Satyajit Rai … the true face of India


When the West was surprised by the movie “Song of the Little Way” (1955) by the Indian director of Bengali nationalism Satyajit Rai (1921 – 1992); Indian cinema was not known internationally. Film schoolers and movie club members know or have heard of Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi or Yasujiro Ozu from Asia. The most famous was Kurosawa. Ouzou was known, but his films did not arrive much. At the time, movie theaters were the only way to watch movies. Asian cinema was known to Europeans more than Americans, who were influenced by Hollywood’s view of orientalists as elusive and untrustworthy. The “Song of the Small Road” showed a different face to the East: the characters were not yellow or small-eyed, but rather brown. The film’s script differed slightly from the one prevailing at the time in the East (the Japanese scenario), as Satyajit Rai (“Chess Players”, “The Stranger”, “The Only Wife”, “The Hero”) is somewhat close to the European narrative. “The Song of Al-Tariq Al-Saghir” was the first in Rai’s cinematic career, after him he presented “The Invincible” (1956) and “Alam Abu” (1956). These three films formed what is known as the “Abu Trilogy”. In India, divided by class, Rai was born in Calcutta from a family of artists, doctors and scholars, he was able to study in Bengali and foreign universities. He founded the “Calcutta Film Association”, a type of movie club that allowed him to watch many foreign films. He traveled to Paris, where he became friends with director Jean Renoir and was his assistant in the movie “The River” (1951). In London, he saw the movie “The Bike Thief” (1948) by Italian Vittorio De Sica, which prompted him to devote himself to cinema. Rai was a stranger in India which produced the most amount of films in the world. He did not find his place. He wasn’t speaking their cinematic language. To him, cinema was something else. Ray Cinema is imbued with memories of Renoir and with neo-Italian realism. Rai al-Gharib, however, paved a different path, concerned with the social issue and the bad conditions in which his people lived. And because many of those who were working in cinema in her time in India were not professionals; He was not only the director and writer for his films but the translator, musician, photographer, author and even the movie poster designer.

A cinema infused with memories of Renoir and with neo-Italian realism

In the “Abu Trilogy”, there is realistic cinema, as if you were watching a documentary film of decisive moments in the life of the hero Abu. We live with him and his family all the time, from the stages of his childhood to the age of maturity and adulthood, until we reach a broad and broad end about man and life. The trilogy can be described as about death, Abu lives to see the death of those close to him, his relationship with members of his family complex, as well as his reaction to their deaths. A national saga that begins in the countryside where Abu was born. We move with him to the city, work and his relationship to religion in the holy city of Banares, then to the endeavors and ambitions to expand the province of Calcutta. The trilogy carries heavy themes, somewhat emotional. Cinema of a human nature, which tends towards contemplation and slow rhythm, gives priority to characters at the expense of dramatic escalation of events, and bears a degree of apparent simplicity despite its internal complexities.
Ray’s camera always looks at characters’ faces unhindered, in a transparent but misleading way. Ray understands well that it is not enough just to put the camera in front of the actor to play his role. He had wisdom in choosing space, frame, angle and lighting. Ray’s scenes were as smooth as no escape for the audience from the characters. In the way he directed the filming, he would force the actors to look up and lift and open the eyes to provide us with the most glances. To him, eyes were an open window, a beautiful and at the same time simple and natural resource revealing a lot. Shifts image sizes from more intimate and closer to generic snapshots of group scenes, which act as a picture of social stratification. 100 years after his birth, Rai is still the most famous director in Hindi cinema. Prolific, he directed 37 films, including fiction, documentary and short. Rai dealt with social and political problems in India from different aspects: inequality, unemployment, capitalist exploitation and corruption, lack of education, oppression of women. Introduce Indian women in a new way: Hakimat mocking the absurdity of the modern world. Ray never studied cinema, but he lived in it. New realist cinema pushed him to work with unprofessional actors because his films were all about the human side. He addressed the old traditional behaviors and looked at them with an informed view. Despite the realism of his films, he fed them with myths and fairytale-like tales. His films have a special taste, just like Indian cakes taste, because food and food play an important role in Rai’s films. In his cinema he presented existential narratives, in an uncomplicated way, which are pleasant to pass through and whisper before our eyes.

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