Celebrating Satyajit Ray

Published : Oct 17, 2021 06:00 IST

About three months ago, when this Special Issue dedicated to Satyajit Ray was just an idea, in an unRayesque coincidence as it were, an email landed in my inbox, offering the first ray of hope. The message: “I am a London-based author and journalist, and a long-standing subscriber to Frontline . I’d like to suggest a feature for the magazine…. As you know, 2021 is the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray. My biography of Ray, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye —first published in 1989—is about to be published in a third edition by Bloomsbury Publishing, including some new material. It will appear in India in September 2021, in the U.K. in October, and in the USA in December. Would you like a piece from me on Ray’s birth centenary in an Indian context?”

That was Andrew Robinson, the biographer-turned-friend of Ray, and his message came as a force that gave the initial momentum to the special issue idea. He was so excited about our Project Ray that he had been in touch with me on a day-to-day basis for about three months since he wrote to me first. Apart from writing the lead article, he has been of great help in taking the idea forward by sending me the text of his conversations with Ray over a period, writing a piece on the master film-maker’s French connection and influence, permitting me to reproduce an extract from his book The Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray and the Making of an Epic (Bloomsbury) that describes how Ray vibed with the sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who composed most of the music for the trilogy, paying a tribute to Nemai Ghosh, who is known as Ray’s photographer, and sharing visuals and ideas for visuals that could go in the issue. Satyaki Ghosh, son of Nemai Ghosh, was generous in permitting us to use extraordinary photographs of Ray on sets and film stills from his father’s oeuvre. When we approached the iconic photographer Raghu Rai for an interview, he gladly obliged and also gave us the permission to use some stunning photographs of his beloved Dadu from his forthcoming book.

Also read: A Century of Ray

Film-making, Ray told Andrew once, is a democratic undertaking. So is magazine production. When the idea was broached with the Ray aficionados in our team—Sarbari Sinha, Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay and Ziya Us Salam—they responded as typical aficionados do. Ideas about topics, writers’ names, interviews, photographs and ideas about photographs and other visual elements flowed in as it happens in the story discussion rooms of film-makers. Once the script was finalised after a series of brainstorming sessions, the task was to contact writers, actors who had worked with the master, and directors who were inspired by him. Each one of them responded with a seen-to-be-believed enthusiasm. That was the kind of extraordinary warmth and respect the man evoked three decades after he left the scene and six decades after his Pather Panchali took the film world (the world, literally) by storm—the man who disliked the first Bengali film he saw as a boy, who wanted to become a commercial artist, and who, as a hater of superstition, would have scoffed at a prediction by an astrologer (whom he met at his mother’s instance) that he would become internationally famous ‘through the use of light’. So famous that Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film icon, remarked: “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

The content poured in.

With the rich experience of bringing out 15 special issues of Frontline behind them in the 37 years since the launch of the magazine in 1984, each member of the editorial team plunged into the task of making the content print-ready by editing, allocating pictures without overlap, and designing the pages. The team of editors—V.M. Rajasekhar, K. Jayanthi, Samuel Abraham, N. Subash Jeyan, Sarbari Sinha, Ramesh Chakrapani, Sashikala Asirvatham and Abhirami Sriram—and the designersU. Udaya Shankar and V. Srinivasan worked tire l essly over the past fortnight (50 per cent of them working from home, which often trebled production time) to make this 132-page commemorative issue a reality—an issue that reflects the world view that shaped Ray’s films and how the world viewed him.

The Song of the Road continues to reverberate.

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