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Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) is the most prominent filmmaker to come out of the Parallel Cinema movement, which emerged in the 1950s as an alternative to mainstream Indian cinema with its Bollywood blockbusters. He was the first Indian film-maker to attract a Western audience and a global reputation, and alongside Akira Kurosawa he raised awareness to a truly international cinema beyond the confines of America, England, France, Germany, and the USSR (i.e the North-Western Hemisphere) that had previously defined the Small Reference Pools for movies. His movies inspired film-makers in India, Iran, Africa and other parts of the world.
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The son of poet and writer Sukumar Ray, Ray was a heir to the Bengali Renaissance. He studied at Rabindranath Tagore's famous ashram/retreat/school of Santiniketan and grew up knowing the major artists, musicians, writers and poets of Bengal's important artistic community. From an early age, Ray was fascinated with graphic arts and interested in movies. Around the time of The '40s, Ray was working as a graphic illustrator at an agency, illustrating books and ads for a living, while during the day he would see movies and pal around with American GI stationed at Calcutta who helped a young Ray see Citizen Kane. (He was an instant fan.) Ray was important in Calcutta's Film Society, programming films from around the world, and interacting with international film-makers who visited India. When the French film-maker Jean Renoir arrived in India to make The River, Ray interviewed him and interacted with other members of Renoir's locally recruited crew, namely Bansi Chandragupta who was art director for Renoir. Ray befriended a musician for that film, Subroto Mitra who worked as an amateur photographer and piqued by his obvious talent and interest in cinema, recruited him to be his cinematographer. Ray had planned to adapt the popular novel of Pather Panchali for cinema (he had illustrated it for a commercial commission) and he and his mostly inexperienced crew made a film entirely outside of India's system over a period of three years. Their production was highly innovative, notable for cinematographer Mitra's invention and use of "bounced light" and for its poetic rhythm. The film attracted attention and played at international film festivals, receiving high acclaim, the first Indian film to ever to so.

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Ray followed that film with further adaptations forming The Apu Trilogy, launching a remarkably prolific career, and inspiring film-makers across different parts of India to make their own films, independent of Hollywood and Bollywood imitations. Ray was stereotyped in India and around the world for making films about peasants in villages, but only The Apu Trilogy fits that stereotype. He was indeed a highly diverse film-maker, prone to Genre Roulette, favoring literary adaptation (of classics from the Bengali Renaissance, many of them works by Tagore), detective stories, political thrillers, Historical Fiction (Distant Thunder which deals with the Bengal Famine of 1943 and The Chess Players which deals with the annexation of Awadh by the EITC, the only film of his in Hindi).

His films were at times controversial in India. His film Devi was critical of idolatry and Hinduism's treatment of women and provoked angry responses from conservatives. He was also criticized by Bollywood film-makers who resented Ray's international reputation overshadowed most of their commercial films (which they pointed out was seen far more widely and by far more people than Ray's audience) while arthouse film-makers criticized him for not taking a political stance. Nonetheless Ray remains beloved in his native Bengal and respected and admired in India for being a major artist. He won the Padma Bhushan (India's highest civilian honor) and most famously became the first Indian, and one of two Asiansnote  to win an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement Award. He's highly admired by Elia Kazan, Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson (whose film The Darjeeling Limited makes many references to him).

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Indeed his following in America extends to popular culture. Matt Groening named Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons after the title character of The Apu Trilogy.

