The Instant Expert's Guide to Satyajit Ray

Although stars get all the adulation, it's directors who have shaped screen history. In its popular Instant Expert series, Cinema Paradiso offers essential guides to the artists and artisans who have called the shots on the best films ever made. This time, the focus falls on Satyajit Ray, whose seminal Apu Trilogy celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. But, while this Bengali maestro became an arthouse icon, his career is also full of surprises.

While Bollywood provided glitz and glamour in the masala melodramas that teemed with catchy melodies, the Parallel Cinema fashioned from the mid-1950s by Satyajit Ray in Bengal appealed much more to cineastes outside the subcontinent. In addition to writing his own original scenarios, Ray often designed the costumes and sets, operated the camera and edited and scored action he often played out for his casts so that they understood precisely how he wished a scene to pan out. It was not unusual for Ray to create his own credits and film posters, too, as he had studied for a fine arts degree under Rabindranath Tagore in the early 1940s.

A Winding Road

Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 2 May 1921, Satyajit Ray came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, had founded a publishing house that gave him the wealth to establish the 19th-century social activist group, Brahmo Samaj. Father Sukumar Ray was also a respected Bengali author, who has specialised in the Abol tabol form of nonsense verse that influenced his son's development as an award-winning children's writer. However, Sukumar died when Satyajit was only three and he was raised on modest means by his mother, Suprabha. She persuaded him to study under the pioneering polymathic poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who became his mentor. While studying at Santiniketan, Ray also discovered the Indian artists Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee, whom he profiled in the short 1972 documentary, The Inner Eye.

In 1943, Ray became a graphic designer at the advertising company, DJ Keymer. However, he was happier creating book covers for Signet Press and was greatly taken with Aam Antir Bhepu, a children's version of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's semi-autobiographical novel, Pather Panchali. It was during this period that Ray helped set up the Calcutta Film Society and he developed a taste for Hollywood cinema through his contact with the Allied soldiers based in the city. Of greater significance, however, was his meeting in 1949 with Jean Renoir, who had come to Bengal to make The River (1951). Ray acted as a location scout during the shoot and the Frenchman encouraged him to bring Pather Panchali to the screen. The following year, Ray visited the Keymer offices in London and, among the 99 films he saw during his stay was Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), which taught him that 'the raw material of cinema is life itself' and convinced him to devote himself to film-making.

Branching Out From Bengal

In 1951, encouraged by Renoir and John Huston (who was in India scouting locations for The Man Who Would Be King - which he wouldn't get to realise for another 24 years), and backed by a government grant, Ray began filming Pather Panchali/A Song of the Little Road (1955). The first in the acclaimed 'Apu' trilogy, it astounded everyone when it won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, particularly as it had been filmed on weekends and holidays over a four year period, with Ray having to pawn his wife's jewellery to complete the shoot. Influenced by Renoir, Robert Flaherty and Italian neo-realism, the story of a young Bengali Brahmin boy's introduction to the ways of the world is remarkable for its simplicity, humanity, the restraint of its non-professional cast and for Ray's focus on the interaction of the characters and the revelation of their inner lives.

Evocatively photographed by Subrata Mitra and scored by Ravi Shankar, this astute blend of domestic drama and social comment was followed by Aparajito/The Unvanquished (1956), which sees Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) pass from school in Benares to university in Calcutta. With his camera scarcely still for a second, Ray paints a fascinating picture of Indian life, as he considers the clash between traditional custom and Western ideas. The action focuses on Apu's relationship with his mother and the sharp contrasts between his simple country background and the bustle of city life. It lacks some of the poignancy of its predecessor, but this is still a remarkable and deeply felt film, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

The triptych concluded with Apur Sansar/The World of Apu (1959). Adapted from another Bandopadhyay novel, the unexpectedly linear narrative centres on Soumitra Chatterjee bid to become a writer and his struggle to accept Alok Chakravarty, the son whose birth caused the death of his beloved wife, Sharmila Tagore. Shooting on location in detail-packed long takes, Ray coaxes heartfelt performances from his largely non-professional cast to ensure a fittingly humanist conclusion to this sublimely cinematic masterpiece.

