INDIAN film director Satyajit Ray is almost a one-man production team.He produces and directs the films, is often his own cameraman.He writes the scenarios, original screenplays, composes the background music, does sketches for credit titles, has designed sets and costumes, even advertising posters for his films.
The only thing he hasn’t done is act. He hasn’t the inclination, but he has all the attributes of a film star: height (6ft. 4hr.), good looks, dark compelling eyes, long slender hands, low voiced eloquence.He is also very elegant.He is India’s and one of the world’s top directors, and some of the 15 feature films he has made in the past 13 years have been shown at the festivals.
But before he made his first film, “Pather Panchali,” when he was art director of an advertising agency in Calcutta, he had difficulty raising finance to make the film.He sold his books, his Records. He also sold his wife’s jewelry.
Today his wife is still helping him. “She’s my hardest critic,” he said.She is very much involved in his film-making. She discusses stories and screen plays with him, “now and again” the casting, sees the rushes, the first print. Tells him if a certain part drags, that people will walkout.Ray always respects what she says. “But that does not necessarily mean I always agree with her,” he smiled.
Married for 19 years, they have one son, Sandip, 14, a “Beatles and Batman fan,” who also wants to direct films.“He often goes on the set with me,” said Ray. “Once, when he was only six, he was watching a scene being filmed and, when the actor did the wrong thing, called Out ‘cut’ before I said ‘cut.’ “
Ray is making his present film to please Sandip, who said, years ago, that Ray’s (films were “so grim and grown-up.” .So Ray has adapted a story Sandip liked, by Ray’s grandfather.It’s a musical fantasy about two young village boys, a good and a bad king, and there are goblins, magic slippers .The story also has an anti war theme: a typical Ray characteristic.
He believes films are to entertain, but he also likes to make people think. “I don’t want to make esoteric films. You can compromise and still be subtle,” he said.
He likes to explore as many aspects of life as possible. “Psychological problems – problems between husband and wife, love, prejudices, problems between old and new and between generations.
His films have run the gamut of emotions and ages. Comedy, pathos, period, modern,from peasants to upper class, from feudal days to science fiction: the subject of his next film, which will star Peter Sellers.“I’m a science fiction addict,” said Ray, “generally dissatisfied with science fiction films. They are made with not much imagination or depth.“I believe there is a metaphysical aspect. Films need not necessarily be about machines, robots, spaceships, but more about human beings affected by spaceship landings.”
This statement just about sums up the kind of films Ray wants to make. “About human beings.” He wants the human face to be photographed, too. “I am meticulous about casting,” he said.
When he writes roles he knows exactly what the people look like, and chooses people closest in physical appearances, even if they are non-actors.
When he is directing. Ray can “cut himself off” from the bustle and hustle of a film set.He is not temperamental. “I have a tremendous lot of patience.“But when he is writing he likes to be “absolutely alone, from the family particularly.
“I like to go to a seaside hotel, and there I can write undisturbed for 16 or 17 hours a day. Once I was the only guest at a hotel.”
He started writing scenarios long before he took up actual film-making.He would read a book which had been adapted for a film, write his own scenario, then see the film to compare the one used. “I felt mine were better,” he smiled.
In fact he studied film making theoretically for years before attempting to make a film. At first it was just a hobby, “but I had a background for film-making,” he said.
Ray’s grandfather was a scholar, writer, and musician.His father, who died when Ray was two years old, was a well-known writer in Bengal.Ray grew up with a love of music and literature, both Eastern and Western.When young he was fascinated by Beethoven. Now he prefers Bach, Bartok. In composing film music he likes to mix Indian instruments with perhaps the cello, the flute.
“A lot of me is West,” he said.
An economics graduate, Ray studied fine arts for two and a half years at Tagore University.
He is also an amateur still photographer, whose work has been exhibited. “I am prouder of those than my paintings, which have not been framed or hung.”
He entered the advertising world as an artist when he was 22, and within four years was the art director. He was with the agency for ten years.He was sent to England for the agency, and while there managed to increase his film viewing. “I saw about 95 films in five months.“
The first film he remembers seeing was “The Thief of Bagdad,” the Douglas Fairbanks version.“I was only about four or five then, but I remembered it well. All the physical feats, jumping walls, sword fights, flying carpet.“When he saw the film in later years it corresponded with his memories.
As he grew older he became a film fan. He would see the same film four or five or more times, taking notes in the dark, particularly to do with the technical side.He still sees films time after time.
In 1949 he met French film director Jean Renoir, who was making “The River” in India.Ray had designed a jacket for the widely read book “Pather Panchali” and spoke to Renoir about his idea for a film adaptation.
“He thought it sounded interesting and said why didn’t I make it.”
For 12 months Ray tried to sell the scenario to producers in India, but failed.It was then that he sold some of his possessions to raise money to make some footage “just to show that he was not strictly an amateur.”
There was still not enough finance, but finally the Government of West Bengal put up the money.“Pather Panchali” was successful in India and also received international awards.It began a trilogy, with “Aparajito” and “The World of Apu,” tracing the childhood, youth, and manhood of a boy named Apu from a Bengali village.
Ray said he had no intention of making the third him, “The World of Apu,” but the late Jawaharlal Nehru had once told him he would like to know what became of his Apu, and advised him to write a scenario from the original book.
As well as film-making, Ray edits a children’s magazine which was started by his grandfather, went out of production when his father died, and which Ray revived about six years ago.It’s a monthly magazine for which he writes, illustrates, thinks up crosswords and competitions.One of his stories, published in book form, was awarded the “children book of the year” award given annually by the Government.
Ray has translated some of the nonsense poems, from “Alice in Wonderland,” and also the limericks of English humorist Edward Lear.
This follows the tradition of his father, who, Ray said, wrote the Bengali “Alice in Wonderland.” “It can’t be translated. There are lots of nonsense rhymes.”
“What do I do for relaxation? I don’t relax. If I do I listen to music, but never for very long. Just until I think of a story.”