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Cinema: Satyajit Ray

I can't think of anyone but Satyajit Ray as the greatest filmmaker of independent India. He set a cinematic standard in a country where none existed...

Cinema: Satyajit Ray
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I can’t think of anyone but Satyajit Ray as the greatest filmmaker of independent India. He set a cinematic standard in a country where none existed. When he started making films, no markers existed showing the way. He created his own path. Before Ray came on the scene, Indian cinema did not necessarily speak in the language of film. It lacked the distinguishing qualities of cinema, nor did it seem part of an evolving aesthetic like in the other arts.

Cinema at the time simply imitated theatrical traditions and vocabulary. His first film, Pather Panchali, may not be his most perfect but was the most cinematic work created in Indian cinema until then. The narrative used the vocabulary of cinema, with both audio and visual elements complementing each other—rather than one illustrating the other. It was also the first time that a written work was not simply illustrated in moving pictures but actually transformed into an original new artistic work on its own. When you read the novel, it seems to defy such transformation.

Ray’s enormous body of work shows him to be an extraordinary humanist; probably why he was able to communicate universally. Indeed, in most parts of the world, his films continue to be recognised as the most representative of Indian films. He was a complete auteur, a master in all aspects of filmmaking; direction, cinematography, sound, music, screenplay and editing. Ray has been enormously influential on the filmmakers who came after him, both in India and abroad. Several Asian, European and American filmmakers have acknowledged their debt to him, Martin Scorsese for one. Film schools even now discuss his cameraman Subrata Mitra’s cinematography style to teach students cinematic lighting. The Film and Television Institute of India would also not have come into being without the momentum given by his work.

What separates the great from the rest is vision. Ray had vision. He followed it, despite the overwhelming odds. It’s never easy to create your own path. But Ray did exactly that.


(Benegal is considered a doyen of the Indian New Wave cinema)

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