With their superb pacing, painterly compositions, perceptive characterisation and masterly use of the mise-en-scène technique, Ray's compassionate, poetic studies of Bengali life were much admired abroad. While waiting to complete the Apu series, Ray made Parash-Pathar/The Philosopher's Stone, in which humble clerk Tulsi Chakraborty finds a stone that can turn iron into gold, and Jalsaghar/The Music Room (both 1958). Although he excelled at surveying the contemporary scene, Ray could also do justice to historical subjects, as he proved with Devi/Goddess (1960). Set in Chandipur in 1860, this harrowing drama questions the extent to which religious belief is shaped by celestial or temporal forces, as Sharmila Tagore is installed as a goddess by her zamindar father-in-law, Chabbi Biswas, after she cures a sick child.

Women are also to the fore in Teen Kanya/Two Daughters (1961), which draws on stories by Rabindranath Tagore for 'The Postmaster', a study in betrayal in which a kindly man falls for the waif he teaches to read and write and 'Samapti/The Conclusion', in which a mummy's boy rebels against an arranged marriage to wed the local tomboy.

The same year saw Ray accept a commission from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to mark the centenary of his mentor with a documentary tribute. However, Ray found assembling Rabindranath Tagore to be something of a chore, as few moving images were available and he had to piece together a mosaic from photographic stills. As though inspired by this challenging assignment, Ray produced his first original screenplay for Kanchenjungha (1962), which saw him and Subrata Mitra work in colour for the first time. Following Chhabi Biswas and wife Karuna Bannerjee on a day trip to Darjeeling to arrange a match between their youngest daughter and a London-educated engineer, this was a subtly acerbic comedy of manners that is notable for its exquisite use of the hill town's ever-changing light.

Triumphs and Frustrations

Hurt by the failure of this venture, Ray accepted an offer to adapt Tarashankar Bandopadhyay's novel, Abhijan/The Expedition (1962), which stars Soumitra Chatterjee as a Rajput taxi driver who is suitably embittered by the desertion of his wife to accept an offer to use his 1930s Chrysler to ferry lower caste businessman Charuprakash Ghosh. However, his warrior pride means that he disapproves of his passengers and he is fired from his post and forced to accept the hospitality of Christian convert, Gyanesh Mukherjee, and his teacher sister, Ruma Guha Thakurta. But it's his encounter with prostitute Waheeda Rehman that forces Chatterjee to reassess his attitudes. Seen by some as a major influence on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), this was only a moderate commercial success. But it restored Ray's reputation and he won consecutive Best Director prizes at Berlin for Mahanagar/The Big City (1963) and Charulata/The Lonely Wife (1964).

The focus falls on the seedier side of life in Kapurush/The Coward and Mahapurush/The Holy Man (both 1965), which bore the influence of the nouvelle vague. The former harks back to the self-sacrificial aspects of Mahanagar and Charulata, while also anticipating the exposure of male weakness in Nayak/The Hero (1966). It centres on scriptwriter Soumitra Chatterjee, who is forced to accept the hospitality of tea planter Haradhan Bannerjee when his car breaks down. However, on entering his host's home, Chatterjee realises that his wife is Madhabi Mukherjee, whose love he was too timid to embrace as a student when she risked alienating her family in order to marry him.

Very much a miniature, this laudably restrained melodrama originally formed part of a double bill with Mahapurush, a wry treatise on religious charlatanism that ranks among Ray's most enjoyable outings. Widower Prasad Mukherjee is so impressed with holy man Charuprakash Ghosh during a train journey that he invites him into his home and seeks his advice in finding a suitor for daughter, Gitali Roy. Realising she can exploit the situation to provoke Satindra Bhattacharya into declaring his affection, Roy pretends to be convinced by Ghosh's tall tales about being ageless and a close confidante of Plato, Christ, Buddha, Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein. And her ruse seems set to work, as Bhattacharya and his friends vow to expose Ghosh as a fraud.

