Author Topic: Satyajit Ray  (Read 4961 times)

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SoNowThen

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Satyajit Ray
« on: December 16, 2003, 12:53:32 PM »
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So, I just saw Pather Panchali on an old vhs from the library.

I wasn't blown away, and I wouldn't put it in my top 50. However, as I let it sink in, it becomes apparent just how magical the film was. How steeped in beauty and truth and integrity, and so on...

The best example I can give, and something I strive for in my writing at all times, was the subtle but effective build up of the importance of the train.

SPOILERS (...I guess)

First the initial mention of the children wanting to see the trains (with bg sound effects). Then, when they actually see the train through the field, I dunno, it just felt like such a huge event, and yet if you described that to someone it would seem so insignificant. "Yeah, they see a train from a field in the distance, oh it's amazing" -- they'd look at you like you were a retard. At any rate, when Ray comes back to this idea near the end (with the layering of the sound in the background yet again), it lends an air of melancholy that would be almost impossible to create through direct narrative, or stand alone sound.

It's using the craft at its most spare level, to bring forward this transcendent feeling. Top dog!!

------------

Who here has seen any other Ray films besides the Apu Trilogy?
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Pubrick

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« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2003, 12:54:47 PM »
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i like saying Pather Panchali.
endless 'nothing is what it seems'-isms

Gold Trumpet

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« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2003, 02:41:05 PM »
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What I like best about Pather Panchali is the authenticity applied to the film and the last scenes of observation of the surrounding environment in shots and music. Pure poetry. Other than that, as I've said in another thread, the story is boring beyond reason. The editing is quite bad because certain shots will roam long after a scene and other shots will cut quickly. The story fails to have anything interesting as well. Sometimes, the higher realism of the village feels documented and sometimes it is just the tradegy of the girl dying at the end. The film lacks focus on either to make it effective or worthwhile.

For the rest of the Apu Trilogy, Ray progresses as a technical filmmaker. He literally began filmmaking with Pather Panchali and by World of Apu, gained a control on the filmmaking and story to get what he wants. Thing is, his the depth of complexity and realism he acquired was the stuff of Hollywood. The World of Apu is romantic filmmaking, quite different than Pather Panchali.

SoNowThen

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« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2003, 03:02:00 PM »
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Awesome. A joking non-response, and a totaly negative response. Neither addressing what I was talking about.


Let's argue more about politics. Sweet. Go go go movie board...
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Gold Trumpet

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« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2003, 03:10:14 PM »
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Quote from: SoNowThen
Awesome. A joking non-response, and a totaly negative response. Neither addressing what I was talking about.


Let's argue more about politics. Sweet. Go go go movie board...


First off, I had no clue how to respond to your paragraph of getting that "transcendent feeling". Seemed more like a personal reaction of yours that no one could say anything for. Also, its likely no one here has seen any other films by Ray besides the Apu Trilogy so you'd be getting zero replies. Even with the Apu Trilogy, comment on it by anyone here is quite limited. What are you expecting other than the normal responces?

classical gas

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« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2003, 03:16:57 PM »
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I loved "Pather Panchali"  it honestly moved me the first time i saw it.  It's the only movie by Ray that I've seen.  Can anyone reccomend any other films by him??  I guess i should just watch the whole trilogy, but aside from that, any other good ones?

SoNowThen

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« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2003, 03:19:20 PM »
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Quote from: The Gold Trumpet
Quote from: SoNowThen
Awesome. A joking non-response, and a totaly negative response. Neither addressing what I was talking about.


Let's argue more about politics. Sweet. Go go go movie board...


First off, I had no clue how to respond to your paragraph of getting that "transcendent feeling". Seemed more like a personal reaction of yours that no one could say anything for. Also, its likely no one here has seen any other films by Ray besides the Apu Trilogy so you'd be getting zero replies. Even with the Apu Trilogy, comment on it by anyone here is quite limited. What are you expecting other than the normal responces?


If you had no clue, why did you feel the need to respond?

I was wondering if anyone got a similar feeling during the train scene, and had enjoyed it so much that they looked into other, lesser known Ray films.

