life, detective stories, a life of a star, life of a taxi driver, the Swadeshi movement, superstitions regarding religion and society in India, drawbacks of modern civilization, satires, adventures, films for children and many more. Ray won numerous prestigious awards at different film festivals abroad for his extraordinary craft in movies like Mahanagar (1963), Charulata (1964), Nayak (1966), and AshaniSanket (1973).

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At Venice, he was awarded for Aparajito and Seemabaddha(1971). He also won a British Institute Fellowship in 1983 and the Sutherland Trophy for Apur Sansar at the London Film Festival.  In 1987, the government of France made Ray a Commander of the Legion of Honor. In India Ray was conferred with the National Film Award for his films 36 times. He was also accorded with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the country’s highest film award, and the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. 

Ray’s talent was not limited to being a director only. He contributed to different aspects of filmmaking. Several of his films were based on his own stories. In masterpieces like Gupi Gain Bagha Bain(1969) and HirakRajarDeshe(1980), he wrote the lyrics with rhymes. He made a fusion of Indian classical, western classical, and folk music in his films which resulted in creating some of the most distinctive Ray signature tunes. Renowned classical musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar, Vilayat Khan collaborated with Ray in his early films as music directors.

While writing his screenplays he provided detailed sketches of shot sequences which works now as an important lesson for budding filmmakers. He was also actively involved with editing, art direction, and camera management in his movies. Ray also introduced eminent actors like Soumitra Chatterjee who collaborated with him in 14 films beginning with his debut ApurSangsar. Dhritiman Chatterjee was also introduced to the audience by Ray in Pratidwandi (1970) and they worked together again on Ganashatru (1989) and Agantuk(1991).

Satyajit Ray was a renaissance man in the true sense of the term. Apart from being a remarkable filmmaker, Ray was also a potent writer, composer, and graphic designer. He was a highly successful writer of short stories, detective stories, and science fiction. He is particularly famous for creating the detective character Feluda and the scientist Shanku. He was a multi-faceted creative man particularly skilled in sketching.

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He was a photographer, calligrapher, an editor of a children’s magazine, a film critic, and what not! While talking about the genius of Satyajit Ray as a filmmaker Shyam Benegal, a renowned name in the world of Indian film making, once very aptly remarked,

If there is a single contribution of Satyajit Ray to the world of Indian cinema it would be the path he created for Indian cinema to break free from being self-referential and imitative of subjects largely lifted from Hollywood.

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