Echoes of Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) can be heard throughout Nayak, Ray's second original scenario that accompanied film star Uttam Kumar on a train journey from Kolkata to Delhi in order to collect a prestigious award. En route, however, he makes the acquaintance of journalist Sharmila Tagore, who coaxes the matinee idol into opening up about his career and off-screen insecurities. As the mask slips during a series of flashbacks, Tagore realises the fragility behind the facade and opts not to publish her scoop. Despite a lukewarm reception, the film earned Ray the Special Jury Prize in Berlin and led to an invitation from Columbia to make his Hollywood bow.

In 1961, Ray had helped revive the children's magazine, Sandesh,  which had originally been published by his grandfather. One of his short stories, 'Bankubabur Bandhu/Banku Babu's Friend', centred on a space traveller who befriends a Bengali village boy after landing on Earth and Ray suggested it might make an amusing film. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke put him in touch with screenwriter Michael Wilson, who was best known for his collaborations with David Lean on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). However, Wilson copyrighted the script for The Alien as a joint venture, even though his contribution had been negligible and Ray was powerless to intervene, as Peter Sellers, Marlon Brando and James Coburn slipped through his casting net.

Given that he had been prevented by his HUAC blacklisting from receiving his credit for Lean's blockbusters, it seems odd that Wilson should have acted in such a high-handed manner. Frustrated by the experience, Ray returned to India. However, he discussed the project in the Winter 1967/68 edition of Sight and Sound and was, therefore, more than a little miffed when he noticed the similarities between his plot and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and ET the Extraterrestrial (1982). Indeed, he went so far as to state that the latter 'would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies'. Spielberg denied any plagiarism, as did the producers of Rakesh Roshan's Koi... Mil Gaya/I Found Someone (2003). Eventually, Sandip Ray brought his father's vision to the screen when Kaushik Sen directed Bankubabur Bandhu for television in 2008.

Feeling disenchanted, Ray undertook Chiriyakhana/The Zoo (1967) after the underlings entrusted with the project ran into difficulties. Adapted from a Sharadindu Bandopadhay whodunit and rarely seen outside India, it's set in a colony outside Kolkata for those disowned by society. Amongst its residents are Shyamal Ghoshal, a doctor who used to perform illegal abortions, and retired judge Sushil Majumdar, who sent over 20 prisoners to the gallows. The latter hires python-owning private detective Uttam Kumar to track down the actress who sang his favourite filmi song. But, as Kumar poses as a Japanese horticulturist, he stumbles across an old murder case and two more deaths follow before he gets to the heart of the mystery.

Answering His Critics

As he approached his fifties, Ray became increasingly pessimistic, as he sought to respond to accusations from the likes of fellow Parallel Cinema director Mrinal Sen and actress-turned-politician Nargis Dutt that his work lacked connection with the great social and political issues afflicting India, as the Naxalite movement committed terrorist acts throughout Bengal and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi virtually became a dictator after the imposition of martial law. Yet, he scored a box-office hit with Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne/The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1969), which remains a firm favourite with children five decades after it was made.

Following a satirical swipe at the folly of macho youth in Aranyer Din Ratri/Days and Nights in the Forest (1970), Ray bit back at his critics with the political trilogy of Pratidwandi/The Adversary (1970), Seemabaddha/Company Limited (1971) and Jana Aranya/The Middleman (1976), in which he castigated the politicians, businessmen and ordinary citizens who had placed self-interest above the needs of the nation. Having opted against making a film about the Bangladesh Liberation War, Ray looked to the past to recall the 1943 Bengal famine in Ashani Sanker/Distant Thunder (1973) and the 1856 British military takeover of Lucknow in Shatranj Ke Khilari/The Chess Players (1977). He also cast Soumitra Chatterjee and Lalmohan Ganguly as Feluda and Topshe in two films based on his own Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson-like detective novels, Sonar Kella/The Golden Fortress (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath/The Elephant God (1979).

