Critics on Satyajit Ray

Akira Kurosawa, Film Director

“The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race, which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. … I feel that he is a “giant” of the movie industry.” … ” Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

“I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it (Pather Panchali). It is the kind of cinema that flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river.

People are born, live out their lives, and then accept their deaths. Without the least effort and without any sudden jerks, Ray paints his picture, but its effect on the audience is to stir up deep passions. How does he achieve this? There is nothing irrelevant or haphazard in his cinematographic technique. In that lies the secret of its excellence.”
– As reported in Eksan, 1987 (Translation of remarks made in Moscow in 1975)

Academy Award Citation, 1992

“In recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”

Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate Economics

“The work of Satyajit Ray presents a remarkably insightful understanding of the relations between cultures, and his ideas remain pertinent to the great cultural debates in the contemporary world, not least in India.”
– Satyajit Ray and the art of Universalism, The New Republic, April 1, 1996.

Darius Cooper, Film Critic

“In film after film, he investigates India’s social institutions and the power structures to which they give rise, or vice versa. He works out, in concrete terms, the conflicts and issues of his times, both in his own state of Bengal and in the larger Indian nation.
– The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity, 2000

Elia Kazan, Film Director

“I want to add my voice to those of Scorsese and Merchant in asking the Academy grant Satyajit Ray an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award. I have admired his films for many years and for me he is the filmic voice of India, speaking for the people of all classes of the country…He is the most sensitive and eloquent artist and it can truly be said in his case that when we honor him we are honoring ourselves.”
(Nominating Ray for Life Time Achievement Oscar, 1991)

George Lucas, Film Producer/Screenwriter, 1991

“Satyajit Ray is an extraordinary filmmaker with a long and illustrious career who has had a profound influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world. By honoring Satyajit Ray, the Academy will help bring his work to the attention of a larger public, particularly to young filmmakers, on whom his work will certainly have a positive effect.”
(Nominating Ray for Life Time Achievement Oscar, 1991)

James Ivory, Film Director, 1991

“Satyajit Ray is among the world’s greatest directors, living or dead…Isn’t it curious that the newest, the most modern of the arts, has found one of its deepest, most fluent expressions in the work of an artist like Ray, who must make his seem less films–many have been masterpieces–in a chaotic and volatile corner of one of the world’s oldest cultures, amidst the most stringent shortages of today’s advanced movie-making material and equipment?…It would be fitting to honour this great man, who has influenced so many other film makers in all parts of the world, and to salute him with a Lifetime Award in the spring of 1992.”
(Nominating Ray for Life Time Achievement Oscar, 1991)

John Schlesinger, Film Director/Producer/Writer, 1991

“…his extraordinary body of work has not only greatly influenced so many filmmakers, but has profoundly affected their humanitarian attitude. The seeming “simplicity” of his films is the mark of a truly great master and I would be overjoyed if he were to be honored by the Academy.”
(Nominating Ray for Life Time Achievement Oscar, 1991)

Martin Scorsese, Film Director

” Ray’s magic, the simple poetry of his images and their emotional impact, will always stay with me.”

“We would like to bring to your attention, and to the attention of the distinguished board of directors of the Academy, a master filmmaker, Satyajit Ray… Though somewhat unwell, during the past few years he has completed two additional films, centered around his deeply humanitarian vision. His work is in the company of that of living contemporaries like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini.”
(Nominating Ray for Life Time Achievement Oscar, 1991)

“I was in high school and I happened to see ‘Pather Panchali’ on television. Dubbed in English. With commercials. “It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. The image of the Indian culture we had had before, and I’m talking I was 14 years old or 15 years old, were usually through colonialist eyes. And when Satyajit Ray did his films you suddenly not understood the culture because the culture was so complex but you became attached to the culture through the people, and it didn’t matter what they were speaking, what they were wearing, what their customs were. Their customs were very, very interesting and surprising, and you suddenly began to realize there are other cultures in the world.”
– Martin Scorsese Pays Tribute to Satyajit Ray , Washington Post, February 28, 2002

Pauline Kael, Film Critic (I Lost It At The Movies, 1965)

“Like Renoir and DeSica, Ray sees that life itself is good no matter how bad it is. It is difficult to discuss art which is an affirmation of life, without fear of becoming maudlin. But is there any other kind of art, on screen or elsewhere? “In cinema,” Ray says, “we must select everything for the camera according to the richness of its power to reveal.”

Ray is sometimes (for us Westerners, and perhaps for Easterners also?) a little boring, but what major artist outside film and drama isn’t? What he has to give us is so rich, so contemplative in approach (and this we are completely unused to in the film medium – except perhaps in documentary), that we begin to accept out lapses of attention during the tedious moments with the same kind of relaxation and confidence and affection that we feel for the boring sketches in the great novels, the epic poems.”

Robert Steel, Film Critic

“[When] I did see [Pather Panchali]… I was bowled over. Here was an Indian film that was a film or that matched my concept of a film and a great one at that. It was the first film made in India that I had ever seen which did not embarrass, annoy, or bore me.”
– Montage Special Issue on Satyajit Ray, 1966

Robin Wood, Film Critic (The Apu Trilogy 1972)

“Can we [the Western audience] feel any confidence that we are adequately understanding, intellectually and emotionally, works which are the product of a culture very different from our own?

… What is remarkable is how seldom in Ray’s films the spectator is pulled up by any specific obstacle arising from cultural differences … Ray is less interested in expressing ideas than in communicating emotional experience. “

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Screen Writer/Author

“Out of his great body of work, my own particular favorite is his film Charulata. Although he was such a superb visual artist, Ray’s main inspiration was literary. He always wrote his own scripts (as well as directing them and composing his own original score!) and his greatest films were all adaptations of favorite novels and stories, including Charulata, which was based on a novella by Tagore. It doesn’t seem to matter through what medium — novels, plays, films, music — the most potent influences reach us. All great works stimulate a hopeful emulation that ends occasionally, as in the films of Satyajit Ray, in radiant success — ensuring the continuation of this business of influence and inspiration that makes us all try and try and try again.”

Ray framing a shot ©Nemai Ghosh
Ray framing a shot ©Nemai Ghosh