Biography of Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray was an Indian artist, screenwriter, filmmaker, and composer, who is known as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, and is responsible for telling largely untold Indian stories in cinema. Over the course of his career, he directed 36 films and also wrote novels as an author, worked as an illustrator, and composed music.

Ray was born in India in 1921, and received an education from Presidency College in Calcutta and then Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan. While studying, he became interested in visual art, and soon began working for an advertising agency, then at a publishing house designing book covers. In 1947, he cofounded the Calcutta Film Society, and became interested in neorealist filmmaking. The novel Pather Panchali, written in 1928, served as the source material for his first feature film, which, released in 1955, earned him great acclaim. Early in shooting, Ray showed his film to the Hollywood director John Huston, who communicated with a representative from the New York Museum of Modern Art to let him know that Ray was a great film talent. The film took a long time to shoot, and when it was released, it was widely praised by critics and audiences. However, the response to the film in the West was often bigoted, as exemplified by French director Francois Truffaut's alleged remark: "I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands."

Ray's other films brought him more widespread success. These films include Aparajito, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Parash Pathar, Jalsaghar, Apu Sansar, Devi (about the British Raj), and Kanchenjungha (his first film based on an original screenplay). In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned Ray to make a documentary about the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. His film Charulata won the Best Director award at the Berlin Film Festival, and is considered by many to be his best film.

After Charulata, he directed a film called Nayak. When he signed on to coproduce and create a film called The Alien with an American studio that would star Marlon Brando and Peter Sellers, Ray was disturbed to find that the rights to his film were shared with Michael Wilson, who had contributed only one word to the script. The film was never completed, and years later, Ray accused director Steven Spielberg of stealing many of the ideas for E.T. from his unproduced film.

Ray is still remembered as a seminal filmmaker. Pather Panchali won 11 international prizes upon its release, including Best Human Document at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival. In addition, he received 32 Indian National Film Awards, and an Academy Honorary Award.

Study Guides on Works by Satyajit Ray

Pather Panchali was inspired by filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s desire to create more realistic films with actual locations and natural actors about real Indian issues. While traveling in London, Ray saw Bicycle Thieves, an Italian film directed by...