Satyajit Ray - Story & Script

Ray made 29 feature films (36 including shorts and documentaries). Only six screenplays of these feature length films were entirely original. These were: Kanchenjungha (1962), Nayak (The Hero, 1966), Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 19740), Joi baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1978), Hirak Rajar Dese (The Kingdom of diamonds, 1980), Shakha Prashakha (Branches of the Tree, 1990) and Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991). More than half of these were based on short stories or novels written by him earlier.

“When I write my own story, I use characters and milieus I am familiar with. I can deal with something I do not know at first hand only with the help of someone who does (Bibhutibhushan’s village, Tarasankar’s world of Zamindars/landlords, Tagore’s Renaissance Bengal).” he wrote.

After the Apu Trilogy, he moved away from such long-time-span stories and extended sagas. He believed that ‘the long-short-story’ was most suited for a two-hour duration feature film.

In his original screenplays, he preferred exploring the development of characters a restricted time-space domain. Kanchenjungha (1962) shows 100 odd minutes in the life of a group in the hill-station of Darjeeling, Nayak (The Hero, 1966) depicts a period of twenty-four hours in a train…

While adapting a story or a novel, Ray treated the original stories without inhibitions, often making significant departures from the originals. He said in his ‘Our Films, Their Films’, “When I am using someone else’s story, it obviously means that I find some aspects of the story attractive for certain reasons. These aspects are always evident in the film. Others, which I find unsatisfactory, are either left out or modified to suit my needs. I do not give a thought to purist who rage at departure from the original”.

Ray preferred dialogues that were “realistic” as opposed to smart lines or natural speech. “It is not as if it’s off a tape-recorder, because then you would be wasting precious footage. You have to strike a mean between naturalism and a certain thing which is artistic, which is selective”, he once wrote in an article for a newspaper.

Satyajit Ray's sketches for Pather Panchali story board
Satyajit Ray's sketches for Pather Panchali story board