Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 2, 1921 in Calcutta, in an affluent Bengali family which boasted of a rich heritage in art and literature, Satyajit Ray was the only son of Sukumar and Suprabha Ray.
Ray completed his formal education from Ballygunge Government High School after which he enrolled at the Presidency College, Calcutta to complete his BA in Economics.
After much insistence and persuasion from his mother, he reluctantly attended the Visva-Bharti University at Santiniketan. The decision, however, turned fruitful as it was at Santiniketan that he found his true love for Indian art
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His first ever job profile was as a junior visualizer at a British-run advertising agency. Additionally, he worked along with D.K Gupta at the Signet Press, creating cover designs for various books.
It was during this time at the Signet Press that he worked on children’ novel, Pather Panchali, a work that so much so inspired him that it later became his subject for his very first film.
In 1947, he along with Chidananda Dasgupta founded the Calcutta Film Society. The organization screened foreign films, most of which became a guiding force for his later career as a film-maker and writer.
The realization of becoming a filmmaker finally dawned upon Ray when he was in London, working at Keymar’s office. It was during this time that he watched several movies, each of which inspired him to take up filmmaking professionally.
Returning to India, he started working on his new-found passion of filmmaking. Along with a group of inexperienced staff and amateur actors, he ventured forth to realize his dream of making a film out of ‘Pather Panchali’. Three years and several hardships later, he finally released the film in 1955.
‘Pather Panchali’ made an outstanding debut on the big screen and was grandly received by both the critics and the audience. What’s more, the movie did very well overseas, garnering positive response.
While ‘Pather Panchali’ established his career thunderously, his next film, ‘Aparajito’ firmed his stand as a cult filmmaker. It even earned him the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
He followed this up with a comedy film, ‘Parash Pathar’ and ‘Jalsaghar’, a film that depicted the societal decadence of Zamindars.
The character of Apu which he had introduced in ‘Pather Panchali’ and taken forward with ‘Aparajito’ finally hit its dawn with the 1959 released film, ‘Apur Sansar’. The movie, a final one of the trilogy, ranked supremely high and became one of the classic films ever screened.
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Assuming full auteurship, he expanded his zone of filmmaking, working not just as a director and script-writer but also as a cameraman and music scorer. He ventured forth trying new and different themes in his films.
In 1961, together with Subhas Mukhopadhyay, he revived children’s magazine, Sandesh. The magazine, informative and entertaining in content, helped him initiate a career in writing and illustration that stayed with him for the better part of his later life.
It was in 1964 that he came up with his most accomplished and acknowledged film, ‘Charulata’. Labelled as the magnum opus film of his career, it received wide appreciation by critics and audience.
From 1965 to 1982, he ventured into varied genres of filmmaking, trying his hand at fiction, fantasy, detective films and historical dramas. He even took up issues of contemporary India and portrayed them on-screen.
After a failed attempt for a US-India co-production of the film ‘The Alien’, he came up with a musical fantasy ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’. It went on to become his commercially most successful film to date. The success of the film led him to come up with a sequel of the same titled, ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’, which mocked at the Indira Gandhi’s implemented emergency period.
‘Ghare Baire’ released in 1984 marked his last film before he was struck with medical illness. The film, which lined on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel on the danger of fervent nationalism, received average critical acclaim.
With medical complications and health issues to be addressed, his career graph slowed down. In the last nine years of his life, he came up with only three films, ‘Ganashatru’, ‘Shakha Proshakha’ and ‘Agantuk’, all of which were not at par with his earlier productions.
Awards & Achievements
Over his life, he was bestowed with 32 National Film Awards and numerous international honors such as Silver Bear, Golden Lion and Golden Bear.
In 1982, he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award. Same year, he received the ‘Hommage a Satyajit Ray’ Award at the Cannes film Festival.
He is the second ever film personality after Chaplin to receive the honorary doctorate from Oxford University.
In 1985, he received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award and two years later received France’s most prestigious award, ‘Legion of Honor’.
The Government of India bestowed him with the highest civilian honor, ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1992. Same year, he received an Honorary Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science just days before his death.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1949, he tied the nuptial knot with his long-time sweetheart Bijoya Das. The couple was blessed with a son Sandip, who too went on to take up a career in filmmaking.
In 1983, he first suffered from a heart attack which only worsened his medical and health condition. In 1992, he suffered from major heart complications from which he never completely recovered.
He breathed his last on April 23, 1992.
Ray was no less a hero to the Indian cinematic audience, therefore, his legacy is ubiquitous around the nation.
He has a Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute to his name.
The London Film Festival adopted Satyajit Ray Award in his honor to recognize the budding talent in debutant directors who have beautifully adopted Ray’s work, art and vision.