Satyajit Ray, lit the screen with his debut film, “Pather Panchali,” captivating filmmakers and critics at UK and European film festivals. He won plenty of awards, but surprisingly, this wasn’t the start of a planned trilogy. Ray crafted the story of Apu’s childhood with such raw beauty and heart that it became a masterpiece, but initially, it was just a single, standalone film. It was the powerful resonance of “Pather Panchali” that later inspired Ray to revisit Apu’s life, giving birth to the beloved Apu Trilogy. Even without a grand plan, Ray’s first film became the foundation for a cinematic legacy, showing that sometimes, the greatest journeys begin with a single, stunning step.
Making of Aparajito
Satyajit Ray wasn’t just a filmmaker, he was a poet on the screen. He painted his stories with light and shadow, showing tales of life and loss with nuanced sensitivity. While he explored many themes, his mastery truly lies in those poignant moments of mortality. Death, in Ray’s hands, wasn’t just a spectacle but a whispered farewell, a gentle departure from the stage of life.
He understood the inherent risk of melodrama, the thin line between evoking emotion and succumbing to sentimentality. Yet, he walked on it with grace, capturing the raw humanity of loss without crossing into tears-jerking clichés. One scene that truly shows his brilliance.
It’s a scene whispered, not shouted. A subtle shift in the air, a tremor in the soundtrack. Instead of a graphic depiction of death, there’s an unsettling jump cut, a jarring break in the narrative. The camera lingers on a flock of birds swirling in the air in a restless choreography, a visual echo of the turmoil within. We, the audience, felt the impending loss without needing it to be spelt out.
And then, music. The haunting notes of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar pierce the silence, each note resonating with the unspoken grief. It’s not a death tune, but a melody of acceptance, a gentle ode to the life that once danced in the light. It’s a song that lingers long after the scene fades, reminding us of the beauty that endures even in the face of death.
This is the magic of Ray’s cinema. He doesn’t exploit death, he elevates it. He transforms it from a morbid event into a poignant passage, a bittersweet finale to a human story. He shows us not just the ending, but the echoes it leaves behind. This is why Ray earned his title as the maestro of the art film world. He didn’t shy away from life’s harshest realities, but he treated them with the reverence of a sacred text.
He showed us the darkness, not to scare us, but to illuminate the stars that shine even brighter because of it. And in capturing the essence of death, he reminded us of the preciousness of life, whispering a powerful truth – that even in the final call, there remains a melody, a beauty that sings on.
P.S. Pandit Ravishankar had sat on a gruelling session of 11 straight hours to create the background music.
As the saying goes, “If you want to be remembered after you have gone.” There are only two possible ways to achieve this. First is, to do something worthwhile that can be accounted for. The second is, to write something so profound that it remains in the memory. Satyajit Ray was a rare breed of filmmaker, a man who etched his name in history not just with the magic of his films, but also with the wisdom of his words. He was both a storyteller and a thinker. His book, “Our Films, Their Films,” stands as a testament to this dual brilliance.
Within its pages, Ray isn’t just a filmmaker analyzing cinematic techniques. He’s a passionate observer, sharing his experiences and insights on the filmmaking process with rare honesty and clarity. Ray mentions one of those incidents while he was shooting for his debut film. Ray was busy setting up the stage and explaining the scene and the depiction to the actors.
Ray saw a man changing lenses on his camera. He called Ray, to look through the viewfinder. It was a beautiful closeup shot of Durga’s face. Well, the shoot looked charismatic. However, it was jarring when Ray looked at the scenes at the end of the day. It didn’t serve its purpose. Ray decided that day he wouldn’t listen to a person who didn’t have the entire film in his mind.
The magic of Ray Cinema, lies in the essence of capturing the moment. When Ray was asked about his portrayal of Aparijito’s rural landscape, the director replied, ‘When I look back at my work. I have an introspection of what I could have done better. I feel like I tried to impose my worldview about the aesthetic of the village.’ Critics all over the world have praised Ray for his depiction of Indian Society. Ray compared his art to the maestro of American cinema Billy Wilder.
“Our Films, Their Films” is not just a technical manual or a collection of film critiques. It’s a love letter to the power of storytelling, a window into the mind of a genius, and a timeless guide for anyone who wants to understand the magic behind the moving image. Through his words, Ray ensures that his legacy extends far beyond the final frame of his last film, remaining a beacon for aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles alike for generations to come.
The Case of Analysis Paralysis
In 2024, actors have to keep many things in perspective before signing the film. The genre, political pushback, the sensitivity of the people portrayed in the movie and particularly, the impact that the movie will create in the long run. Well, Shahrukh Khan took four years to figure it out. Aamir takes about the same amount of time to lock the script.
No wonder stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan take ages to decide. With so much at stake, it’s natural to overthink, analyze, and second-guess. But somewhere, a balance needs to be struck. Overthinking risks missing out on opportunities, and paralysis can halt the flow of creativity. Perhaps, the key lies in trusting their instincts, taking calculated risks, and finding stories that not only entertain, but also resonate on a deeper level. After all, sometimes, the greatest films are born not from meticulous planning, but from daring to jump right into the unknown.
Well, most of the directors back in the day didn’t go to a film school. Satyajit Ray never ventured into a film school to learn the craft.
In 1982, Ray said, ‘Even on films, I am not particularly well read. When I got interested enough in films to start reading about them, there were hardly a dozen books on the subject in English. By the time I finished them, I was already at work on my first film. One day’s work with cameras and actors taught me more than all the dozen books had done. In other words, I learned about filmmaking primarily by making films, not by reading books on the art of cinema. Here, I must say, I am in very good company.’
Ray was certainly very careful about the portrayal of the cultural and linguistic norms. In the lustrous career that spanned five decades. Ray constantly switched between direction and writing.
The pioneers of the world cinema were not learned scholars. Instead, they liked to call themselves a craftsman. Who learned the details of filmmaking and created new avenues in the process by making films. The director of Rockstar ‘Imtiaz Ali’ learned about filmmaking while shooting the film. The Art of filmmaking is about observations, and seeing through various lenses.
One scene of a movie can decrypted by multiple interpretations. For e.g. two individuals holding hands and crossing over the street. If a filmmaker wants to convey the story from a romantic angle, the director will set the stage and form the world that conveys the emotion to the audience. On the other hand, if you want to view the same scene from a political lens. We might term the scene as a ‘Coalition Government.’ The scene was the same. The viewpoint of the director changed thus, the resulting conclusion of the same scene will differ from person to person.
Ray’s Rise With Critical Acclaim of ‘Aparajito’ and ‘Pather Panchali’
While Satyajit Ray’s early masterpieces like “Pather Panchali” and “Aparajito” might not have set Indian box offices ablaze, they were like hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Though they didn’t bring the usual commercial clinking of coins, they did something more profound- winning hearts at some of the most prestigious film festivals worldwide.
This critical acclaim became Ray’s passport to a wider audience. Producers, previously hesitant to back his “slow-burn” style, suddenly saw the international validation. The awards and praise were like magic words, opening doors to funding and support for his next creative endeavours. Ray, no longer an unknown artist, found himself with the resources to continue exploring his cinematic vision, pushing the boundaries of Indian filmmaking.
So, while these early films might not have been mainstream hits, they played a crucial role in Ray’s journey. They laid the foundation of his international reputation, earned him the trust of financiers, and paved the way for a long line of groundbreaking films that would capture the imagination of not just India but the entire film world. In a way, his initial critical success was like planting a seed that would eventually blossom into a vibrant cinematic garden.