At the start of the new decade. Ray followed the French television short, Pikoo (1980), with Sadgati/Deliverance (1981). a Hindi adaptation of a story by Munshi Premchand that stars Om Puri as a Dalit, who is forced to work for Brahmin priest Mohan Agashe in order to set a date for his daughter's wedding. However, his despair at the subcontinent's mounting problems continued to gnaw at him and Ray questioned the efficacy of revolutionary politics in Ghare Baire/The Home and the World (1984), an adaptation of Tagore's 1916 novel, which he had considered making as his first feature four decades earlier. Victor Bannerjee stars as a Bengali nobleman, whose comfortable life with wife Swatilekha Sengupta is upset by the arrival of his friend, Soumitra Chatterjee, who has become a revolutionary and supports a ban on the imported goods that are damaging the local economy.

Although it caused controversy by including the first kiss in one of Ray's films, it was overshadowed by the heart attack that limited production over the next few years to Sukumar Ray, a 1987 documentary profile of his father, Two years later, Ray had recovered sufficiently to tackle rural ignorance and prejudice in Ganashatru/An Enemy of the People (1989), an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play that stars Soumitra Chatterjee as a doctor warning that the water at a holy temple is responsible for an epidemic among the peasants. Somewhat surprisingly, Gérard Depardieu co-produced Ray's penultimate picture, Shakha Proshakha/Branches of the Tree (1990), which centres on four generations of a Bengali clan to rail against the spread of corruption and the breakdown of family tradition. But the Frenchman remained on board for Agantuk/The Stranger (1991), a study of bourgeois preconceptions that draws on Ray's short story, 'Atithi'. Bearing a passing resemblance to Daniel Vigne's The Return of Martin Guerre (1984) - in which Depardieu had co-starred with Nathalie Baye - it sees Mamata Shankar and husband Deepankar De come to question whether Utpal Dutt is really her long-estranged anthropologist uncle or a gold-digger after her grandmother's fortune.

Just 24 days after he became the first and only Indian to receive an Honorary Academy Award, Satyajit Ray died on 23 April 1992. He had also been presented with an honorary doctorate by Oxford University in 1978 to reflect his prowess as a writer, critic, composer, calligrapher, illustrator and designer, as well as his distinctive achievements as a film-maker. Among the major subcontinental directors indebted to Ray are Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Gautam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh, while Wes Anderson dedicated The Darjeeling Limited (2007) to him. The most poignant tribute, however, came from Akira Kurosawa, who claimed that 'Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.'

  • Pather Panchali (1955) Song of the Little Road

    2h 5min

    Hailed in some quarters for doing for Indian film what Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) had done for Japanese cinema, Satyajit Ray's $3000 adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's acclaimed novel was very much a labour of love, as he could only work when funding allowed after refusing offers from anyone who wanted to interfere with the script or the shoot. Influenced by Western films, the action is more an accumulation of incidents than a linear narrative, as Apu (Subir Banerjee) and his younger sister, Durga (Shampa Banerjee), savour daily life in a 1920s West Bengali village with their aged aunt, Indir (Chunibala Devi), while mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee) despairs of their unworldly poet-priest father, Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee). The performances of the amateur cast are as remarkable as Bansi Chandragupta's production design, Subrata Mitra's camerawork and Ravi Shankar's score. But it's Ray's humanist touch that makes this so authentic and affecting.

  • Aparajito (1956) The Unvanquished / Apu 2: The Unvanquished

    1h 48min

    Ray hadn't intended making a sequel, let alone a trilogy. But the success of his debut prompted him to return to Apu's youth, as the family ekes out a living in the holy city of Benares, which would later provide the setting (as the renamed Varanasi) for Deepa Mehta's Water (2005) and Shubhashish Bhutiani's Hotel Salvation (2016). Variously played by Pinaki Sengupta and Smaran Ghosal, the wide-eyed innocent drinks in the passing scene, as his father moves to the country and thence to Kolkata to find work. Switching from a poetic to a novelistic style of storytelling, Ray and editor Dulal Dutta continued to flit between episodes, as characters come and go and the camera alights on telling details within the mise-en-scène. Akira Kurosawa claimed that Ray had concocted a kind of cinema that 'flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river'.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Pinaki Sengupta, Smaran Ghosal, Kamala Adhikari
    Genre:
    Classics, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Music Room (1958) Jalsaghar

