Filmmaker, music composer, artist and writer. He was born and brought up in an artistic family environment in Bengal, studied at Santiniketan where he came in touch with Rabindranath Tagore, and was introduced to the best of Eastern and Western influences such as India’s rich cultural traditions, culture, literature and music as well as English literature and western music.
He started out in the early 1940s as a ‘junior visualiser’ in D. J. Keymer, a British owned advertising agency in north Calcutta where he worked for about a decade. While employed in this agency, he was sent on a short assignment to London in 1950. Before taking this up, he contacted French film-maker Jean Renoir after he chanced to read his newspaper advertisement for Anglo-Indian actors for his forthcoming film on India, The River (1951). He contacted Renoir, met him from time to time and assisted him by helping him select appropriate locations for shooting his film. He observed him and also discussed a film idea he was passionate about which he later developed into his historic film, Pather Panchali (Song of the Road, 1955). Because of his understanding of India and its people, he is also said to have made some useful suggestions regarding The River that Renoir acted upon. Despite this, it is reported that after seeing the film with Renoir long after its completion in 1967, Ray “did not care for it [The River] very much, with the exception of the background – the life of the river …”
Ray turned to making feature films after returning home from London. Though he was a self-taught film-maker, he had meticulously studied world cinema during his Calcutta Film Society days and later during his 3-month stay in UK, admitted watching nearly a hundred films at the rate of one film per day of his London sojourn.
His first feature film, Pather Panchali won the Special Jury Prize for “Best Human Document” at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1956 and bagged over a dozen other international awards. This film together with two other Ray films –Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), jointly constitute his first trilogy. His films were steeped in humanism and this quality, coupled with their excellence, helped him place India firmly on the international film map.
He was awarded India’s highest film and civilian honours –the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the Bharat Ratna in 1992. In 1987, the French President admitted him to the French Legion of Honour and shortly before his death, a delegation from the Oscar Committee visited him in Calcutta and presented him with a Golden statuette.
The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project – A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)