Satyajit Ray birth anniversary: Life of the master in pictures
On the 99th birth anniversary of the master, here is a bunch of pictures and words to understand the impact the gentleman from Bishop Lefroy Road has left not only on world cinema, literature and design, but also on our lives. Remembering a legend.
The end of the cruelest month of April always brings two reasons to celebrate - first is May Day, the commemoration of the labour movements in securing rights for workers across the world, and the second is Ray Day.
99 years ago on this day India's most renowned filmmaker, writer, illustrator, calligrapher, graphic designer, music composer and Renaissance Man Satyajit Ray was born in erstwhile Calcutta, West Bengal.
Sukumar Ray passed away when Satyajit was barely three, leading to 'Manik' and his mother Suprova Ray shift to Bhawanipore from their ancestral home in Garpar Road when he was five.
Ray's memories from his childhood were later published in 'Sandesh' magazine and as a book called 'Jokhon Choto Chilam'. It's a fascinating account of Ray's formative years and a city slowly descending from its prime.
Satyajit passed his matriculation from Baligunge Government High School and graduated from Presidency College with honours in Economics.
Then he went on to pursue Fine Arts at Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan upon his mother's insistence.
There he studied under famous artists Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee.
Talking about Ray's work for the Signet Press, Sandipan Deb says in his article for The Mint, "Ray’s cover designs and illustrations for Signet Press were revolutionary. They were a complete break from the usual Indian publishing approach of printing. Ray was, without knowing it, the first “graphic designer” in India. What Milton Glaser was doing in the US, Ray was doing at Signet Press."
Ray transformed contemporary commercial art as an illustrator and graphic designer, introducing new calligraphic elements accumulated from different parts of the country which he had travelled as an art student.
Ray would even create the posters of his own films, bringing unmatched innovation to the medium and making it a true art form by mixing caligraphy, optical illusions and unique motifs.
It's this thing about Ray, he was a creative genius whose talent found a way to manifest itself regardless of the medium. He would be the scriptwriter, composer, costume designer and the director of his films. While he would also don the hat of the Editor and contributor to the 'Sandesh' magazine, a film critic and littérateur nonpareil.
Charu's Theme from Charulata (The Lonely Wife) | Courtesy: SaReGaMa
Another obsession of the master was music. It's getting cliched but he was nothing but a genius even when it came to music composition. (Maybe that's what happens when you try and describe the contributions of a bona fide genius, your own limitations become an obstacle.) The songs he wrote and composed Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne trilogy will easily be found in YouTube or Spotify playlists of most Bengalis. The moody, sombre and even uniquely grand backgorund scores he would compose for Charulata (The Lonely Wife) or Mahanagar (The Big City) or Jalsaghar (The Music Room) or Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) are feats seldom matched.
Talking about them musical mind of Ray, his old friend and legendary musician Ravi Shankar said, "Satyajit-babu was a man of refined sensibilities. He had a profound understanding of music. I do not wish to discuss the music of his longer films right now. Let's take up Pikoo, a short film he made in 1980. The musical treatment he gave this film within the twenty-six minutes of its space was simply incomparable! The flute tune he used for Pikoo is still etched in my memory. It was so simple yet so powerful! You cannot forget it because of its simplicity. It appeals immediately to your heart because it is so powerful!"
The problem with talking about such a giant of a personality is that you can never do justice to his talent and achievements with your words. His sway over a Bengali just can't be put to words. The connection every child has with Ray through his sleuth Feluda, mysterious innovator Professor Shonku or his hundreds of short stories is beyond how the world sees him.
He is one of the first friends every child makes, then he holds their hands through childhood and adolescence, then suddenly when that child grows up she/he sees a completely different side of Ray - The auteur, the thinker, the publisher, the composer, the tall man sitting in his Bishop Lefroy Road house dictating terms of world cinema.