    1h 35min

    Needing money after Aparajito failed at the box office, Ray teamed with composer Ustad Vilayat Khan to make the first film to include Indian classical music and dance. Based a short story by Tarashankar Banerjee and set in the 1920s, the action centres on Biswambhar Roy (Chabi Biswas), a zamindar or feudal landlord who has frittered away his wealth and now lives in increasingly shabby comfort in a palace maintained by loyal servant Ananta (Kali Sarkar). In bygone times, Biswambhar was restrained by wife Mahamaya (Padma Devi)and son Khoka (Pinaki Sen Gupta). But, since they perished in a boating accident, his profligacy is increasingly exposed by the growing wealth of his money-lending neighbour, Mahim Ganguly (Gangapado Bose). Thus, Biswambhar decides to hold a concert in his re-opened music room with kathak dancer Krishna Bai (Roshan Kumari) to reclaim his status in local society. Many consider this Ray's masterpiece. 

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Chhabi Biswas, Sardar Akhtar, Gangapada Basu
    Genre:
    Classics, Drama, Music & Musicals
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Apur Sansar (1959) The World of Apu

    1h 40min

    Following a private screening of Aparajito, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Ray what was going to happen next and he knew he had to make a concluding episode. It marked the start of a 14-film partnership with Soumitra Chatterjee, whose adult Apu scratches a living while trying to write a novel. However, his life is transformed after he attends a wedding and meets soulmate, Aparna (Sharmila Tagore). Closer in tone to the nouvelle vague than neo-realism, the picture sketches in the couple's joys and sorrows before Ray closes on an image of Apu and young son Kajal (Alok Chakraborty) that is worthy of Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Kid (1921). As before, Ray explores emotion through environment and ensures that the camera is as watchful as Apu himself, as it coaxes Indian audiences into accepting that there was a compelling realist alternative to the Bollywood masala.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Alok Chakravarty
    Genre:
    Classics, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Goddess (1960) Devi

    1h 35min

    Inspired by a Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay short story, this treatise on religious fanaticism was briefly banned for disrespecting the goddess Kali. However, the focus falls as much on rural superstition and the passing of a traditional way of life as the tenets of the Hindu faith. Set in Chandipur in 1860, the story centres on wealthy landowner Kalikinkar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), who becomes convinced that his 17 year-old daughter-in-law, Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore), is the reincarnation of Kali. Crowds flock to the estate when Doyamoyee is credited with a miracle and even sceptical husband Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) starts to believe. But her divinity is tested when her nephew, Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury), falls ill. Working once again with Subrata Mitra, Ray departs from his customary realism to achieve some hauntingly stylised images that merit comparison with those in Ordet (1955), Carl Theodor Dreyer's adaptation of Kaj Munk's play about religious delusion.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Sharmila Tagore, Soumitra Chatterjee, Chhabi Biswas
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Mahanagar (1963) The Big City

    2h 2min

    Drawn from two stories by Narendranath Mitra, this study of the role of women in a changing urban society was due to be Ray's second feature. But funding and casting difficulties meant his first brush with contemporary life had to wait eight years. Nevertheless, it earned him the Best Director prize at Berlin for exposing the lingering legacy of India's colonial past, shifting attitudes to the elderly and the emergence of a new generation of independent women. With money being tight, Kolkata bank clerk Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee) reluctantly allows wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) to become a sales rep. When she becomes the main breadwinner, however, Subrata becomes increasingly insecure and as chauvinist as his traditionalist father, Priyogopal (Haren Chatterjee). There's a satirical sting to the story, but the subplot about the treatment of Anglo-Indian employee Edith (Vicky Redwood) by boss Himangshu (Haradhan Bannerjee) is darkly unsettling.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Charulata (1964) The Lonely Wife

