The story of Satyajit Ray is intertwined with the story of a nation and begins with his birth into a political reformist family in Calcutta in 1921. His father was a satirist, his grandfather a writer and publisher; however, Ray's career... [more]
The story of Satyajit Ray is intertwined with the story of a nation and begins with his birth into a political reformist family in Calcutta in 1921. His father was a satirist, his grandfather a writer and publisher; however, Ray's career began in advertising. Ray's growing reputation as an illustrator during the '50s coincided with India's push to define itself as a nation after declaring independence from British colonial rule in 1950. During this time, Ray watched both American and European films and co-founded the Calcutta Film Society. After viewing De Sica's now-legendary "The Bicycle Thief," the young ad man regrouped and decided to embark on a film career that would eventually make his name synonymous with Indian regionalist cinema.
Ray's admiration for De Sica showed itself in his embrace of Neo-Realism as a mode of representation. Like the Italian Neo-Realists, he eschewed the artificiality of the studio in favor of location shooting and the use of available light. This slice-of-life aesthetic was grafted onto his first film, "Pather Panchali" (1955), and was used to create a post-Independence rewriting of Indian history. With the approval of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of future political leader Indira Gandhi, Ray followed his first feature with two sequels that rounded out what came to be called the "Apu Trilogy."
Ray went on to engage India's past, particularly the Bengal history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- the height of colonial rule -- in many of his best-known 1960s films. These include films such as "Devi" (1960), "Teen Kanya" (1961), and "Charulata" (1964), which Ray and many others considered his finest. The 1970s brought a new brand of civil strife to India, one that was marked by unprecedented corruption and pervasive unemployment. During this period, Ray produced his "Calcutta Trilogy" -- "Pratidwandi" in 1970, "Seemabaddha" in 1971, and "Jana Aranya" in 1975 -- which criticized the ruling elite while lamenting the dissipation of traditional values. A few years earlier, Ray had made a commercially viable children's film, "Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne," based on the fictional characters, Goopy and Bagha, that had been created by his grandfather. Sequels to this film would later serve as a critique of Indira Gandhi's political policy and would mark Ray's eventual retreat into other non-political children's narratives. Other than a few television series and the publication of a book of short fiction, Ray remained in self-imposed retirement until his death in 1992. [show less]