No other filmmaker, apart from Kurosawa, has encompassed a whole culture; and no other filmmaker has covered such a range, from pure farce to high tragedy and from musical fantasies to detective stories. Satyajit Ray, whatever some superficial critics may say, is not primarily the maker of the Apu Trilogy. “I fear his range may never be fully understood, given that his films describe Bengal, which (unlike Japan) is of little political, economic or cultural importance to the world – and in a language unknown even to most Indians,” wrote Andrew Robinson in his Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye.
In the earlier part of his career, Ray worked with maestros of Indian classical music relying on their expertise and understanding of music, both Indian and Western, when it came to composing the musical scores of his films — Pandit Ravi Shankar for the Apu Trilogy and Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone, 1958) Ustad Vilayat Khan for Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958) and Ali Akbar Khan for Devi (The Goddess, 1960). It was since Teen Kanya (Three Daughters, 1961) that he himself had begun composing the music for his films. As he said in a fairly candid manner, "The reason why I do not work with professional composers any more is that I get too many musical ideas of my own, and composers, understandably enough, resent being guided too much.” It was apparent that the musical genius of these stalwarts and Ray’s own understanding of music did not always meet, giving rise to an occasion for resentment.
Ray believed that music was intrinsic to the sensibility of a film, therefore he maintained that it was important to start work on the music right from the script stage of the film. Ray made sure that the story and the corresponding musical score evolved simultaneously. He would keep notes of the music ideas as they evolved, carefully noting down the music either in Indian or western notation, depending on the musicians he had on board.
"... the pleasure of finding out that the music sounds as you had imagined it would, more than compensates for the hard work that goes into it. The final pleasure, of course, is in finding out that it not only sounds right but is also right for the scene for which it was meant", wrote Ray.
Ray felt that music often made the flow of the narrative simpler for the audience, the emotions finding better expression through the musical notes. Ray could himself play several instruments and had a keen sense of rhythm and tune. Ray avidly listened to the western classical masters and incorporated their compositions in his own creations. He created a particular theme for a film which usually formed the background score, and this did not necessarily belong to a given or established musical tradition and was often the culmination of different
Besides doing the music for all his films post Devi, Ray also scored the music for documentaries like Glimpses of West Bengal, Gangasagar Mela and Darjeeling: Himalayan Fantasy directed by Bansi Chandragupta, House that Never Dies by Tony Meyer, Max Mueller by John Thiele, and Quest of Health by Harisadhan Dasgupta.
Ray scored music for such feature films by others like Baksa Badal (Director: Nityananda Datta), Shakespeare Wallah (Director: James Ivory) and Fatikchand (Director: Sandip Ray) as also for Sandip’s TV serials like Satyajit Ray Presents (Part I and II).
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