Satyajit Ray centenary year: A look at the filmmaker who never compromised on ethics – Time Of Hindustan


During the shooting of ‘Devi’ (1960), Satyajit Ray discovered a young spot boy crying. He affectionately called the youngster and asked him to air his grievance. On hearing that he was sobbing because he had not received his daily dues; Ray ensured the spot boy was duly compensated by the production unit. There are ample examples like this in Ray’s life. He firmly believed in ethics, aesthetics, and honesty. No producer could ever complain that the filmmaker had gone overboard with production budgets.

His rich family background and education instilled certain values and principles in him. Being Western-oriented in thoughts, his films never had tearjerking scenes or characters bawling their eyes out. His restrain was noteworthy, as was his sense of drama. In all his films–from ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955) to ‘Agantuk’ (1991), Ray gave prime importance to human ethics, relations and emotions. The concepts of over and under acting were unknown to his actors. They simply behaved while performing.

The lessons Ray learned watching Jean Renoir as he shot ‘The River’ were Ray’s main inspiration for his cinematic journeys. Vittorio D’ Sica’s neo wave which started with ‘Bicycle Thieves’ was Ray’s second wave of creative breeding. Ray said Hollywood taught him what to do and what not to do. Charles Chaplin, Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa were his all-time favourites.

No other Indian filmmaker, with the exception of Mrinal Sen, had had such wide exposure to international cinema. Ray admitted that Bengali films of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s were deeply rooted in Bengal’s ethos and a sense of ethics prevailed among majority of Bengali filmmakers then. About Bollywood, he was right in stating that in Bombay (now Mumbai) scripts are made and not written.

It was his sense of ethics that kept Ray at a distance from general people. While he was often misunderstood as a high-nosed and arrogant person, it was an incorrect judgment. He opened his heart only to a select few, whom he was comfortable with. He abhorred meaningless conversations and frivolous talks. Ray, in his inner circle, was well known for his sense of subtle humor. An additional quality of the master filmmaker was that he made friends with children easily. No wonder then that he extracted memorable performances from his child cast. He seldom interacted with the media.

Once during a conversation with Gina Llolobrigida at an International Film Festival in New Delhi in the early ’70s, Ray raised the question of ethics. He clearly pointed out that the ethical views were taking a backseat. To this, the famous actress reacted with a questioning look. Ray smiled and explained that opportunistic as well as dishonest endeavours were silently killing cinema – the greatest medium of art. Gina Llolobrigida supported Ray’s view.

From the ’80s, Ray started to get even more aloof. Ray often questioned successful people as to at what cost were they successful. He was also deeply disturbed by the rampant growth of corruption in society.

If Ray’s ‘Ganashatru’ (1989) was a cinematic battle against fake religious dogmatic beliefs, ‘Sakha Prasakha’ (1990) was his mighty cinematic crusade against corruption. ‘Agantuk’ voiced the social protest of a globetrotter challenging false egos and attitudes. After a heart ailment, Ray mainly shot indoors from the middle ’80s. However, his last three films echoed his warnings that ethics were getting lost. Ray never compromised with ethics just as he was strongly vocal against paranoid mentalities of later generation filmmakers. He vehemently criticised the lack of storytelling art by a section of parallel cinema directors.

Was Ray a hypocrite? Why did he never refuse awards when he criticised many of them? The answer is ‘no’. Ray always received awards on sheer dint of merit and not by manipulation. Lying on his sickbed he was overwhelmed winning a Lifetime’s Oscar. In sheer ecstasy, he compared it to winning a Nobel Prize.

— By Ranjan Das Gupta



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