The Cinema of Satyajit Ray

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To Satyajit Ray, in recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.' - 64th Academy Awards Honarary Award Citation
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Item Code: UAE319
Author: Bhaskar Chattopadhyay
Publisher: Westland Publications Pvt Ltd., Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2021
ISBN: 9789391234249
Pages: 315 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 320 gm
Book Description

I WAS INTRODUCED TO THE CINEMA OF SATYAJIT RAY BY MY FATHER, when I must have been about nine or ten years old. My father had a government job in a small town in Assam and my parents were keen that I learn the Bengali language, despite it not being taught as a subject in school. Very early on in my childhood, therefore, my mother introduced me to the language, starting with abridged editions of Indian mythological epics, then moving on to comics and finally to other literature. I am not quite sure, but as far as I can remember, I think I may have read Ray's literature before I was introduced to his cinema. But what I do remember was that like any other child from a Bengali household, the first Ray film I ever watched was Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha). I remember it was love at first sight. My parents were regular visitors to the cinema and I would often go with them. But never had I watched anything like this before. Here was a film that did not exhibit that extremely annoying trait of assuming that just because I was a child, I was childish, that I had to be spoken to in a sing-song voice or that I did not know the ways of the world. I was as hooked to the screen as my parents were. For the first time, I was being treated as an equal.

The more I grew up, the more I realised that simplicity was the hallmark of a Ray film. This simplicity came from a rare trait that any filmmaker in the world can hope to possess-the confidence that his or her audience is intelligent. This is not very difficult to understand if you think about it. We respect those who respect us, don't we? If someone talks down to us or tries to show off, we get put off instantly. The same happens in the arts. Every artist in the world has a way of saying things. Although there are many other connotations to the word, in simple terms, this can be called the artist's 'voice. Ray's voice had a unique trait: it liked to say only so much-just enough to express his thoughts. No more, no less. The Roman poet Horace once asked, 'If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?' A rather pertinent question. Just because you have the knowledge and the ability to say a lot on a subject, doesn't mean you need to. Art is as much about what not to say than about what to.

Nor are Ray's films esoteric, by any stretch of the imagination. He always made films that could be easily understood by everyone. This fascination for effective communication is often reflected in Ray's literature too, in which, time and again, he expresses his dislike for art that can be understood and appreciated only by a small group of people. His films, therefore, were never solely for the purpose of making a deep and grave philosophical statement; nor were they merely a form of light entertainment and escape. The fact that he was able to strike a fine balance between the two is what made someone like me fall in love with his cinema.

In writing this book too, I have tried to follow the teachings of Ray. If there is anything this book is not, it's a textbook. It is not intended to be a deep, analytical study of his films, nor of his filmmaking. This book is primarily meant to take the films of Ray to a larger audience, to tell them that Ray's films are accessible, that they can be easily understood and that even in all their simplicity, they give us beautiful messages without ever trying to be preachy. They tell us stories that we can all understand and relate to, derive joy from and marvel at. If anything, this book is my humble but sincere attempt to break down the invisible, unwritten and omnipresent class system in film appreciation-the very notion that one person's understanding of a film is any better or worse than that of another.

The book, as you will see, has been divided into two sections. The first carries essays-one each for the thirty-nine films that Ray made in his career. These essays were first published in a weekly column I had written for the web portal Firstpost, from 2017 to 2018. Those who had followed the column had repeatedly asked me to publish these essays in the form of a book, and although the suggestion had merit, the only reason I kept postponing the idea was because I felt there would be something missing in such a book, if indeed it were to come out. But for the life of me, I was not being able to pinpoint what lacuna that would be. In the spring of 2021, while soaking in the sun on the terrace of a beautiful holiday home in the verdant hills of the Nilgiris, it suddenly struck me that to truly understand the films of Ray, one would have to understand Ray the filmmaker as well. That is when the idea of the interviews came to me. Since I had myself never had the good fortune of meeting Ray, I decided to speak to those who had worked closely with him, studied his life and works, and/or had been influenced by his cinema. All for one purpose-to try and understand the man behind the films. If the first part of this book is about the art, you will find that the second is about the artist.

Since this book is not a textbook, I do not have any advice for you to read it in any specific manner. Please feel free to read it in any way that suits you. I do have two requests to make, though-I feel these will help you understand the text better. Since Ray mostly made films in the Bengali language and worked with cast and crew from Bengal, some of the essays and interviews might have terms and honorifics that are quintessentially Bengali. For instance, Ray has often been referred to in this book as `Manik-da', `Manik Kaku' and `Manik Jethu. `Manik' (the Bengali word for gem, no less!) was Ray's pet name. The term 'da' respectfully refers to an elder brother, just as the words laku' and `jethu' mean uncle, depending on whether the gentleman being referred to is younger to or older than the speaker's own father. You may find other such words in the text as well. Wherever possible, a translation has been provided. But as with even the best translations in the world, some part of the essence of the message or the emotion may have been lost. This is a loss that I can only hope to minimise but not eradicate. My first request, therefore, is to trust me when I say that I have tried my best to capture the spirit of the original in my translation. And the second would be to watch the films that I have discussed in this book. I will consider this book a success only if it has created an urge in you to witness, appreciate, criticise and analyse the cinema of Satyajit Ray.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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