What, I'm not allowed to be disappointed by posts here anymore?
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Gold Trumpet

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« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2003, 03:27:28 PM »
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Quote from: SoNowThen
If you had no clue, why did you feel the need to respond?


Because your thread title is for Satiyat Ray in general and the first part of your post does talk about Pather Panchali generally. Thus, I saw room to say my opinion and maybe get a general discussion on him going. I know you get tired of my constant negative reviews, but it happens when you get involved in a discussion board. And sure, you can definitely be dissapointed with responces.

SoNowThen

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« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2003, 03:32:10 PM »
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Sometimes I wish you'd bring some heart to your posts, rather than just intellectualism.

It's the intangible that you feel from a film, but you seem to wanna not allow that into the equation. That's the difference between trying to write about film, and trying to do it. One feels the need to push the "heart" aside, the other knows that creation is not possible without it.
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Slick Shoes

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« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2003, 04:04:07 PM »
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I really need to see some of this dude's work so I can disagree with you guys.

godardian

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Satyajit Ray
« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2003, 04:21:32 PM »
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I've never seen any Ray, sad to say.

I'm really into trying to get the just-released Apu Triology on DVD. However, I read that it has bad transfers. But, even if they're "bad," aren't they the best we're likely to get? I'm a tiny bit torn, but I'll be getting them sooner or later. One major filmmaker whose work I know very little of, and I'm very intrigued.
""Money doesn't come into it. It never has. I do what I do because it's all that I am." - Morrissey

"Lacan stressed more and more in his work the power and organizing principle of the symbolic, understood as the networks, social, cultural, and linguistic, into which a child is born. These precede the birth of a child, which is why Lacan can say that language is there from before the actual moment of birth. It is there in the social structures which are at play in the family and, of course, in the ideals, goals, and histories of the parents. This world of language can hardly be grasped by the newborn and yet it will act on the whole of the child's existence."

Stay informed on protecting your freedom of speech and civil rights.

Ravi

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« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2003, 04:45:49 PM »
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Quote from: godardian
I've never seen any Ray, sad to say.

I'm really into trying to get the just-released Apu Triology on DVD. However, I read that it has bad transfers. But, even if they're "bad," aren't they the best we're likely to get? I'm a tiny bit torn, but I'll be getting them sooner or later. One major filmmaker whose work I know very little of, and I'm very intrigued.


Get the UK Artificial Eye DVD set.

As for other Ray films, type his name into Amazon.com's search (VHS) and you'll find about 7 or 8 other films of his.

Jalsaghar (The Music Room)- About a rich landowner whose fortune is crumbling before him.  My favorite of his that I've seen.

Devi- A young woman's father-in-law has a dream that she is the reincarnation of Devi, a Hindu goddess and enshrines her.  Sharmila Tagore, who played Aparna in The World of Apu, is the lead.

Teen Kanya (translates to Three Daughters)- The Western cut of this film shows two short stories.  The original cut had one additional story.  I thought the second story dragged a bit, but otherwise it is good.

The other ones are good, but I haven't seen Jana Aranya.

In the late 60s, Ray wrote a script called The Alien that was to be a co-production involving a US studio, but it never took off.  I'll try to get some of the pages about The Alien scanned from a book I have on Ray.  Some stuff is very similar to E.T., such as bringing things to life, and for a while it was alleged that Spielberg (or at least the scriptwriter) stole the story idea.

Ray was meticulous in his preparations for his films.  He drew storyboards and sketches, often down to costume ideas.  After his first few films, he wrote his own music.  He wasn't a brilliant composer, but his music was good in a simple and melodic way.  I have a CD of some of the music he's written.

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Satyajit Ray
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2004, 02:03:52 AM »
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I just saw my first two Ray films -- The Stranger and Two Daughters. The Stranger was his last film, and it was nice, with some lovely moments...I like it more the more I think about it, but I think I would appreciate it further if I had seen it after witnessing more of his repertoire.

However, I loved Two Daughters, and so of course now I want to see the non-Western version. Why was the third segment cut? Both stories I saw were really beautiful...the first (and shorter) one especially.

