Satyajit Ray: Immortal with his Films

"Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." – Akira Kurosawa

One of the greatest film-makers in the world, Satyajit Ray (2, May, 1921 – 23, April 1992) contributed to the Golden age of Art-house Cinema with many great works of his. He was known for his versatility (as a director, music composer, lyricist and writer), the portrayal of humanism and the comprehensive command over his films and music.

"At the age when Bengali youth almost inevitably writes poetry, I was listening to European Classical music."
– Satyajit Ray

Captivated by cinema at a very young age, he was a self-taught filmmaker. He was highly intrigued by the work of eminent directors like De Sica, Fellini, John Ford, and most of his education about film included repeated viewing of film classics by them. His first film Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) was also inspired by Vittorio De Sica‘s The Bicycle Thief (1948); its melancholic storyline, success in spite of non-professional actors and economical means and setting convinced Ray to attempt the film.

"The director is the only person who knows what the film is about." – Satyajit Ray

His first film took two-and-a-half years to complete due to financial constraints. Initially none of the producers were ready to invest in a first-time director with an unconventional plot. He worked with inexperienced crew members working on an unpaid basis. Ray put a lot into this film, including his wife’s jewelry. Released in 1955, Pather Panchali was a huge success and introduced neo-realism in India. With two sequels to the movie, Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), the series were named The Apu Trilogy.

His first film led Ray to be honored by Bharat Ratna, win an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement and many International Awards, along with an unusual accolade by the British Film Institute as one of the three greatest directors in world cinema. The Apu Trilogy is not the best and most influential but is definitely among the greatest films made anywhere, tracing the life of Apu from childhood to parenthood, showing every aspect of the human life. He has made numerous films thereafter but the trilogy has always been considered as one of the best works by Ray.

"I would like my films to last." – Satyajit Ray

After his death, knowing the importance of his films, every effort was made to preserve them. The original negatives of the Apu Trilogy were kept at the Hinderson’s Films Laboratories, South London for restoration and preservation. On July 20 1993, due to a huge nitrate explosion, the lab caught fire and most of the negatives and prints were entirely or mostly damaged, which also included the Apu Trilogy. Severely damaged, the negatives were deemed unusable. Nonetheless, The Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science preserved every piece of film.

"There’s always some room for improvisation." – Satyajit Ray

20 years later, the long forgotten negatives were checked by the L’immagine Ritrovata, Italy. Almost half of the films were found to be retrievable and in remarkable quality. The films were rehydrated and manually repaired by technicians. They spent thousands of hours reconstructing sprocket holes, splices and removing glue, tape and wax. It was scanned in 4K resolution and restored digitally. The Apu Trilogy is put back together frame by frame at the Criterion’s Restoration Lab. It has been considered by far the biggest work done by them.

The films were re-released in May 2015 in New York. It is considered an act of faith for the university to preserve the damaged tape and for the technology to develop 20 years later for the films to be retrieved. It was meant to be.

On your birthday, we pledge and hope, to make your wish stay true, Sir. Your films will remain, forever.

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