    1h 54min

    Based on Rabindranath Tagore's novella, 'Nastanirh/The Broken Nest', and revealing the influence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jean Renoir, this was Ray's favourite of his own films, as he felt it couldn't be improved upon in any way. Set during the 19th-century Bengal Renaissance, it stars Madhabi Mukherjee as the bored wife of liberal newspaper editor Sailen Mukherjee, who is disconcerted when visiting cousin Soumitra Chatterjee encourages his wife to start writing and thinking for herself, just as his own fortunes take a downturn after he is swindled by his brother, Syamal Ghosal. Scored by Ray himself, exquisitely designed by Bansi Chandragupta and fluently photographed by Subrata Mitra to suggest Mukherjee's growing sense of emancipation, this is directed with insightful sensitivity and a growing sense of cinematic confidence, as Ray deftly employs a series of freeze frames in the same manner as François Truffaut in The 400 Blows (1959).

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Shailen Mukherjee
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Adversary (1972) Pratidwandi / Siddharta and the City

    1h 50min

    Based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay, the first part of Ray's 'Calcutta trilogy' confounds the criticism that he skirted contemporary issues. The Maoist Naxalite movement comes to the fore in this assessment of the speed of socio-political change, as Siddhartha Chaudhuri (Dhritiman Chatterjee) is forced to find work after his father's death disrupts his medical studies. Unable to get along with his radical activist brother, Tunu (Debraj Roy), or free-spirited sister, Tapa (Krishna Bose), Siddhartha befriends Keya (Jayshree Roy), the student daughter of a widowed tax man who plans to marry her aunt. Making bold use of photo-negative flashbacks to comment on the narrative, human fragility and the superficiality of modern existence, this is one of Ray's angrier films, as he harangues foreign hippies seeking enlightenment, the corrupt and complacent bourgeoisie and the entrenched civic authorities ignoring the plight of refugees teeming in from the countryside.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Dhritiman Chatterjee, Asgar Ali, Arabinda Banerjee
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Company Limited (1971) Seemabaddha

    1h 53min

    There's a hint of Frank Capra about this adaptation of a Manisankar Mukherjee novel about Kolkata's educated middle classes that Ray hoped would silence the domestic critics accusing him of ignoring the subcontinent's myriad social and political problems. Idealistic marketing manager Barun Chanda is desperate to become a director of a British firm manufacturing electric fans. However, nepotism threatens to thwart his ambition. So, when adoring sister-in-law Sharmila Tagore arrives in Kolkata on a visit from Patna, Chanda treats her to a whirl of cocktail parties and race meetings to gain her confidence before confiding that he has contrived a strike at the factory to prevent the problem order from being discovered. More a satirical morality play than a hard-hitting critique, this bold blend of poetry and stark realism allows Ray to use the excellent Chanda's relationship with wife Parumita Chowdhury to expose his weakness and perfidy.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Sharmila Tagore, Barun Chanda, Paromita Chowdhury
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Chess Players (1977) Shatranj Ke Khilari

    1h 55min

    Set in Lucknow on the eve of the 1857 rebellion, this adaptation of a Munshi Premchand story was Ray's most expensive film and his first in Hindi. Narrated by Amitabh Bachchan and featuring familiar Bollywood and British stars, the action uses the chess games being played by indolent landlords Mirza Sajjad Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey) to comment on the East India Company's bid to capture the Nawab of Awadh (Amjad Khan), who is more interested in poetry, music and philosophy than politics. Casting Richard Attenborough as the general wrestling with his conscience after being ordered to seize control to protect corporate and colonial interests, Ray examines the grey shades of history rather than recycling clichés. However, there's also an allegorical element to this simmering drama, as Ray criticises compatriots for acquiescing in the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.

    Director:
    Satyajit Ray
    Cast:
    Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Comedy
    Availability:
    DVD

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