Cinema and Media Studies Satyajit Ray
by
Chandak Sengoopta
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0265

Introduction

An economics graduate who trained in the graphic arts and was devoted as passionately to Western classical music as to cinema, Satyajit Ray (b. 2 May 1921–d. 23 April 1992) was the art director of an advertising agency in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, when he won international recognition with his first film Pather Panchali (1955). His subsequent career was prolific and, for decades, he was India’s best-known filmmaker in the West, a reputation that is currently being reinforced by the increasing availability of restored prints of his films. But Ray was also a bestselling writer and popular lyricist-composer in Bengali, a noted graphic artist, and a hardworking magazine editor. The literature on Ray in English, French, and his mother-tongue Bengali, surveyed in this article, is voluminous. Still, it must be noted that his polymathic creativity and its multiple contexts have yet to be explored in the depth and detail they deserve.

Biographical Works

No single critical, comprehensive, and scholarly biography analyzes all—or even most—of Ray’s major involvements, cinematic and non-cinematic, nor does any work adequately explore the historical and cultural contexts that shaped his life and work. Robinson 2004 and Seton 2003 are the longest biographical accounts but for all their strengths, they lack scholarly depth, critical detachment, and, most importantly, knowledge of the Bengali language and culture. Basu 2006 is better informed on the Bengali contexts but tends to be anecdotal and uncritical. Tesson 1992 is valuable for its insights into Ray’s films but less useful as a biography. Ray 2012 offers many details on Ray’s home life and personality without attempting a synthesis of his life and work.

  • Basu, Partha. Satyajita Raya. Kolkata: Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi, 2006.

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    This Bengali biography offers much scarce material culled from family sources, especially the diaries of Bijoya Ray and Subimal Ray (Ray’s paternal uncle), letters, and Bengali reviews of Ray’s films. Its utility, however, is undermined by its disorganized narrative, the lack of full citations to published sources, and the failure to engage with the critical literature on Ray.

  • Ghosh, Nemai, and Andrew Robinson. Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005.

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    A well-produced volume presenting Nemai Ghosh’s photographs of Ray with detailed captions and a biographical introduction by Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s contributions contextualize the photographs, while providing the reader with concise overviews of the man, his background, and his work. The volume also contains an excellent filmography.

  • Micciollo, Henri. Satyajit Ray. Lausanne, Switzerland: Éditions l’Age de Homme, 1981.

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    One of the earliest French-language books on Ray. While the author’s discussion of Ray’s films is superficial, the book includes extended comments on his films (and on those of others) by Ray that are unavailable elsewhere.

  • Mukhopadhyay, Debasis. Satyajit Ray: Tathyapanji. Kolkata: Srishti, 2001.

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    Lists Ray’s works, works about Ray, release dates of his films, prizes won, translations, and other data. A useful work but needs to be updated.

  • Ray, Bijoya. Manik and I: My Life with Satyajit Ray. Translated by Indrani Majumdar. New Delhi: Penguin, 2012.

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    Memoirs of Ray’s wife (and cousin) Bijoya, who knew him from early adolescence. Full of insights into Ray’s personality and lifestyle and details about the vast network of relatives and friends who surrounded and sustained him.

  • Robinson, Andrew. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye. 2d ed. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

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    Robinson provides a detailed, film-by-film account of Ray’s entire career that is enriched by Ray’s own reflections drawn from interviews conducted by the author over the last decade of Ray’s life. Ray’s non-cinematic work, however, is addressed only very sketchily and the intricacies of his familial, personal, social, cultural, and ideological contexts are not analyzed in much depth.

  • Sarkar, Bidyut. The World of Satyajit Ray. New Delhi: UBSPD, 1992.

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    A brief, anecdotal account of Ray’s life, work, and personality by an old acquaintance. It is especially valuable because of Sarkar’s eyewitness report of the world premiere of Ray’s first film at an exhibition of Indian textiles at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955 (see also Sengoopta 2009, cited under Studies of Individual Works and Series).

  • Seton, Marie. Portrait of a Director: Satyajit Ray. Revised edition with afterword by Indrani Majumdar. Delhi: Penguin, 2003.

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    Despite its hagiographic orientation, this is an unrivalled oral history of the making of Ray’s earlier films: Seton interviewed virtually everybody connected with Ray, from his mother, his relatives and the members of his film unit to his former colleagues in advertising. Indrani Majumdar’s contribution to the latest edition provides a useful overview of Ray’s subsequent films and their contemporary reception.

  • Tesson, Charles. Satyajit Ray. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 1992.

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    Although framed biographically, this study by a distinguished French critic is strongest in its analyses of the narrowly cinematic attributes of Ray’s films.

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