The recently concluded Cannes Film Festival (May 17 to May 22) chose India as the country to raise a toast to this year. And among the many Indian big names celebrated was Satyajit Ray (1921-1992). A cultural icon in India and Bengali communities worldwide, he directed 36 movies and won National Film Awards for each.
However, Cannes and Ray go hand in hand. The Cannes Classic section nearly always screens one of the maestro’s masterpieces. It was Pratidwindi this time but rewind and you will find Charulata, Pather Panchali, Uttoran and Gonoshatru in the not very far past.
In addition to being recognised as one of the all-time great film directors, Satyajit Ray was arguably one of the most versatile creative geniuses of Bengal, if not India, in modern times. He received many coveted awards like the Bharat Ratna, Honorary Oscar (for lifetime achievement), Legion d’ Honor (the highest civilian award in France) and the Kurosawa Award (for lifetime achievement as a film director), apart from numerous others at international film festivals. Kurosawa, one of the greatest film makers, made the remark that a person who has not watched a Ray movie is like one not knowing the sun and the moon.
Like Rabindranath Tagore, Ray was much more appreciated abroad than in India (excepting Bengal), the main reason being that all (except one or two in Hindi and English) of his films were in Bengali. This restricted its commercial showing in other parts of India, except in select film society circles.
Apart from creating legendary characters like popular fictional characters in Bengali children’s literature—Feluda, a detective, and Professor Shonku, a scientist. Ray designed four typefaces for a roman script named Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis and Holiday Script. The script won an international competition in 1971 for Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre. The Academy Film Archive in Hollywood has preserved many of Ray’s movies.
Undoubtedly, a legend, Satyajit Ray was honoured by the Academy at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992. However, ill health played spoilsport and Ray could not be there in person. His award was announced by actor Audrey Hepburn who described his work as a “rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and his profound humanism which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”
It rings true even today.