On April 23, 1992, the world lost one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century – Satyajit Ray, and today marks 28 years of the multifaceted artist's demise.
His films are regarded as timeless classics – transcending generations of cinema lovers. One of his most acclaimed works is Pather Panchali – Ray's debut film that brought him into the world of lights, camera and action.
"My films play only in Bengal, and my audience is the educated middle class in cities and small towns. They also play in Bombay, Madras, and Delhi where there is a Bengali population," Ray once said.
The filmmaker not only played a major role in placing India on the global cinematic map, but his works continue to inspire a number of acclaimed filmmakers even today. The British-American director Christopher Nolan dubbed Pather Panchali as one of the best films in the history of filmmaking.
Ray was born into a family of writers; his grandfather was the famous Upendrakishore Ray and his father Sukumar Ray was another legendary Bengali litterateur. In his early life, Ray was a huge fan of Oriental art. His frequent visits to Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta caves acted as gateways to his love for Indian art.
Having started his career as an illustrator, Ray was assigned to design the cover for the children's version of Pather Panchali, later renamed as Aam Antir Bhepu. Ray was hugely influenced by the story and ended up making it the subject of his feature debut.
He started his career in 1943 at a British-run advertising agency, as a junior visualiser, earning 80 rupees a month. Although Ray liked visual designs, and was mostly treated well at his workplace, a tension lingered between the British and the Indian employees of the firm. The British were better paid, and Ray felt that the clients were "generally stupid."
Ray 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.
Ray was exposed to the film world after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir in 1949. Renoir came to Kolkata for shooting his film The River and Ray helped him find locations near the countryside. During one of their sessions, Ray told Renoir about his idea of filming Pather Panchali and Renoir encouraged him to go forward with it.
His debut film received great critical and commercial success, not just in India but also globally – winning eleven international prizes, including the inaugural Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. To this day, the film has a cult following.
Over the years, Ray delved into genres of fantasy, science fiction, detective drama and historical drama. Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries, and shorts.
His major films include Ghare Baire, Mahanagar, Charulata, and of course the masterpieces Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne and Hirak Rajar Deshe based on stories by Upendrakishore Ray.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an Honorary Academy Award in 1992. The same year, Ray breathed his last but his brilliant legacy lives on.