23rd April, 1992 marked the end of an era of Indian film making. With the death of Satyajit Ray, Indian cinema would never be the same again. According to me, it was a loss which till date has found no replacement; and probably never will.
Born on 2nd May, 1921 into the illustrious Ray family, Satyajit Ray was a creative genius who has set the highest standards possible when it comes to film-making. He spent his formative years under the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan which helped to enhance his already overwhelming brilliance. Ray made his mark not only as the country’s greatest film maker, but also in several other fields, like music direction, writing, editing, etc.
During the course of his career, he received several prestigious awards such as the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award, an honorary doctorate from the Oxford University, and the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1992 to name a few. Shortly before his death, he was awarded the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna by the Government of India.
It is impossible to list Ray’s best works. I feel with each and every film, he has outdone his other works. No other Indian director has probably been able to match upto the finesse and elegant beauty of Ray’s films. Hence, I won’t even try and categorize his best works. But I will list a few Satyajit Ray films which I believe must be watched by each and every movie-buff. Not indulging in these movies being a film-lover is possibly the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Based on the novel of the same name by Rabindranath Tagore, this 1985 film by Ray is built around the theme of female emancipation. Set during the time of the Swadeshi Movement in India, the film explores a woman’s journey from complete isolation to courageously acting reckless. Ray manages to aptly carve out the modern woman’s independence emerging from the shackles of the traditional Indian mindset. With stunning performances by Soumitra Chatterjee, Victor Banerjee and Swatilekha Chatterjee, this is probably one of the most beautiful movies ever made.
This 1960 film by Ray follows religious fanaticism and its consequences. With a strong reference to Hindu traditions and customs, this clearly passes off as one of Ray’s most honest works. Sharmila Tagore, then a mere teenager, delivers a stellar performance, along with Soumitra Chatterjee, Chhabi Biswas and Purnendu Mukherjee, who support her brilliantly. Ray’s inherent simplicity, combined with a very strong storyline, makes this a hauntingly beautiful movie to watch.
This documentary was made in 1961 to commemorate the birth centenary of arguably India’s finest poet. It combines actual footage from Tagore’s life with dramatized versions of events from his life. One of the finest documentaries that I have ever come across, it manages to touch the viewer’s heart while giving a detailed commentary on Tagore’s life.
Made in 1967, this is definitely not one of Ray’s most famous works. However, it is just as splendid. Incidentally, Ray went to remark that this was one of his most unsatisfying works. The film revolves around Byomkesh Bakshi, Saradindu Banerjee’s famous detective who till date is one of the most loved characters of Bengali literature, solving the case of a double murder. Uttam Kumar went on to win the National Award for Best Actor for his fantastic portrayal of the detective. Ray won the National Award for Best Director.
The first of The Apu Trilogy, Pather Panchali was Ray’s first film and was released in 1955. It narrates the life of a family in a remote village in Bengal during the early 20th century. Based on the novel of the same name by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, this film manages to strike a heart wrenching chord like no other. The extreme sense of pathos that one experiences as the film progresses can possibly never be replicated on the screen again. Unforgettable performances by Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Subir Banerjee, Runki Banerjee, Uma Dasgupta and especially Chunibala Devi as the old aunt makes this movie the experience of a lifetime.
Here’s a little bit of trivia as I sign off: Chunibala Devi was primarily a theatre actress and had done only 2 films before retiring in 1939. She was brought back to movies at the age of 80 by Ray to play the old aunt in this movie which has made her one of the immortal faces of Indian cinema. Co-incidentally, she died just before the release of the movie.
By no means is this list exhaustive. One must watch every single Ray movie to understand what I mean. Nevertheless, the ones I have listed above are a few of the movies which must be watched.
Till then, happy watching and do tell us what you think about them!