Ravi

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« Reply #13 on: May 12, 2005, 12:18:31 PM »
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I think the 3rd story was cut from Two Daughters (the original title is Three Daughters) for length.  The stills I've seen from it look very interesting.

http://specials.rediff.com/movies/2005/may/12ray.htm?q=eh&file=.htm

Restoring Ray

Satyajit Ray's immortal classic Pather Panchali will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, May 12, 49 years after it first earned international notice by winning the International Human Document prize at Cannes.

The audience at Cannes will see a restored version of Pather Panchali, an achievement that is perhaps as dramatic as the film itself. Aseem Chhabra first reported on the feat in India Abroad, the newspaper owned by rediff.com, last December. We reproduce that feature to mark the occasion, and to salute a movie whose quality has rarely, if ever, been surpassed in world cinema.

Last month (November 2004), the Asia Society, New York City, held a screening of Oscar-winning Indian director Satyajit Ray's first non-Bengali feature, Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977).

Ray's masterpiece -- in which two chess players (Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey) become obsessed with the game while their personal lives and the future of their home state Awadh fall into uncertainty -- was an obvious choice.

But there was a problem -- finding a print.

After an extensive search, Linden Chubin, associate director, cultural programs, Asia Society, tracked down one at the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection at the University of California's Santa Cruz campus.

The print was kept in a temperature-controlled vault at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' office in Beverly Hills, California. The vault holds all the Ray Collection's copies. The Academy has also restored second-generation negatives and positive prints of 15 films of the Bengali master.

It is the only complete collection of Ray's films in the world.

Under the guidance of the Ray Collection and its director, Dilip Basu, the films have traveled for retrospectives of the filmmaker's works to institutions such as the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the British Film Institute, London, and the Toronto Cinematheque.

Earlier this month (December 2004), to mark the 50th anniversary of Pather Panchali, Basu took the restored version to the 35th International Film Festival of India in Goa. The first Ray film's world premiere was held in April 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Next year, the 58th Cannes Film Festival will host a tribute to Pather Panchali. The film bagged the International Human Document prize at Cannes in 1956.

The story of the efforts to preserve Ray's legacy involves a handful of dedicated people who realised the desperate need to save the filmmaker's works. And it involves one of the world's leading film institutions, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The story begins with the 1992 lifetime achievement Oscar awarded to Ray. Nearly 70 filmmakers from around the world, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, backed Ray's nomination.

At the time, the filmmaker was hospitalised in Kolkata. Basu, a professor of history at UCSC and a family friend of Ray, carried the Oscar on behalf of the academy.

But before that, a major problem arose. Filmmaker and critic Richard Schickel was given the task of putting together a montage of scenes from Ray's films.

"There were barely any copies of Ray's films, in any form, available in North America," says Michael Pogorzelski, director of the Academy's Film Archives. "And the copies available were so poor in quality that most of them were deemed unusable by the show."

Schickel eventually used some of Basu's private collection of videotapes.

"Sandip (Ray's son) made videotapes of the television screenings of Ray's films," says Basu. "Or someone would give them to him and he would make a copy for me."

Basu says he often told Ray about the need to preserve his films. "He was aware of the condition of the films," Basu says, "But in the last years of his life, Ray's focus was elsewhere."

Realising the urgency, the Academy sent film preservation expert David Shepard for a fact-finding trip to India. Shepard arrived in the fall of 1992, a few months after Ray passed away.

He met Ray's son and wife. The American consulate hosted a party where Shepard met most of the producers who had worked with Ray.

At the do, Shepard screened a film he had worked on, the 1986 Academy Award-winning Precious Images. "What we were trying to get to them (the producers) was how exciting old films were and how important it was to spend money to preserve them," says Shepard from Hat Creek, California.

"They (the producers) realised they were sitting on important work. They didn't have money to invest, but they were willing to cooperate.

"The best material was of the films produced by R D Bansal," Shepard says. "He takes superb care of his material. The worst was Pather Panchali, owned by the West Bengal state government. They had done nothing except make every print off the original 1955 negative."

The negatives were in poor condition, subjected for years to the heat and humidity of Kolkata. "One producer had kept the negatives under his bed!" says Shepard.

