London calling: Celebrating the genius of Satyajit Ray

As 100 years of Indian cinema is celebrated at home and the world over, it would be a shame to not pay tribute to the iconic film director, responsible for putting India on the global big screen. Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest auteur of world cinema, will get a fitting tribute next month when the British Film Institute (BFI), London, hosts a two-week long retrospective on him. This comes immediately after the well-received retrospective held in New Delhi in April, organised by the Directorate of Film Festivals and Satyajit Ray Society in association with Light Cube Film Society.

The BFI retrospective will show a host of Ray’s masterpieces including Pather Panchali, Apu Trilogy, Jalsaghar, Teen Kanya, Charulata, Kanchenjungha and the newly restored Mahanagar. Incidentally, it’s the 50th anniversary of Mahanagar, a film which explored a middle-class woman’s growing independence in the Fifties’ Calcutta. Along with the retro will be a poster exhibition, which is jointly organised by the BFI and Ray Society. It’ll feature posters of his films, designed by Ray himself – training as a graphic artist in the early years helped him definitely in his cinematic journey during the later years.  The idea, as Arup K. De, CEO, Ray Society, points out, is to show the world the other facets of the multi-talented filmmaker. “Ray designed all his film posters and publicity material. This is something that few people would know. He is known mostly for his films but we would like the world to be familiar with his other talents too,” says De. The poster exhibition is jointly organised by BFI and Ray Society. Ray was a lifelong member of the BFI.

A museum for Satyajit Ray  

Ray was truly a multi-faceted genius. He didn’t just write and direct his films; he even wrote the music and designed the sets and costumes for some. In addition, he was a writer and illustrator. He created the character of the suave detective Feluda and the scientist Professor Shankhu, in the children’s magazine, Sandesh, founded by Ray’s grandfather Upendrakishore and which Ray revived in 1961. All his writings, books, journals, film stills, letters, awards and other possessions have been well preserved by the Kolkata-based Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray films. The society is now scouting for land to build a museum to house all Ray’s archival material. Says Sandip Ray, the auteur’s son and the Society’s founder-director, and an acclaimed filmmaker: “We haven’t still found a place where we can build this museum. So far, we haven’t received any help from the government. We are looking at a private tie-up. Nothing is finalized yet but it has to be done soon.”

It’s surprising that the government never thought of a museum for Ray – after all, along with Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore, it’s Ray whom most westerners immediately associate India with.

In the year marking a centenary of Indian cinema, a museum dedicated to the doyen of Bengali cinema will be a well-deserved monument to the man who transmuted cinema into an art form and stretched the boundaries of cinematic expression.