Inspiring Indians - Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray is a cultural icon in India and in Bengali communities worldwide. A great Indian filmmaker revered as one of the greatest masters of world cinema. 

Early life & Education

Satyajit Ray was born on 2 May 1921, in an intellectual and affluent family in Calcutta. His grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray was a distinguished writer, painter, a violin player and a composer. His father, Sukumar Ray, studied printing technology in England and
joined the family business. He too was an eminent poet, writer and illustrator. Sukumar Ray regularly contributed poems, stories and illustrations to 'Sandesh', a children's magazine in Bengali, which Satyajit Ray's grandfather had started publishing and printing.

He was lovingly called "Manik Da". He was much adored and "coddled" as a child and hence the nickname "Manik," or "jewel" in Bengali. After his father's death, 'Manik Da' and his mother moved to Satyajit's maternal uncle's house. His mother taught needlework to supplement the household income. At an age of eight, Satyajit joined a Government School. He was an average student. While still at school, he became a film fan, regularly reading Hollywood trivia in magazines. Western classical music was another interest. He would often pick-up gramophone records at flea markets. He matriculated when he was just short of fifteen. His mother insisted upon Satyajit joining college. At the Presidency College, Satyajit read science and economics. At the cost of academics, Satyajit was spending a lot of time and energy in pursuit of his two interests- Watching films and listening to western classical music on his gramophone.

After graduating from Calcutta's Presidency College, he joined Rabindranath Tagore's Vishva-Bharati University, at Shantiniketan, despite the initial reluctance. Gurudev identified the artist in him and soon was editing inhouse magazine of shantiniketan. Ray also read widely, observed nature, and became interested in graphic design while studying fine arts here. Without completing the five-year course, he returned to Calcutta, when 'Gurudev' died as he thought a good artistic teacher was one he wanted not a degree and began his career as a commercial artist.

Film Career

Ray was drawn into filmmaking after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing the Italian film Bicycle Thieves during a visit to London. He founded Calcutta's first film society in 1947 and made his first film, Pather Panchali (1955) while working at an advertising agency. Pather Panchali was an immediate success and won award at the Cannes Festival. Pather Panchali with his Aparajito (1956, The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (1959, The World of Apu) are known as 'Apu Trilogy'. 

His later films include Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958), Devi (The Goddess, 1960), Teen Kanya (Two Daughters, 1961), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Nayak (The Hero, 1966), Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973), Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977), Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984), Ganashatru (An Enemy Of The People, 1989) and Shakha Prashakha (Branches Of The Tree, 1991). Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991) was his last film. This great filmmaker known for his humanistic approach to cinema. 

Literary works 

Ray edited 'Sandesh', a children's magazine and wrote numerous fiction and nonfiction works. He made a significant contribution to children's literature in Bengali. Most of his fiction was written for teen age children. His detective stories and novels were particularly popular with them. 

Ray created two very popular characters in Bengali Children's literature - Feluda, and Professor Shonku. Feluda is a fictional character who plays the part of private detective in Calcutta. Professor Shanku is a fictional scientist. His full name is Trilokeshwar Shonku, and by occupation, he is an inventor. 

Notable Awards

Satyajit Ray received numerous awards, both for personal achievements as a filmmaker and for the films he made. He is a recipient of the Padmashree, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Bharat Ratna, Magsaysay Award, Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Légion d'Honneur and an honourary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, USA among others. 


In 1992, Ray's health deteriorated due to heart complications. An honorary Oscar was awarded to him weeks before his death, which he received in a gravely ill condition. Satyajit Ray died on 23 April 1992.

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