Simple Satyajit

Simple Satyajit

Chandi Mukherjee08 May 2008

Satyajit Ray (Born: 2nd May,1921) made 28 feature films apart from many short film and documentaries in 36 years of his film career. Such simple statistics shows that as a filmmaker, he was consistent in getting producers for his films. Unless anybody gets back his money, he won't be interested in producing more films any more. Unless the producers of Satyajit Ray got back their money, how they could finance him over such a long period of time.

Satyajit Ray (Born: 2nd May,1921) made 28 feature films apart from many short film and documentaries in 36 years of his film career. Only such a simple statistics shows that as a film maker he was consistent in getting producers for his films. Unless anybody gets back his money, he wont be interested in producing more films any more. Producers of Satyajit Ray got back their money probably, unless how they could finance him over such a long period of time. So logically we can say as a director he was a “Safe Director” in the eye of the producers, and hence we can easily call him a “Successful film maker”. In Indian film history no one is as successful as him for such a long time .This article will try to explore the reasons of his success.

Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky once said,

“If you try to please audiences, uncritically accepting their tastes, it can only mean that you have no respect for them; that you simple want to collect their money; and instead of training the audience by giving them inspiring works of art, you are merely training the artist to ensure his own income.”

Though Satyajit was a ardent admirer of Russian director like Eisewstein, Pudovkin, Dovjhenko and others, he never believed in the theory of the another Russian director Tarkovsky. Satyajit always believed you have to please the spectator. If the spectators are not pleased, they wont come to see your film, and hence the film will flop - and you wont get any producer of your next film.

This is a very simple theory usually followed strictly by the main stream commercial film makers like Swapan Saha, Haranath Chakraborty in Bengali film industry, or likes Chopras, Ghais, Johars in the Hindi film Industry. Satyajit followed this in his first film Pather Panchali(1955) and in his last film Agantuk(1991) and also in other 34 films he made in between. But why then only he was awarded the life-time achievement Oscar award before his death (died: 23rd April,1992), whereas Ashutosh Gowarikar or Amol Palekar couldt even compete in the Oscar Awards by their Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan starrer films? Is it because he was tall? Is it because he could speak English even better than an Englishman? Or, is it because he was the only film maker who could at a time compose music, design the sets & costume, write the dialogue and screenplay, handle the camera movement, and even after that design the publicity lay out of the film?

The answer is, he made simple film on a very simple way which is not easy to do. A question may arise that do I want to mean Swapan Saha, Haranath Chakraborty, the Johars, The Chopras make difficult films? The answer is “No”. They also try to make simple films with simple story line, but at the end they make it which looks like complex. It is because they lack (i) story telling techniques and (ii) adequate sense of proportion. Satyajit had mastered these two aspects of cinema much before his film career.

He acquired the story-telling capacity since childhood from the writing of his father Sukumar Ray and grandfather Upendra Kishore Ray. That he was a master story teller, was proven not only from the success of his films, but also from the success of the hundreds of stories he had written over long three decades .His story books till date are the “Number One” in the selling charts. He knew that the art of the story telling is the key-point in making of a film. And for that reason he always mentioned the name of his two most favorite story teller in film: One was Alfred Hitchcock, and another was Akira Kurosuwa, the two maestros in story telling. He believed that audience all over the world like stories in cinema. Cinema, void of narrative is something he couldnt dream of. He believed even jean Lue Godards films had narrative, but set in a different order, set in a non-linear pattern. Though he was a keen watcher of Godards films he never tried to treat his narrative in a non linear pattern, because non-linearity has not place in Indian story telling style. Being an Indian, Indianness was inherent not only in his creations, but also in his life style.

He acquired the “Sense of proportion” from his art teachers Nandalal Bose and Binod Bihari and also from Western classical music. After graduating from Presidency College, Satyajit went to Shantiniketan to study art. There he got Nandalal Bose and Binod Bihari as his teacher. They taught him on what to look and how to look. That knowledge gave him the clue of framing, point of focus, relationship of foreground -background, selection of proper lenses, in his later professional career Satyajits cinematic frame and his illustrations of stories resemble because he believed both are equally two dimensional illusions and they are the same. His sense of drawing helped him in designing the frame, selecting the lenses. His sense of proportion also came form his immense knowledge of western classical music. The sense of where to stop, and what would be the movement also came from the notes of orchestrated instruments. His characters appear and disappear in the frame as per the appearances and disappearances of musical notes of a particular instrument in a symphony. And ultimately his film becomes like a huge symphony. His characters behave like separate instruments of a symphony giving his films a symphonic structure .the spectator will enjoy a simple story told in a symphonic structure. Which ultimately became a pleasure in the mind of the spectator .It is very difficult to narrate a simple story in a simple way, i.e, symphonic structure. Unless you have a deep knowledge of storytelling, knowledge of drawing and painting, and vast sense of western classical music-you wont be able to do that.

Swapan Saha, Haranath Chakraborty, the Johars, the Chopras lack in this knowledge, though they try to make simple film with simple story line.

Satyajit had applied this knowledge throughout his professional film career from Pather Panchali to Agantuk.

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