‘People outside Bengal know Satyajit Ray only for his cinema … We will highlight other sides of him with touring exhibits’

Filmmaker Sandip Ray was an apprentice to his father even before he knew it. Satyajit Ray made sure his little boy was around when he shot his films starting from the first masterpiece Pather Panchali, to the last one, Agantuk. Sandip spoke to Mohua Chatterjee on the grand plans to celebrate the master’s 100th birthday on May 2 that have now been delayed:

What were the Satyajit Ray centenary celebration plans and what do you do now?

Unfortunately, plans of retrospectives of his films, seminars and exhibitions on him, as a graphic artiste, writer, musician, calligrapher have had to be put on hold. We were planning exhibitions across the country to tell people about Ray’s works beyond films. But the pandemic has limited it to books and other publications for now. On May 10 ‘Three Rays: Stories from Satyajit Ray’ is expected to be out. It is a collection of his previously unpublished autobiographical writings – including letters to his mother, stories, poems, illustrations, fiction and non-fiction works. A lot of special issues of magazines, many of them in Bangla are lined up. Children’s magazines like ‘Sandesh’ that Ray himself edited and several others, some digital platforms too, are coming up with the Ray theme.

I planned for a film with two of his iconic characters – Shonku and Feluda – from short stories that cannot make for full length features, but in two parts it could work. But all is uncertain with the pandemic. If things improve we could look at a Christmas release … have time till May 2022.

Tell us more about these unpublished works.

There are not too many unpublished works of his, but there are letters to his mother between 1940 and 1942, from Santiniketan, from London, during his DJ Keymer (advertising agency) days. Some of his own translations of his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and father Sukumar Ray (both celebrated Bengali litterateurs), pages from his personal diaries of about three years, sketches, doodles he made while writing, will be part of the new publications.

After the pandemic we will take a series of touring exhibitions round the country. We want the excitement of the physical space, without which the celebration won’t make sense. For Bengalis, Ray is beyond cinema. For a whole generation he was the favourite author. While much of it was children’s literature, his writings for children were also enjoyed by adults. There was non-fiction. People outside of Bengal know him only for his cinema, but Ray as a graphic artiste, calligrapher (in Roman and Bangla scripts), designer of film sets and of attire of his actors, music composer … we want to highlight this side of him. That is why the touring exhibitions.

Ray’s music is distinctive. He began with Indian classical masters and then moved on to create his own film music. How did this transition happen?

After Teen Kanya, 1961 onwards, till 1991, he did the music for his films. Those who first played for Ray were not film musicians – classical maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ray used them very successfully. But with more films he faced difficulties. Films need precision, maybe a 1.7-second piece or a 23-second interlude. It was becoming a problem to direct the great masters to deliver with that kind of timing. Music had to be tailor made, otherwise it was taking up too much time and effort at the editing table.

Meanwhile, baba was getting musical ideas of his own. Our family had a tradition in music. Western classical music was his first love. He had learnt the western notations on his own. Later he learnt Bangla notations as it was needed to work with musicians in Kolkata. That’s how the transition took place. And he remained friends with all of the classical masters who he had worked with. Ravi Shankar was always at our house whenever he was here, spending time with baba. There was mutual admiration till the last day.

Many Ray films are highly political. Do you think he would make films on today’s politics if he were around?

Most of his films are political. They are multi-layered, that is what he loved to do. He was very disturbed by the Emergency. He made Heerak Rajar Deshe the way he did to avoid censorship, wrapping it in a fairy tale. That is also why his films are dateless. That was very important to him. Which is why he never went by fashion trends. I am sure he would not be sitting idle if he were around today – a Heerak Rajar Deshe Part 2 would surely be made.

The centenary, May 2, fell on a day Bengal was busy with election results.

Well, what could I do? But yes, I feel this could have been avoided. Ray centenary is a big thing for people here. However, even the pandemic will prevent people from celebrating. I hope before the year ends things get better and we can all properly celebrate.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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