If the Academy was concerned before Shepard's trip, his report (now part of the Ray Collection's archives) made alarm bells ring louder.

Shepard's report also got an Indian filmmaker intrigued. At the time the honorary Oscar was being planned for Ray, Ismail Merchant was exploring the possibility of bringing several of the director's films to the US.

Shepard had lunch with Merchant in Mumbai where the two talked about the condition of Ray's original negatives.

Merchant bought the rights to take six of Ray's negatives to be restored at the Henderson Film Laboratories, London. Unfortunately, a fire at the laboratories on July 3, 1993 destroyed the negatives of Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar, Jalsaghar, Devi and Teen Kanya.

Merchant contributed a portion of the cost to restore nine of Rays' films at the Academy. Having lost the negatives of some of Ray's greatest works in the fire, Michael Friend, the then director of the Academy's Film Archives, found decent quality prints and negatives in archives in Europe.

Merchant had a long association with Ray. The Bengali filmmaker helped edit the first Merchant Ivory production, The Householder, and composed the soundtrack of Shakespeare Wallah.

But Merchant's efforts to bring Ray's films to the US in the mid-1990s through Sony Pictures Classics won him admirers and detractors. "Mr Merchant is a merchant," says Shepard. "That is all I will say."

The fire created awareness about Ray's negatives, says Pogorzelski, who took over Friend's position at the Academy in 2000. They are now classified as national treasures in India. Only one negative can leave the country at a time.

"The negatives are given by individual producers for restoration and no rights are exchanged," adds Pogorzelski.

Since the initial Merchant Ivory Foundation funding, the Academy has been footing the bill for most of its efforts. However, The Film Foundation -- Scorsese's non-profit outfit to provide funds for film preservation -- sponsored the recent restoration of Nayak (1966).

Last year, the Academy restored Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968). Pogorzelski and assistant Joe Lindner are now about to finish working on two of the director's short films, Kapurush and Mahapurush (1965).

"The idea behind the Ray preservation project was that we didn't want to choose what were his greatest films," says Pogorzelski. "We could have said, 'let's just pick the best films that Ray made and if nothing else make sure those are preserved.' That would have dictated what survived of Ray's films. It would not give the subsequent generations of critics and audiences the opportunity to decide for themselves which are his best films.

"That is why we decided that the only ethical thing to do would be to commit to preserving everything Ray made."

Ray is the only filmmaker whose entire works the Academy is committed to restore.

"We haven't said we will do all of John Ford's films, for instance," Pogorzelski says. "A lot of other institutions and studios have been taking care of that, especially of Hollywood filmmakers."

Restoring a film can cost from $7,000 for a short to $70,000 and even $100,000, says Basu. The process normally takes a year. Restoring Ray's longest film, Abhijan (1962), took a little longer.

Restoring a film often involves sleuthing around. In 2000, while restoring Seemabaddha (1971), Pogorzelski had to search for a colour sequence that appeared in the film originally, but was missing from most subsequent prints.

'The main character, Chatterjee, attends a screening of a commercial for his company's ceiling fans,' Pogorzelski explained in a press release announcing the restoration of the film. The minute-long scene was deleted from many prints made after the original release.

Eventually, an inter-positive of the sequence was recovered in India and used to create a new color negative. The scene was hand-spliced into the new prints the Academy was restoring.

Similar problems arose with the three-film montage Teen Kanya (1961). The film was originally released in the US as Two Daughters and excluded the Monihara segment. After much searching, Basu found an old distributor in Munich through a connection at the Berlin Cinematheque who had an un-subtitled print of Monihara.

The process of picking up negatives from producers and shipping them to California is facilitated by The Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films in Kolkata, started by Basu's Ray Collection. Initial funding for the Society came from The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and UNESCO. Both the Society and the Collection were established in 1993.

One of the biggest supporters of the Collection is David W Packard, son of the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard. Packard is a huge Ray fan and in the summer of 1999 brought the complete retrospective of the director's films to his Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, California. He recently loaned his $200,000 digital camera to the Ray Collection.

