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Ramsundar Deo to Satyajit Ray – Part II

Part 2

Upendrakisore, Sukumar Ray’s father & Satyajit’s grandfather was born in 1869. Although he was born in ‘Masua’, a rural area in Bangladesh, but soon made a long journey to Calcutta, where he too got attracted towards Brahmoism. Upendrakisore was the fifth son of Kalinath Ray. And he was been adopted at the age of five by a childless relative belonging to the orthodox, wealthy branch of Ray family. This relative, a zamindar and lawyer by profession chose Upendrakisore among his brothers due to his skin color, which was indeed really very fair. Not only that, the relative who adopted him also changed his name to Upendrakisore from Kamadaranjan, after the style of his own name, Harikisore, to which he added the honorific surname of ‘Ray Chaudhuri’.

From a very young age Upendrakisore, was quite fond of music and drawing. One when the Governor visited his school he saw a boy was drawing intensely in the class. With curiosity, he picked up the book to discover an amazing drawing/sketch. The Governor was a British man, and in reference to that the school teachers were quite worried as to how the ‘sahib’ would react. But, instead, the ‘sahib’ patted little Upendrakisore, and said – ‘You must not let this skill disappear’.

Upendrakisore stayed in Calcutta, and kept his practice of drawing and singing. He later stated practicing the Indian classical style under the best teachers and also developed his love for Brahmo songs and hymns.  His singing was so good that once at a performance at Jorasanko, the Tagore family mansion in North Calcutta, led him to the lifelong friendship with Rabindranath Tagore.

In the year 1884, Upendrakisore got married to the daughter of Dwarkanath Ganguli, and moved to the large family house at 13 Cornwallis Street in central Calcutta, just opposite to the main temple of the Brahmo. Upendrakisore’s wife was a remarkable woman in her own right. She bore him three sons and three daughters. Among them, Sukumar, Satyajit’s father, was their second child, born in 1887. On the other hand, Upendrakisore continued his practice of drawing and music. He often used to play his Violin and sing. He was so good in it, that often listeners gathered in the street outside, just like as they did when he took his family outside to an exhibition or festival and explained things to the children.

Sukumar Ray took after his father in many ways. He was serious, lively and intensely curious and also a natural story teller. From a very young age, he would show pictures of wired and wonderful animals to his brothers and sisters from their father’s storybook, and invent his own story about them.  He also used to create his own creatures, with untranslatable names. When Sukumar was about eight, a new element appeared in his life, which later also influenced Satyajit Ray greatly. It was the printing press.

Calcutta by 1890s was well equipped with printing press technologies, but good quality printing & its illustration was seriously lacking. As a result of this, Upendrakisore’s illustrations of Ramayana for children’s book were totally ruined. With merely a handful of technical books published in West, Upendrakisore decided to start first Calcutta based high quality printing process. Soon his effort brought him international prizes for best quality printing reproduction. Soon he started to order cameras and various pieces of half tone equipments from British. The money for such investment came from selling most of his share in the zamindari to his foster brother Narendrakisore, who was in charge of it, following his father, Harikisore’s death.

 Read Part I, click here

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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Articles


Charu and Bimala – A Small Study

Often the comparison comes between these two characters that Ray created for two of his best films. Charu or Charulata, from the film Charulata (The Lonely Wife) and Bimala from Ghare Baire (The home and the World). Let us study the similarities and their differences.

Both the films were adopted from Rabindranath Tagore’s novel. Both are set with the background of a zamindar’s mansion, and both deals with a triangle relationship, where a childless woman emerges from traditional constraints into unfulfilled sadness. Although the two films are quite similar in there happenings and theme. Yet the two differ in their fundamental structure, like the tone, key and texture.  In case of Charulata, the story deals with unrequited love. Where as in Ghare Baire, the story depicts a high level tragedy, shorn of easy romance. It also confronts the wider effects of their own deficiencies.  The vision in Ghare Baire is deeper, mature and also quite darker than Charulata.


Once Ray commented on Ghare Baire, where he said, “There is a kind of tension in the film, you know everything is going to fall apart.