Filmography

  • The Apu Trilogynote 
  • Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone, 1958)
  • Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958)
  • Devi (The Goddess, 1960)
  • Teen Kanya (1961)
    • The Postmaster
    • Monihara
    • Samapti
  • Rabindranath Tagore (1961, documentary)
  • Kanchenjungha (1962)
  • Abhijan (1962)
  • Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963)
  • Charulata (1964)note 
  • Two (1964, TV film)
  • Kapurush (The Coward, 1965)
  • Mahapurush (The Holy Man, 1965)
  • Nayak (The Hero, 1966)
  • Chiriyakhana (The Zoo, 1967)
  • Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969)
  • Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970)
  • The Calcutta Trilogynote 
    • Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970)
    • Seemabaddha (Company Limited, 1971)
    • Jana Aranya (The Middleman, 1976)
  • Sikkim (1971, documentary)
  • The Inner Eye (1972)
  • Distant Thunder (1973)
  • Sonar Kella (1974)
  • Bala (1976)
  • Joi Baba Felunath (1978)
  • Shatranj ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977)
  • Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980)
  • Pikoo (1980)
  • Sadgati (Deliverance, 1981, TV film)
  • Ghare Baire (The Home and the World), 1984)
  • Sukumar Ray (1987, documentary)
  • Ganashatru (1989) - Based on Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People
  • Shakha Proshakha (1990)
  • Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991)

Tropes applying to Satyajit Ray

  • Adaptation Deviation: Ray did not make it a secret that in his film adaptations of literary works, he will not hesitate to modify them into something that will work better on the screen even if it meant sacrificing faithfulness to the original story.
  • Affectionate Nickname: He was known among his family - and later, close colleagues - as Manik (Bengali for 'jewel') or Manik-da, as he was an only child (Ray's father Sukumar died when he was three) and his parents had wanted a child for a long time.
  • Blue Blood: Ray came from a prominent Bengali family with a lengthy history of artistic accomplishment, who were hugely influential in the Bengal Renaissance.
  • Creator Cameo: Ray voices the King of Ghosts in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.
  • Creator Provincialism: Most of Ray's films have a Bengali setting, with quite a number having his native city of Calcutta as a backdrop. In fact, Ray generally preferred to make his movies in the Bengali language, only breaking this rule for The Chess Players and Sadgati (which are both based on Hindi short stories anyway). Documentaries are the exception to this: all but two of the documentaries Ray made are in English.
  • Friend to All Children: Ray mostly got along well with the children who acted in his films, which actor Soumitra Chatterjee ascribes to Ray's patience and his attitude of treating kids like equals.
  • Genre Roulette: As mentioned above, Ray's resume are quite diverse, spanning across different genres. He actually even planned to make a science fiction movie in Hollywood (titled The Alien) that eventually fell through thanks to Executive Meddling.
  • Leave the Camera Running
  • My Greatest Failure: During the shoot for The Music Room a crew member was killed (and another crippled) when a camera crane fell on them. Ray (who, in the wake of his recent success with Pather Panchali wanted flashy crane shots) felt incredible guilt over the accident, stating “All this would not have happened if I had not set my mind on those overhead shots.”
  • No Pronunciation Guide: 'Satyajit Ray' is pronounced roughly like 'Shottojeet Rye' in Bengali, but many people (including non-Bengali Indians) read the surname as if it rhymes with 'way' or 'say'.
  • Renaissance Man: As his lengthy Wikipedia article shows, Ray was also a successful writer, musician, artist, and calligrapher.
  • Sherlock Homage: Ray had been a Sherlock Holmes fan since his school days, and as such, his Feluda series of short stories and novels (and their movie adaptations) feature a Bengali private detective nicknamed Feluda (real name: Pradosh C. Mitter), who is an outright Holmes expy. In-universe, Feluda himself is a huge admirer of Holmes.
  • Slice of Life: Tends to focus on the day-to-day lives of West Bengalis.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Ray did not have a particularly high view of Indian filmgoers in general, who are generally more used to movies churned out by what he considers to be 'trashy' filmmakers.

    I can't do all that Bergman and Fellini do. I don't have their audiences and I don't work in that kind of context. I have to contend with an audience that is used to dross. I have worked with an Indian audience for thirty years and, in that time, the general look of cinema hasn't changed. Certainly not in Bengal. You'll find directors there are so backward, so stupid, and so trashy that you'll find it difficult to believe that their works exist alongside my films. I am forced by circumstances to keep my stories on an innocuous level.

    • On the bright side, he had later also expressed the opinion that urban audiences at least have become mature enough to keep up with his films.
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