"We are having a Satyajit Ray art exhibition at our centre," says Basu, "It includes a montage of stills from Ray's life, his sketches from his storyboard notebooks. Most of them are in color, from Shatranj Ke Khilari, Ghare Baire and Hirak Rajar Deshey. We reproduced them with the digital camera loaned by Packard.

"Packard wanted to buy theatrical rights to all Ray films," Basu says. "But he does not want to do that until all the rights are cleared."

The distribution rights of Ray's films, especially in the US, remain foggy. Producers in India continue to make parallel deals with different distributors, says Basu.

One producer gave a handwritten note to a New York-based Bangladeshi distributor, authorizing him DVD rights to some of Ray's films, he points out.

The same producer then assigned similar rights to an Indian distributor in Los Angeles. In both cases, the distributors chose not to take the restored versions of the film.

In trying to secure negatives from producers, Basu has hit a roadblock with Suresh Jindal, the man behind Shatranj Ke Khilari. The film has not been restored. The Asia Society screened a copy.

"He (Jindal) tells me his negative is secure at the Technicolor laboratory in London. But I told him that even coloured negatives should be restored and saved. Otherwise the colour will fade."

At least, thanks to a few good men like Basu, the legacy of arguably India's greatest filmmaker will not fade away.

Ravi

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« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2005, 02:45:25 PM »
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http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14931-1739041,00.html


August 18, 2005

Ray of light still shines in the dark
The author Andrew Robinson recalls his meetings with the film director Satyajit Ray, one of the giants of world cinema


YOU MIGHT not think that Satyajit Ray and John Huston, the larger-than-life director of The Maltese Falcon and Moby Dick, would have much in common. But when I was writing a biography of Ray in the 1980s, I received a letter from Huston about Ray and his work. “I recognised the footage as the work of a great film-maker. I liked Ray enormously on first encounter. Everything he did and said supported my feelings on viewing the film.”

The footage in question was from Ray’s maiden venture, Pather Panchali. Huston saw it in a rough cut in Calcutta in 1954 and strongly recommended it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where the film received its world premiere in 1955. Today, on the 50th anniversary of its release, Pather Panchali has become an enduring classic of world cinema, besides being the film that put Indian cinema on the international map. Even if you see nothing else by Satyajit Ray, none of his more than 30 feature films, you have to see Pather Panchali. This film, alone, was probably what persuaded the Hollywood Academy to give Ray an Oscar for lifetime achievement just before his death in 1992.

Akira Kurosawa, perhaps the greatest of Ray’s admirers among his fellow directors, told me: “Mr Ray is a wonderful and respectful man. I feel that he is a ‘giant’ of the movie industry.” Kurosawa’s first impression of Ray when they met in Japan was of his great height, his candid manner and his piercing gaze. “It came to me spontaneously that such sublime creations could only be the work of such a man.”

I too had the same feeling of harmony between the man and his films when I first met Ray. He had come to London to give an on-stage interview at the National Film Theatre in 1982, and the organisers had put him in the Savoy Hotel near by. I went there for an interview and almost immediately we started talking in detail about his films and his life. The conversation lasted more than three hours. His extraordinary articulacy did not strike me until afterwards, when I discovered from my tape-recording that he spoke in complete sentences, with punctuation. But I remember being surprised by the ease with which he fitted into a British context while remaining uniquely himself. Only when I got to know him better did he admit: “I don’t feel very creative when I’m abroad somehow. I need to be in my chair in Calcutta!”

Eight months later, I arrived in Calcutta for the first time to watch the shooting of Ray’s lavish period film The Home and the World, based on the novel by Rabindranath Tagore. I was commissioned to cover it for American Cinematographer — the ideal excuse to pry into every aspect of its production.

I soon got to know the city from a unique perspective: Ray on the hunt for props, costumes and materials to suit Tagore's period settings, in the shops and homes of his intricate network of relatives, friends and contacts. “Come any time. We are very busy shopping around getting props from people’s houses,” Ray had told me over the phone at my hotel — and he meant exactly that. I tagged along as he and his assistants went calmly in pursuit of a wind-up gramophone of circa 1907 vintage, a pistol that originally belonged to Tagore’s grandfather, imitation classical figurines and other objets d’art, and bric-a-brac of all kinds from a shop stuffed with the relics of the Raj. Everything we collected was put into his Ambassador car (a version of the 1950s Morris Oxford ubiquitous in India), then we all climbed in too and bumped over Calcutta’s potholes towards the studios. I could imagine no other world-famous film director used to operating quite like this.

