HIGHLIGHTS

  • In October 1952, joined by eight technicians and actors, most of whom were amateurs, RAY began filming Pather Panchali on weekends and holidays. Financial assistance from the West Bengal State Govermnent finally permitted completion three years later.
  • Hardly a commercial success in India outside of Bengal, this film went on to win the Cannes Film Festival special award for “best human document” in 1956. A second production, Aparajito (Undefeated), in 1957, won the Grand Prix at Venice.
  • The trilogy, later completed with Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), telling a story of childhood, youth and manhood in Bengal, won altogether 16 international awards a singular achievement in world cinema.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his uncompromising use of the film as an art, drawing themes from his native Bengali literature to depict a true image of India.”

 CITATION

Millions in India could not in their lifetime know the richness of their literary heritage because they are illiterate or too poor to buy books. To them and the world outside, SATYAJIT RAY is bringing films with a fidelity to this heritage and to life. Unlike the vast majority of Indian films which are escapist, he strives for emotional integrity of relationships. With a disciplined sensitivity and a painter’s sense for the visual he probes the “struggles of an ordinary man trying to be good.”

The cultural rebirth of Bengal has long been a family concern. His grandfather, Upenda Kishore Ray Chauduri, recorded folklore, pioneered in engraving and color printing and was a leader of the potent intellectual Brahmo Movement. His father, Sukumar Ray, a gifted cartoonist, wrote verse, especially for children, with buoyancy and humor and remains the most popular Bengali poet after Rabindranath Tagore.

Raised in this environment and schooled at Viswa-Bharati University at Santiniketan under Nandalal Bose, father of revivalist Bengali art, RAY first turned his talent to commercial art. His performance for a Calcutta advertising firm won him a trip to Europe. In London, seeing Bicycle Thieves, Louisiana Story and Earth, he “discovered” the visual potential of the film. Back home in Bengal, watching Jean Renoir make The River gave him a feel for production in this media.

“The time came when I felt I must make a film,” RAY recalls. He remembered the novel Pather Panchali (Ballad of the Road), a popular classic for which he had done illustrations. In October 1952, joined by eight technicians and actors, most of whom were amateurs, RAY began filming on weekends and holidays. Halfway through, they were forced to halt for lack of money. Financial assistance from the West Bengal State Govermnent finally permitted completion three years later.

Hardly a commercial success in India outside of Bengal, this film went on to win the Cannes Film Festival special award for “best human document” in 1956. A second production, Aparajito (Undefeated), in 1957, won the Grand Prix at Venice. The trilogy, later completed with Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), telling a story of childhood, youth and manhood in Bengal, won altogether 16 international awards?a singular achievement in world cinema.

In the Apu trilogy and his 11 other films and one documentary, RAY has striven for realism and a genuine expression of India. Aware of his medium’s potential and a director’s responsibility as he chronicles transition in his society, he emphasizes positive values. His protagonists have faith. Their poverty is not of the human spirit but of circumstance. Sadness of life is there, and so is sheer joy of living. The boy Apu recites poetry in the night. InJalsaghar (The Music Room), a selfish feudal lord, resisting the new industrial age amidst the ruins of his crumbling estate with a solitary aging elephant, is redeemed by his love for music.

Equipment often has been inadequate, the budget stringent and the actors amateurs. But talent compensates. Writing his own scripts and sometimes composing the score, RAY, at the age of 45, has become India’s poet of the cinema. With an artist’s true concern for enduring human dimensions of life, he has deepened his people’s understanding of themselves and elevated their horizons of what the individual can accomplish.

By this election, the Board of Trustees recognizes SATYAJIT RAY’S uncompromising use of the film as an art, drawing themes from his native Bengali literature to depict a true image of India.

 RESPONSE

In my country, in the days of my boyhood, the cinema was apt to be looked upon by the elderly and the conservative with a certain distaste. This applied more to the profession than to the films themselves. One could enjoy going to the movies, but that didn’t necessarily imply that one would approve of a member of one’s family joining the film profession.

When I decided, some 15 years ago, to plunge into this very profession, such prejudices were already on the way out, but I made at least one person unhappy and that was my mother.

When my first film won a festival prize my mother was pleasantly surprised. From that time onwards, until her death some years ago, she grew to be proud of my work, and of the prizes which came to me from all parts of the world.

For myself, I have never ceased to be surprised at the fact that my films have been able to reach audiences beyond the limits of my own country. I am surprised because my films are stories about people who form a tiny segment, not only of humanity as a whole, but of India itself.

I feel particularly honored and gratified by the Magsaysay Award because it relates not only to the craftsmanship of my films, but to their content as well. Unlike some other arts such as music and painting, cinema, by its very nature, makes concrete statements about people and society. If through my films I have been able to make statements which have been found illuminating, and therefore worthy of recognition, and if through them I have been able to convey some of the joys and sorrows of my people, as well as some of the unique flavor of my country, I would feel more than compensated for my efforts, and more than hopeful about the work that lies ahead.

Once again, may I express my sincere gratitude to the Magsaysay Award Foundation for the great honor they have bestowed on me.

 BIOGRAPHY

Scion of an extraordinarily gifted Bengali family, SATYAJIT RAY was born on May 2, 1921 in Calcutta, India. Founder of the family artistic tradition was his grandfather, Upendra Kishore Ray Chauduri, a product and leading member of the Brahmo Movement that spearheaded the cultural rejuvenation of Bengal. He collaborated with the Tagores whose family, in the arts, achieved world renown. As a writer he is best known for his collection of folklore; as a printer he pioneered in India in the art of engraving and was the first to attempt color printing at the time when engraving and color printing were also being pioneered in the West. His son, Sukumar Ray, the father of SATYAJIT chose to drop the last (caste) part of the family name. He wrote verse and children’s rhymes with buoyancy, sparkling humor and flights of fancy, and commonly illustrated his writings himself. He remains today the most popular, oftquoted Bengali poet after Rabindranath Tagore. Sukumar launched the first illustrated monthly magazine for children in India which soon became an institution in Bengal. A lover of double entendre he named this magazine Saneshd, after the popular Bengali sweetmeat which, in Sanskrit, also means “news.” Sukamar Ray died in his early thirties leaving his wife, Suprabha Das, the care of their son and the boy a legacy of two generations of remarkable artistic creativity.

SATYAJIT attended Ballygunge Government School and graduated from Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1939. He studied art for three years at Viswa-Bharati University, Santiniketan, Bengal, under Nandalal Bose, father of Bengali revivalist art. In 1943 he joined the Calcutta branch of the British advertising firm of D. J. Keymer & Co. as a visualizer, becoming Art Director in 1950.

RAY has since recalled that his interest in film making “did not happen all of a sudden. . . .It developed slowly. A time came when I felt I must make a film.” The Indian film industry of the 1930’s and 1940’s was much influenced by Hollywood, relying heavily on the expensive star system, making extravaganzas with various technical gimmicks, and introducing many extraneous songs and dances. Throughout these years, however, a few pioneering Indian film makers were attempting to depict contemporary problems, using the medium for “the creative interpretation of actuality.” Some of the best of these films made between 1933 and 1945 originated with New Theatres, Limited, in Calcutta.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)