Today is master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday and Google’s paid a lovely tribute through a doodle based on his film “Pather Panchali.” For those who missed it, here’s what the doodle is all about:
We at TCRC also chanced upon a YouTube video of an old show on DD Bangla where Sir Richard Attenborough, director of “Gandhi,” talks about the experience of working with Ray on “Shatranj Ke Khilari.” The film, released in 1977, was based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name and was narrated by Amitabh Bachchan. The cast included actors such as Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Amjad Khan, Richard Attenborough, Victor Banerjee, Farooq Shaikh and Tom Alter. Do look out for Sir Attenborough’s views on cinema as an art form and Ray’s soundbites!
On 23rd April 1992, Satyajit Ray, one of India’s most celebrated personalities from the world of cinema, passed away in Calcutta. Twenty one years later, we at TCRC revisit some material on the illustrious life of the iconic Bengali filmmaker.
The New York Times published a glowing obituary of Ray, the day after his demise (click here to read the entire obit). The obituary, penned by Peter Flint, recounts how a three-member Oscar committee visited him at Belle Vue Hospital in Calcutta, a month before his death, to present him with the golden statuette for lifetime achievement in cinema. The presentation of the Oscar was filmed and his acceptance speech was screened two weeks later at the Oscars ceremony at the end of March that year.
The NYT obit also showcases a quote from Ray (given below), which beautifully captures how the auteur’s approach to mise-en-scene:
You had to find out yourself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village,” he said, “when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass dappled by the leaves of the trees, and the smoke from ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and the plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and wide are joined by the chorus of crickets, which rises as the light falls, until all one sees are the stars in the sky, and the stars blink and swirl in the thickets.”
Interestingly, the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika didn’t carry a single advertisement on the day after Ray’s death as a mark of respect to the master filmmaker. Well, from where we see it, very few filmmakers today would even be considered worthy of such a tribute and fewer media outlets would be willing to pay such a tribute!
We also loved Dilip Basu’s biography of Ray for the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of Southern California, Santa Cruz. Here’s an excerpt (click here to read the entire biography):
How he managed to make the film, pawning his rare music albums, his wife Bijoya’s jewelry and his mother, Suprabha’s networking in the Government circles in Calcutta, has now become a by-word in the annals of Indian film history. It also provides a paradigm on the “modes of production” in the kind of world cinema that stubbornly refuses to kowtow to commercial pressure. The paradigm required a perennial search for the elusive producer; an essential routine of most of Ray’s movie-making career. If he had access to funds for the kind of films he wanted to make on his fiercely independent and nonnegotiable artistic terms, the world would have seen more diversity and many more period pieces in Ray’s oeuvre: films based on ancient epics, the Mughals and the British Colonials. Instead, he limited himself to what was locally available and possible, refusing to stop or give in to commercial presuures. By 1992, the year he passed on, he had made forty films including shorts and documentaries. Some of these are all-time classics, great and near-great films. Unlike his illustrious contemporaries Antonioni, Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa, for example he never made a film that can qualify as “bad” from the filmmaker’s standpoint.”
Srinivas Krishnaswamy (a.k.a Srini), a cinephile and a friend of TCRC, brings us this rare foreword penned by auteur Satyajit Ray for a book titled “Chitrabani: A Book on Film Appreciation.” The book was authored by Fr. Gaston Roberge and was published for the first time in 1974. It has now gone out of print and on Srini’s request, Fr.Gaston Roberge has typed out Ray’s essay from his old copy of the book. We thank both of them for making this lovely essay available to us.
Chitra Bani, 1974
Foreword by Satyajit Ray, 26 January 1974
Gaston Roberge has written a film book which is aimed primarily at the Indian student of the cinema. Even ten years ago, a project like this would have made no sense. That it does so now is due to the enormous increase in interest in the cinema among the young people of the country, thanks largely to the spread of the film society movement. But this is not a phenomenon restricted to India alone. One has only to turn to the bibliography at the end of the book to realise what a vast amount of literature on the cinema is available to the enthusiast now. In my youth, when I set out in the pursuit of film, there were hardly a dozen worthwhile books on the subject in English.
For aesthetics, one turned to Arnheim, Spottiswoode, to Balasz and to Pudovkin. Eisensstein’s erudite essays didn’t see the light of the day until the late 40’s. For history, there was Rotha, there was Bardèche and Brasillach and, if one’s special interest lay in Hollywood, there was Lewis Jacobs. There were also a few odd collections of film criticisms – Agate’s, C. A. Lejeune’s, and a compilation by Alistair Cook called Garbo and the Nightwatchman. As for screenplays, one looked around in vain for them. The only film script in book form that I was able to track down was on René Clair’s first English language film, The Ghost Goes West.
The situation has, of course, changed drastically. Today is not unusual for even a modest pavement book stall in Calcutta or Bombay to display titles in the Cinema One series, or some of the admirable Lorrimer screenplays, or even a dog-eared old copy of Cahiers du cinema. And the amazing thing is that these books and magazines don’t stay in the stalls for long, but are picked up by young film buffs who are slowly building up their own private libraries.