About the women in these two films, Charu is creative, smart. Whereas Bimala was not. That is the basic difference between them. And it was this difference that affects each frame of the two films. Bimala is a much more conventional type of woman, who concludes that God will punish her for her wrong doings. Bu on the other side, Charu feels no guilty at her feeling for her brother in law, Amal. All Charu’s emotions are more intense and finely tunes than Bimala’s, and it is this fact that fills the film with a grace, that is denied to its successor by ray’s design.

Coming to the music, both are composed by Ray himself. And both are considered as one of his best compositions. For each film of the two, Ray imaginatively adapted the lovely tune of a Tagore song in various ways. But in Charulata, only one tune dominates the entire film. Regarding the musicality, both the films differ. In Charulata it sounds like Mozart’s operas, whereas the Ghare Baire reminds us of Beethoven.


On this Ray once said, “It is the movement and growth of the character and relationships that is more important than what’s happening on the surface. But even so there is a kind of musical structure and development.”

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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Articles


Ramsundar Deo to Satyajit Ray – A Brief History of Ray Family

Part 1

The story begins with Ramsundar Deo, the earliest-known ancestor of Ray family, a Hindu by religion, a youth by age, moved from a village in West Bengal to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), wondering there, he reached a village called ‘Serpur’ where at the local zamindar’s house he met the ruler of a nearby place called ‘Yasodal’. He likes Ramsundar for his quick intelligence and invited him to Yasodal. There Ramsundar was given a piece of land, a house and a daughter in marriage. Ramsundar spent his life administrating the property of his in law’s.

Subsequently, the generations of his family live there in Yasodal, and later moved further deep into the east, a place called ‘Masua’. It was located on the other side of the Brahmaputra river. The family across time gathered wealth and education and also acquired the title of ‘Majundar’, a common Bengali surname which means ‘revenue accountant’. The actual surname which the family uses today was another honorific title ‘Ray’. The word was derived from another Bengali word ‘Raja’ (means king).  Then in the latter half of the eighteen century the family was further divided into two branches. The reason was a flood that destroyed the Masua. As a result the family, one of which became noted for its learning, the other for its wealth and piety got separated in course of time and situation.

Among the two families, one was lead by Ramkanta Majundar. A man of talent, he was very fluent in several languages, an expert singer and musician. Not only that, he was a man of great physical strength and courage. It is said that he would eat a full basket of parched rice and a whole jackfruit for breakfast. In another incident it is said that once Ramkanta was sitting in his verandah, when a wild boar attacked him. He grabbed its snout and held it in his vice-like grip before shouting for help.

It was this particular generation that developed the verse in the family, as Ramkanta’s eldest son has this habit of replying to a question in verse. Ramkanta had three sons. Among them the youngest one became a famous scholar in Persian. But the second son, Loknath, was so fluent in Sanskrit, Arabic & Persian that he was able to read aloud in one language from a book written in another so fluently that his listeners would not know that he was actually translating.  But unfortunately, Loknath started taking interest in Tantric yoga in his twenties, which on the other hand was a matter of concern for his father, who thought that his son may go into sannyasi. As a result Ramkanta secretly gathered his books and other sacred objects one day and dropped them in to the river. Loknath was so shattered that he took to a fast and died within three days. As he lay on his death bed he told his weeping wife, who held their only child, ‘Now you have only, but from him will come a hundred!’ –  A famous family story often repeated in Satyajit Ray’s childhood a century later.

Loknath’s son was Kalinath, father of Upendrakisore, great grandfather of Satyajit Ray, was probably born in 1830s. He too was a scholar in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, but not a sannyasi. Kalinath Ray was better known as ‘Munshi (Professor) Syamsundar’ in his time, which was quite an unusual distinction for a Hindu in a period when Islam was in retreat all over the India.

India at that time was under the British rule, and Brahmos were the most energetic group of Bengalis who evolved and reacted strongly both to Christianity, western literature and ideas such as sati in that particular period of time (around 1820s). Founded & lead by Raja Rammohan Roy, the greatest Indian intellectual of nineteenth century.  Later after his death, Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore led the Brahmos. The Ray family became associated with the Brahmos in 1880s.

