Did you know that the blockbuster 1982 film ‘ET’ made by Steven Spielberg, was based on a story that was plagiarized from Satyajit Ray’s original story, The Alien? Did you know that Satyajit Ray was also the first and only Indian to receive an Honorary Academy Award, or Oscar, in 1992? There are many more such amazing facts about the great film director Satyajit Ray. He was the only film personality besides Charlie Chaplin, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University.
Satyajit Ray is regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of the world. He was a filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic artist, music composer and author. Ray directed 36 films, which includes documentaries. His films like the Apu Trilogy of Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar; Charulata, Dev etc. are considered masterpieces on celluloid by film critics the world over.
Ray also started Sandesh, a magazine for children. He was also a story and novel writer, publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, and film critic. His fictional detective characters Feluda and Professor Shonku of his science fiction stories are two of the most popular fictional characters.
Ray’s films have won several international prizes. He wrote the scripts, did the casting, scored music, edited and designed credit titles and publicity material. Ray received several major awards including 32 Indian National Film Awards, a Golden Lion, a Golden Bear, 2 Silver Bears; and an Academy Honorary Award in 1992. The Government of India honored him with the Padma Bhushan in 1965 and Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, in 1992; besides the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1985.
Read on to know more about this versatile genius on whose story ‘The Alien’, Steven Spielberg’s movie ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ was based.
Early Life and Background
Satyajit Ray came from a very renowned and educated family and his family tree can be traced back to more than 10 generations. He belonged to a Bengali Brahmo family of Bengali Kayastha, who had gained prominence arts and literature. His grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray was a writer, illustrator, publisher and a leader of the Brahmo Samaj. He also had a printing press – U. Ray and Sons. Satyajit’s father Sukumar Ray, was a pioneering writer of Bengali limericks, children’s literature and an illustrator. Ray’s mother was Suprabha Ray.
Ray was born on 2nd May 1921 in Calcutta. When he was three years old, his father died. He studied at Ballygunge Government High School and graduated in economics from the Presidency College, Calcutta. He was interested in fine arts since his childhood.
In 1940, his mother made him study at the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan, where he learnt to appreciate Oriental art. He also learnt a lot from the famous painters Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee. He also visited Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta to know more about Indian art.
In 1943, Ray began his career as a commercial artist, when he started working at D.J. Keymer, an advertising agency, as a junior visualiser. Later, he worked for Signet Press, where he designed covers for many books, including Jibanananda Das‘s Banalata Sen and Rupasi Bangla; Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay‘s Chander Pahar; Jim Corbett’s Maneaters of Kumaon and Jawaharlal Nehru‘s Discovery of India.
While working on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s book; he was deeply moved and it inspired him to his first film Pather Panchali. In 1947, Ray founded the Calcutta Film Society. They screened many foreign films which were watched seriously and studied by Ray.
In 1949, French director Jean Renoir visited Calcutta to shoot his film The River. Satyajit helped him during his visit and shared his ideas of filming Pather Panchali.
In 1950, D.J. Keymer, the ad agency which employed Ray, sent him to London to work at its headquarters. During his stay in London, Ray watched three months in London, he watched one film everyday, determined to become a film-maker.
Career in Film Making
The Apu Years (1950–59)
In 1952, Satyajit started making his first film, Pather Panchali, based on a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1928. He started shooting the film with his own resources and it took him three years to complete the film. It was released in 1955 and received great critical acclaim and international success.
In 1956, his next film, Aparajito or The Unvanquished, was released. It brought him international recognition and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
1958 saw the completion of two more Ray’s films; Parash Pathar or The Philosopher’s Stone; and Jalsaghar or The Music Room.
In 1959, Apur Sansar or The World of Apu was released. It was the last film of the Apu’ Trilogy and introduced Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore.
Making of Films from Devi to Charulata (1959–64)
Apur Sansar was followed by the film Devi which was released in 1960. It had a social theme against superstitions, and starred Sharmila Tagore in the lead role.
In 1961, he made the film Teen Kanya and also a documentary “Rabindranath Tagore” on the occasion of his birth centennial, on a request from the then PM Nehru.
That year, he revived Sandesh, the children’s magazine which his grandfather once published. He began to make illustrations and wrote stories and essays for children.