When I first entered his flat, I found Ray discussing the exact kind of button required by one of his costume designs with a member of his production team. This was typical of his attention to detail. No director, including Chaplin, was more personally responsible for his films. He wrote his scripts solo. He designed the sets and costumes. He acted out the roles for his actors with consummate nuance. He operated the camera and he edited each frame. He composed the music. He even designed the credits and posters, having earlier worked as a graphic designer and illustrator.

Almost the only thing he chose not to do was act for his camera. He spurned offers from other directors too. Why not act, Marlon Brando once asked Ray in a televised conversation. “No, it’s better behind the camera,” he replied firmly (and a shade tactlessly). “It would be too tedious.”

Calcutta is more prosperous today, but in Ray’s time it was a byword for poverty and deprivation. The day I first visited the studios with him, there was an extended power cut and the studios were lit by hurricane lamps. Ray examined the almost-finished set and instructed his art director on the precise manner in which the curtains should fall, the shape of the half-moon windows above the doors and other details. “It looks rather spectral, doesn’t it? ” he said with a smile.

In the clear light of day, I realised what I had missed on our nocturnal visit: the primitive lighting arrangements, the lack of air-conditioning and the ineffective soundproofing. There were some very persistent pigeons roosting in the roof of the studio, which had sometimes to be driven off with stones so that shooting could continue. One of Ray’s assistant directors volunteered: “We are proof against all hazards.” Ray remarked, without a trace of affectation: “After all, we do have the bare essentials — and the rest is here, in my head. I don’t think you need any more than that really.”

About creativity, he once told me: “This whole business of creation, of the ideas that come in a flash, cannot be explained by science. I don’t know what can explain it but I know that the best ideas come at moments when you’re not even thinking of it. It’s a very private thing really.”

Satyajit himself was certainly very much a private person. Although he knew himself extremely well, he was guarded about revealing that knowledge to anyone else. This protective shell led many people, both at home in Bengal and in the wider world, to think of Ray as aloof and arrogant. But I never felt he was. I have yet to meet anyone with a genuine feeling for a subject that interested Ray who did not enjoy talking to him about it — cinema, music, painting, literature, a new scientific theory, cricket, the fast-changing face of Calcutta, or any of a host of other things, often quite unexpected. Late in life, he even developed an addiction to the one-armed bandits at a casino in Kathmandu. “He’s become a slot-machine freak,” said his son with a grin, who shot a television film there based on one of his father’s novellas.

Ray’s friend James Ivory wrote to me that seeing Pather Panchali in the USA in the late 1950s “literally changed my life” — it set him on the road to directing films in India, and then in the West. Satyajit Ray and his films changed my life too, and I shall forever be grateful to him.

FIVE SATYAJIT RAY FILMS NOT TO MISS

Pather Panchali (1955)
Ray’s debut, and the first of the immortal Apu Trilogy (the other two in the series are Aparajito and The World of Apu). Probably Ray’s most lyrical film, and still his most celebrated.

The Music Room (1958)
An expressionist film, charged with beauty and dark passions, it opened French eyes to Ray in the 1980s.

Charulata (1964)
To connoisseurs, perhaps Ray’s most accomplished film (and his own favourite), for its ravishing and flawless evocation of the 19th-century Bengal renaissance.

Days and Nights in the Forest (1969)
This wincingly funny comedy displays Ray’s brilliant manipulation of ensembles and his unparalleled penetration of both masculine and feminine psychology.

The Chess Players (1977)
Ray’s only feature film in Hindi and with a Western star (Richard Attenborough), it interweaves the rivalry of two chess-playing nawabs with the British colonial takeover of Lucknow in 1856.

Andrew Robinson is the author of Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye and Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema, published by I. B. Tauris on Aug 30. Pather Panchali is at the Chelsea Cinema, SW3 (0871 223 4501), Aug 26 to Sept 1

 

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