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.