A film director, writer, illustrator, graphic designer and music composer, Satyajit Ray was born on May 2, 1921 into the illustrious Ray (earlier Raychaudhuri) family which had gained considerable prominence for their contributions to art, literature, music and to the printing technology. As the son of Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray, he inherited the creative genes of his father and grandfather Upendrakishore. After graduating from the famous Presidency College of Calcutta, he enrolled into the Visva-Bharati University founded by Rabindranath Tagore. During his stint here, Ray's creative faculties were enriched by the exposure to different nuances of fine arts. His formative years were spent in Shantiniketan under the guidance of Tagore himself and it was here that he came in contact with the several stalwarts of his age.
Ray always maintained that his tutelage under Nandalal Bose and Benod Behari Mukherjee enriched his creative genius to a great extent. He started his career as a junior visualiser at the British advertising agency D.J. Keymer, and by his own admission he held this profession as a graphic artist very close to his heart. It was in 1943 that he was invited by a senior colleague from D.J. Keymer to work with Signet Press. It was Ray who designed the covers of such books as Aam Aatir Bhepu (a children’s edition of Bibhuti Bhusan Banerjee’s Pather Panchali), Man-Eaters of Kumaon (Kumaom-er Manuskheko Bagh, in Bengali translation) by Jim Corbett and The Discovery of India by Jawahar Lal Nehru. It was around this time that Ray developed a passion for filmmaking, when on having been sent to London on an assignment he got an opportunity to see several international films of which Neorealist Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette or Bicycle Thieves (1948) had a profound impact on him. Having seen this rather humanist rendition of a poor man’s struggle for survival, Ray was determined to go into filmmaking, and it was seen later that this humanist strain remained predominant in almost all of his films.
Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) revolutionised the notion of filmmaking with its release in 1955. Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) made up this trilogy that received phenomenal critical acclaim and was received globally as the trilogy that was set to redefine the very idea of filmmaking. Ray was praised for his cinematic brilliance and awards seem to pour in by the dozen. Striding alongside cinematic greats like Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa, Ray had successfully burst onto the international film scene, entering the hallowed ranks of these elite filmmakers. As Ray put it in a mid-life interview, "I had a western education, I studied English, and only over the last ten years, I have found myself more and more going back to the history of my country, my people, my past, my culture..."
Ray directed 36 films which included several documentaries and short films as well. He tends to explore the several facets of civilization and human sentiments, capturing the essence of the human mind, building up a kaleidoscopic view of the many faces of the characters that he created.
A celebrated fiction writer Ray was one of precursors of detective and science fiction in Bengali literature. Creating the sharp sleuth, Feluda, Ray ensured that he gave children an occasion to celebrate their childhood, their imaginative and fertile minds, and at the same time provided immaculate and spine-chilling entertainment through these Feluda thrillers. He also brought onto the literary scene, the eccentric genius Shonku, who by virtue of his endearing eccentricity and keen scientific acumen redefined the genre of science fiction.
Ray published several works on film criticism and was also instrumental in carrying forward the legacy of the famous Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh. In 1983, Ray's health deteriorated due to heart complications. Ray was admitted to a hospital in 1992 and he did not come back home.
He received an honorary Oscar in his death bed and shortly afterwards breathed his last on April 23, the same year.
The awards conferred on Ray, both by national as well as international organisations, include:
1958 Padmashree, India
1965 Padmabhushan, India
1967 Magsaysay Award, Manila
1971 Star of Yugoslavia
1973 Doctor of Letters, Delhi University
1974 D. Litt., Royal College of Arts, London
1976 Padma Vibhushan, India
1978 D. Litt., Oxford University; Special Award, Berlin Film Festival; Deshikottam, Visva-Bharati University, India
1979 Special Award, Moscow Film Festival
1980 D. Litt., Burdwan University, India; D. Litt., Jadavpur University, India
1981 Doctorate, Benaras Hindu University, India; D. Litt., North Bengal University, India
1982 Homage à Satyajit Ray, Cannes Film Festival; Vidyasagar Award, Govt. of West Bengal
1983 Fellowship, The British Film Institute
1985 D. Litt., Calcutta University; Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India; Soviet Land Nehru Award, Soviet Union
1986 Fellowship, Sangeet Natak Academy, India
1987 Légion d'Honneur, France; D. Litt., Rabindra Bharati University, India
1992 Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, USA; Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement; San Francisco International Film Festival; Bharatratna, India
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