100 years of Satyajit Ray: Still relevant, inspiring, towering and awesome

Here is what some young filmmakers and writers have to say about one of India’s greatest filmmakers as we celebrate Ray’s birth centenary on May 2

100 years of Satyajit Ray: Still relevant, inspiring, towering and awesome
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Namrata Joshi

On his 100th birth anniversary, Satyajit Ray continues to remain the most recognized Indian filmmaker, a name Indian cinema is still identified with the world over. What does his films mean to the young filmmakers in the country? How does the contemporary film fraternity view them? How has he influenced them and what do they consider his legacy in cinema? Namrata Joshi spoke to some:

Rajshri Deshpande, Actor

My first thought was that if he were alive, would he have been able to make the kind of films he did? How would he have made them? Who would have put money in them? He would have been quite a rebel filmmaker today.

That speculation aside, Ray left a huge mark on me as an artiste, particularly his female characters. His women are far ahead of their times, be it in Devi or Mahanagar. These women give strength. They are real, they are me, they are the ones I can relate to. Take Mahanagar. Till date that woman, that kind of a situation that she is in, exists in the society.

Be it men or women, his characters are strong yet also flawed. I like that internal conflict in them. They are not always heroic. The balance he struck there is truly inspiring. He worked and collaborated with people who were also true to their soil [like him]. He had his way of picking the right cast and crew.

The realism in his films, the detailing, the framing, the scenes, how each scene has a story to tell...There is so much to learn by viewing his films again and again. Each viewing reveals something new.

I wish he was making films now. Or I was working when he was making films.

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Swanand Kirkire, Lyricist-writer-singer-actor

There are some standout things about Ray. He was an absolute original. He was a storyteller of the people. He didn’t make films about heroes but about people like you and me.

He was the most versatile filmmaker. From Pather Panchali to Mahanagar to Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen —he cut across genres. His story-telling was pure. His images were powerful but at the same time organic. They emerged from the story itself. I remember some of his images distinctly. Like the pole of the tram in the title sequence in Mahanagar is absolutely unforgettable.

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Rima Das, Filmmaker

I grew up watching big budget, mainstream films. I always wanted to make films. My first exposure to the alternate cinema happened with Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven. Ray made a huge impact on me. Pather Panchali made me realise that another kind of cinema also has a place. So, it is possible for me also to become a filmmaker and tell my stories in my own way. That it was possible to make something simple, realistic and artistic. He helped me follow my heart.

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Puneet Sharma, Writer-lyricist

A lot has been said about his form, approach, lensing. But what I have come to understand over the years, what has been most noticeable for me about Satyajit Ray’s films is that despite being Western in the craft, you could glimpse the real India in them. His stories and characters were progressive but emerged from within the immediate milieu. I think that “bhartiyata” [in a rooted, not reactionary way], the localness in the images needs to be brought back. Our contemporary cinematic grammar, at times, feels too urban and global.

It is often said that he wasn’t as aggressive politically as the other filmmakers of his times. I think he had a subtle way of saying things. He was progressive without having to assert “dekho main kitna progressive hoon”.

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Gazal Dhaliwal, Screenwriter

It’s impossible to go through a/any film school in our country without plunging all your senses into Satyajit Ray’s cinema and having all of them be in awe of the magic he created. Just the name ‘Satyajit Ray’ makes a storyteller like myself experience a multitude of emotions all at once – inspiration, pride, humility, wonderment, joy, and nostalgia for a time I wasn’t even born in.

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Akshay Indikar, Filmmaker

It is only because of Satyajit Ray that I have been able to make the films that I do. A person who wants to create (make) movies, tries to search for inspiration in the goodness and glory of the past; because filmmaking is about to jumping into a vast, unknown, shapeless, black ocean. You need someone to guide you and help you negotiate through it. Before every shoot, I watch my favourite films by Ray, even if a few favourite scenes. It motivates me.

The world admires the Indian social system and culture. I would say it's because of Ray. He gave the world a unique vantage point with which to look at India. I think that his films like Mahanagar, Pratidwandi were way ahead of their times.

Another thing to learn from him is adapting literature for cinema. Which characters to put in and how, how to retain the essence of the work along with the cinematic values. He was a master at that.

Indian cinema is till date known by his name. It will always be.

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