The imaginative mind of Satyajit Ray had no bounds. Ray did not simply create art, he devised adventures that were enthralling and galvanising to patrons who till today revisit his impeccable creations. They say that artists leave behind their legacy and body of work for the world to see when they pass on, but Ray left behind an open pathway into his psyche, his process and within it, hints and codes for future filmmakers to follow.
My childhood was marked by a steady diet of Ray’s short fiction stories. The Adventures of Feluda, till today is a staunch benchmark that I have held for myself as a storyteller. Ray beautifully brought together a childish innocence and blended it with a worldly sense of knowing in the tales that he wrote. This style of his storytelling actively carried itself forward into his later ventures as an artist and filmmaker. There is a playful innocence yet there is also a looming sense of humility, maturity and a deep empathy that he displayed in his extensive body of work.
Born on May 2nd, 1921 into an artistic home in Calcutta, Ray was no stranger to the workings of the showbiz. Despite the financial hardships that his family underwent, Ray left no stones unturned when it came to exploring the expanse of his creativity. His initial foray into advertising followed by a brief stint with visual art and then a full-fledged career in storytelling and filmmaking could hold within itself volumes of a legacy that never seems to be spoken enough about.
On his 101st birth anniversary, we take a look at the finer aspects that made Ray’s filmography, one of the finest that the nation has ever seen.
I. Narratives Ahead of Their Time
Any film enthusiast who has explored the works of Ray will vouch for this particular statement. Ray seamlessly translated his progressive philosophies and world views into narratives that are woven with a level of social sensibility that not many filmmakers of that era possessed. Right from Pather Panchali which speaks of a poor Bengali family’s struggle for survival was by itself a sharp reflection of the visceral and intricate narratives that Ray aimed for. It wasn’t before Ray’s in-depth exploration of the human struggle that the aspect was explored in mainstream cinema.
There was a sharpness with which the filmmaker viewed Indian society and he carefully handpicked slivers of it to display on the silver screen. Such exquisite finesse for filmmaking was the first of its kind and successors continue their attempts to get this right.
II. Ray’s Portrayal Of Women
The women of Satyajit Ray hold their own place in the history of Indian cinema. While the rest of mainstream Indian cinema was dominated by the ‘damsel in distress’ archetypes, Ray chose to subvert this dismissive narrative by portraying women who were real. The women of Ray’s filmography were bold, opinionated and just as flawed.
There was a certain rawness in fleshing out the characters and personalities of these women; a space not many filmmakers made an attempt to venture into. Just by watching the conflicted personality of the titular character of Charulatha you can somewhat discover the extents that the artist went to, to understand and explore the depth of gender gap and a woman’s position in society.
III. The Personal, Political and Beyond
While we live in times where even subtle expressions of our political and moral ideals are deeply criticised in public view, Ray took it upon himself to not just voice stories of the underrepresented but did so in an evocative manner that actually got the audience thinking. F
rom his portrayals of religion and unwarranted fanaticism in the 1960 feature film, Devi (The Goddess) to his unmissable attempts at satire through the Apu trilogy, which was a mockery of India’s apparent wage and social gaps, Ray was deeply intuitive and sensitive to the matters that he chose to passionately present on the big screen.
100 years on, there still isn’t a single film enthusiast who explores the art and its multitudes without studying Ray’s extensive body of work. There is a charm and an enigmatic energy that is still burning bright in Ray’s work; a light that continues to guide the path for the future of Indian and global cinema.
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