Bengali Movie Maker [Film Director]

Satyajit Ray  [1921 – 1992]

image053Satyajit Ray   an Indian filmmaker and among the dozen or so great masters of world cinema, is known for his humanistic approach to cinema. He made his films in Bengali, and yet, his films are of universal interest. They are about things that make up the human race – relationships, emotions, struggle, conflicts, joys and sorrows.

Satyajit Ray, the master storyteller, has left a cinematic heritage that belongs as much to India as to the world. His films demonstrate a remarkable humanism, elaborate observation and subtle handling of characters and situations. The cinema of Satyajit Ray is a rare blend of intellect and emotions. He is controlled, precise, meticulous, and yet, evokes deep emotional response from the audience. His films depict a fine sensitivity without using melodrama or dramatic excesses. He evolved a cinematic style that is almost invisible. He strongly believed – “The best technique is the one that’s not noticeable”.

image054Satyajit Ray was born on May 2, 1921 in Calcutta to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray. He graduated from the Ballygunge Government School and studied Economics at Presidency College. He then attended Kala Bhavan, the Art School at Tagore’s University, Santiniketan during 1940-1942. Without completing the five-year course, he returned to Calcutta in 1943, to join the British-owned advertising agency D. J. Keymer as a visualizer. Within a few years, he rose to be its art director.

Though initially inspired by the neo-realist tradition, his cinema belongs not to a specific category or style but a timeless meta-genre of a style of storytelling that touches the audience in some way. His films belong to a meta-genre that includes the works of Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, David Lean, Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Luis Bunuel, Yasujiro Ozu, Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson. All very different in style and content, and yet creators of cinema that is timeless and universal.

image055Satyajit Ray’s films are both cinematic and literary at the same time; using a simple narrative, usually in a classical format, but greatly detailed and operating at many levels of interpretation.

His first film, Pather Panchali (Song of the little road, 1955) established his reputation as a major film director, winning numerous awards including Best Human Document, Cannes, 1956 and Best Film, Vancouver, 1958. It is the first film of a trilogy – The Apu Trilogy – a three-part tale of a boy’s life from birth through manhood. The other two films of this trilogy are Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959).

His later films include Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958), Devi (The Goddess, 1960), Teen Kanya (Two Daughters, 1961), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Nayak (The Hero, 1966), Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973), Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977), Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984), Ganashatru (An Enemy Of The People, 1989) and Shakha Prashakha (Branches Of The Tree, 1991). Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991) was his last film.

image056Ray directly controlled many aspects of filmmaking. He wrote all the screenplays of his films, many of which were based on his own stories. He designed the sets and costumes, operated the camera since Charulata (1964), he composed the music for all his films since 1961 and designed the publicity posters for his new releases.

In addition to filmmaking, Ray was a composer, a writer and a graphic designer. He even designed a new typeface. In 1961, he revived and continued to publish the Bengali children’s magazine “Sandesh”, which was founded by his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray.

In 1978, the organizing committee of the Berlin Film Festival ranked him as one of the three all-time best directors. In 1992, Satyajit Ray received the honorary Academy Award ©A.M.P.A.S. ® – Lifetime Achievement – “In recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.” Other honors include “Lègion d’Honneur”, France and “Bharatratna” (Jewel of India)


Ritwik Ghatak

image057Indian-Bangladeshi filmmaker, scenarist, film theorist, critic, author, actor and theatre director who made eight feature-length films spanning the 1950s and the 1970s. Given his maverick rejection of prevailing cinematic conventions, Ghatak, unlike his contemporary, Satyajit Ray  was not widely celebrated during his lifetime. However, a host of later-day filmmakers, most notably his students Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani cite him as their chief influence.

Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak were in fact clearly admirers of each other’s work. Praise from both sides can be found in print on a number of occasions. Indeed Ray, a member of the Ritwik Memorial Trust, provided the foreword to the published volume of Ghatak’s writings on cinema in English, Cinema and I, reprinted in Rows and Rows of Fences. He is full of approval for Ghatak’s work:

According to Ray — Ritwik was one of the few truly original talents in the cinema this country has produced. As a creator of powerful images in an epic style he was virtually unsurpassed in Indian cinema. Ray also said – For him Hollywood might not have existed at all.

Ghatak was part of the generation that witnessed both the partition of Bengal during Indian independence in 1947 and the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. The horrors of these bloody passages of history haunt Ghatak’s cinema, which serve as documents of the wailing Bengali conscience. Ghatak was affiliated with the theatre arm of the Communist Party of India and, though his concerns were markedly humanistic, leftist ideas pervade his films.

image058ke Kenji Mizoguchi of Japan and Rainer Fassbinder of West Germany, Ritwik Ghatak was an exponent of Melodrama, which refers not to soap opera dramatics but to a particular form of heightened expression in which film elements are pitched at a higher level than the realist norm. The result is a disruption of passive assimilation of screen drama and a motivation to critically engage with what is depicted. Ghatak is now considered by many critics as the preeminent Indian filmmaker.

Given the incredible praise heaped upon Ghatak by Ray at such times, it is a wonder his work was not more widely received with open arms. Jacob Levich goes a little way to explaining in part the difference in the reception of these two filmmakers during their lifetime. –Satyajit Ray is the suitable boy of Indian film, presentable, career-oriented, and reliably tasteful. Ghatak, by contrast, is an undesirable guest: he lacks respect, has “views”, makes a mess, and disdains decorum.


Rituparno Ghosh [1963 – 2013]

image059Ghosh was a Bengali film director whose work has met with considerable critical acclaim in recent years, both in his native India and abroad. He has won National Film Awards in India and several awards at international film festivals abroad. Ghosh was often compared to another famous Bengali-born director, Satyajit Ray. Ghosh in turn reinvigorated and reinvented the Ray canon of Bengali cinema. He took Ray’s early material, stage and literary adaptations of the great 19th century Indian writer, Rabindranath Tagore, and breathed new life into them by focusing on the psychological complexities of women’s lives in colonial India.

Ghosh earned the first of his 12 National Film Awards for his second work, Unishe April (1994; “The Nineteenth of April”), which depicts the strained marriage of an ambitious dancer and her delicate relationship with her grown daughter.

image060Ghosh’s most well-known Tagore adaptation is Chokher Bali(“A Grain of Sand in the Eye”). The film starred Bollywood’s most famous actress Aishwarya Rai (Bride and Prejudice), The Pink Panther 2) as a beautiful young widow whose misfortune turns her into a manipulative creature of revenge. Rai has never been better in any role. The film is memorable in its depiction of the indolence of the upper-class landowners in late 19th century Calcutta. Ghosh’s strongest films, Bariwali, Chokher Bali, and Antarmahal, deal with the unexpressed agony of women’s lives in India. Few directors had his insight when it came to writing a nuanced screenplay or coaxing a strong performance out of an actor. Chokher Bali  is considered by many to be the best of Ghosh’s 19 films.

The Last Lear starred Amitabh Bachchan as an eccentric ageing actor who can’t accept the popularity of movies in India to the wane of theater and high art. It was a strange, unexpected, and at times, uneven performance from Bachchan, but it was his most unique and fearless role, stripped of any vanity. Ghosh had this ability to make very guarded and seasoned movie stars come out of their shells and that’s not an easy thing to do.