Like many others of my generation, my first taste of Indian Cinema came via Satyajit Ray. I can’t remember when I first saw his films, but certainly by the early 1970s I had seen most of the early work and I saw the later 1970s films as they were released. But by 1981, when I first visited India, I had begun to be interested in the more overtly ‘political’ films of the New Wave/parallel cinema and in classic Hindi Cinema. I turned away from the humanist art cinema of Europe and its Indian equivalent. In the last ten years I’ve come to realise just how much I misunderstood Ray and how his films produced their meanings. My recent trip to Kolkata has prompted me to reconsider Ray in the context of Bengali Cinema.
Ray’s story is fairly well-known, so I won’t rehearse it in detail here. Suffice to say, Satyajit Ray (1921-92) was one of the first genuine auteurs – a multi-talented man capable of writing music, designing title cards (and even his own typeface), writing, directing, producing, photographing and editing films – a total of 40 features, shorts and documentaries. He professed an admiration of Hollywood but was initially influenced by the realism of Jean Renoir and the Italian neo-realists. Mostly Ray worked in Bengali language cinema. During the 1960s he explored various forms of modernism in developing his filmmaking approach. He thought of himself as making ‘political’ statements in some of his films, but his connection to the New Wave/parallel cinema trends in Indian Cinema is open to a wide range of interpretation. What is clear though is that in the fierce intellectual climate of Bengali film culture, Ray was an undoubted major figure and for cineastes worldwide he was one of the ‘masters of cinema’ and acknowledged as such by peers like Kurosawa Akira.
Here are a few of the accessible overviews of Ray as a filmmaker:
This will be a long-term project and will also extend to consideration of Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. I hope to discuss several of the films and to collate links to other scholars. Perhaps others can join in?