In 1962, Ray directed Kanchenjungha which was based on his screenplay and his first film in colour.
In 1964, Ray made Charulata or The Lonely Wife, which is regarded as his most accomplished film and he also considered this to be his personal best film. The film is based on Tagore’s short story, ‘Nastanir’.
He made many films during this period, like Mahanagar, Teen Kanya, Abhijan, Kapurush and Mahapurush.
Diversified Genres of Films (1965–82)
From 1965 onwards, Ray worked on a variety of projects ranging from fantasy to science fiction, and detective films to historical drama.
The first major film in this period is Nayak, released in 1966, about a film hero, Uttam Kumar, travelling in a train and meeting a young, sympathetic female journalist played by Sharmila Tagore. The film received a Critics award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1967, he wrote a script for a film to be called The Alien, based on his short story ‘Bankubabur Bandhu’ or Banku Babu’s Friend; which he wrote in 1962 for Sandesh. While the negotiations went on with Columbia Pictures as US-India co-production but nothing materialized. In 1982, E.T. was released and Ray claimed that this film plagiarized his script. Steven Spielberg denied any plagiarism.
In 1968, Ray released his most commercially successful film, ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’, which was based on a children’s story written by his grandfather.
In 1969, Aranyer Din Ratri was released, which was based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It was a much acclaimed, as well as controversial film.
Ray next made films with urban themes, which were called his Calcutta Trilogy. These were Pratidwandi, released in 1970; Seemabaddha, released in 1971, and Jana Aranya, released in 1975.
In the 1970s, he made two detective films that were adaptations of his stories; Sonar Kella or The Golden Fortress, and Joi Baba Felunath .
In 1977, Ray made Shatranj Ke Khilari, his first Hindi film based on a short story by the legendary Hindi writer Munshi Premchand. It was a historical film set before the First War of Indian independence in 1857. It was his most expensive film and featured Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey in lead roles, supported by Amjad Khan, Shabana Azmi, Victor Bannerjee and Richard Attenborough. The mega star Amitabh Bachchan lent his voice for the film.
In 1980, he made a sequel to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, called Hirak Rajar Deshe.
His short film Pikoo was released in 1980, and a short Hindi film, Sadgati was released in 1981.
The Concluding Phase (1983–92)
In 1983, Ray had a heart attack, which restricted his movements; while working on the film Ghare Baire, which was completed in 1984, aided by his son Sandip. The film, based on Tagore’s story, received critical acclaim. It also featured the first fully portrayed kiss in Ray’s films.
In 1987, he made a documentary on his father, Sukumar Ray.
His last three films were mostly shot indoors. The first film Ganashatru was released in 1990, as well as Shakha Proshakha, which was a touching film wherein an honest virtuous father learns about the corruption committed by his three sons. He finds comfort in his fourth son who is virtuous but mentally challenged.
Ray’s last film, Agantuk which was released in 1992, had a very powerful universal theme about human civilization. It is a story about an estranged uncle who visits his niece in Kolkata, and others suspect his motives.
In 1992, Ray’s had severe cardiac complications. He was admitted to a hospital, but did not recover. He died on 23 April 1992 at the age of 71.
Awards, Honours and Recognitions
Satyajit Ray received many awards, including 32 National Film Awards by the Government of India, and awards at international film festivals.
He was the first Indian to receive an Honorary Academy Award in 1992.
In 1982, he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award at the Venice Film Festival and an honorary Hommage à Satyajit Ray award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ray is the second film personality to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University, after Chaplin.
He was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987.
The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 1965, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, in 1992.
In 1949, Satyajit Ray married Bijoya Das. The couple had a son, Sandip, who grew up to become a film director.
His credibility, sincerity and honesty were legendary. He was as humble and down to earth in his personal life as his films. Despite his worldwide success, he continued to stay in a rented house with his family and his mother, uncle and other members of his extended family.
Quotes by Satyajit Ray
“There’s always some room for improvisation!”
“The conception of background music is changing. You use less and less of it these days!”
“Cinema’s characteristic forte is its ability to capture and communicate the intimacies of the human mind!”
“The only solutions that are ever worth anything are the solutions that people find themselves!”