 Read Part II, click here

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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Articles


Oscar academy restores Satyajit Ray’s banned film Sikkim

Source : Reuters

The Oscars academy has restored a rare print of a controversial film by India’s famed director Satyajit Ray that was banned by Indian censors for glorifying monarchy in a Himalayan kingdom that acceded to India.

Made in 1971, “Sikkim” was about the Himalayan redoubt of the same name ruled by the Chogyals before it acceded to India in 1975 amid some criticism that New Delhi had browbeaten its tiny neighbour. China opposed India’s claim on Sikkim until 2005.
Sikkim is now India’s second smallest state, wedged between Nepal, China and Bhutan, and is strategically important for New Delhi.
Ray scholars say the Indian government’s fears that the documentary depicted monarchy in a way that undermined democracy — at a time when Sikkim faced being annexed by either India or China — was unfounded.
“To imagine Satyajit Ray would glorify monarchy over democracy is utterly wrong because he is the same person who could make films ridiculing monarchy as we see in ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’,” said Arup K. De, head of the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films.
It was thought that all the prints of the hour-long documentary had been destroyed after it was banned by India.
But one was found at the British Film Institute in 2003 and it was restored digitally frame-by-frame by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Audiences in India can watch “Sikkim” for the first time at the 14th Kolkata Film Festival beginning next week. India lifted the ban about four years ago, Sikkim’s art and culture trust said.
“If everything works out, the video version would be shown at the Kolkata Film Festival,” Josef Lindner, the academy’s preservation officer, told Reuters.
“The 35 mm version would be ready by end of the year.”
The academy has undertaken to restore damaged prints of the films of Satyajit Ray, who was awarded a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1992. He received the honour on his death-bed in a hospital in Kolkata.
Lindner said Ray’s “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” (The Chess Players), made in 1977, would be restored next.
The academy has so far restored and preserved 15 of Ray’s feature films and two documentaries, including “Sikkim”.
Ray shot to global fame with “Pather Panchali” (Song of the Little Road), “Aparajito” (The Unvanquished) and “Apur Sansar” (The World of Apu) from his “Apu trilogy” — a coming-of-age narrative describing the childhood, education and early maturity of a young Bengali boy in the early 20th century.
He directed several other films and wrote many books, some of them widely translated into other languages.

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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Articles


Ray’s canvas: From BW to colour

Source: TOI

Last month, the Film Society of Lincoln Center showcased the second part of their Satyajit Ray retrospective.
The programme, ‘Long Shadows: The Late Work of Satyajit Ray’, featured the Bengali master’s films — all restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — from the 1970s, until the end of his career in early 1990s when his health was failing, and that was reflected in their quality.
Two years ago, the film society also presented a bigger retrospective of Ray’s works, ‘First Light: Satyajit Ray from the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy’.

There is a sharp contrast between films shown in the first and the second series. Ray’s works in the 1950s and 1960s were defined by the stark black and white cinematography and narratives that emerge out of these images.
There are life-affirming stories and classic images that stay with us — young Durga and Apu discovering a train for the first time (Pather Panchali); Apu running through the streets of Varanasi, and Harihar’s death and the flight of pigeons (Aparajito); and the countless stunning shots in Charulata.
The advent of colour in Ray’s films in the 1970s changed the texture and the language of his films. I would go this far to say that barring Shatranj Ke Khilari, most of Ray’s films in this second series lack the visual punch, although the filmmaker still had a strong control over his narrative technique. In fact, with films like Heerak Rajar Deshe, Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath — all shown in last month’s series, Ray’s films had become a lot more entertaining.
It was a treat to watch Shatranj Ke Khilari again on the big screen — a grand film based on a two-layered story by Munshi Premchand. Under Ray’s direction, Shatranj is a sumptuous desert, filled with delicious Urdu dialogues, brilliant — sometimes hilarious, performances across the board by a dream cast (Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Farooq Shaikh, Amjad Khan, Victor Banerjee and even Sir Richard Attenborough), spectacular costumes (I was especially blown away by the large shawls worn by Kumar and Jaffrey), music, dances and intricately detailed production design.

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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Articles