A war of letters in Kolkata’s leading daily The Statesman was published in 1965. Satyajit Ray criticized Mrinal Sen’s movie Akash Kusum as a crow film. To this, Mrinal Sen retorted sharply. Ray also wrote back with true spirit. Letters from both continued for quite some time after which The Statesman intelligently put a full stop to the war of words between the two maestros.
Never were Ray or Sen vulgar in their comments hitting under the belts of each other. Mrinal Sen always admired Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito, Devi and Charulata as masterpieces. Satyajit Ray appreciated the grave political concerns Mrinal Sen depicted in his brilliant Calcutta Trilogy- Calcutta 71, Interview and Padatik. Both shared countless moments discussing subjects related to cinema, literature, politics among others. When Satyajit Ray was presented the Legion D’ Honor by French President Giscard D’Estaing in the late 80s, Mrinal Sen was by his side cheering Satyajit Ray. It is not without reason Mrinal Sen said till his last days that according to him the three top names of Indian cinema were Ray, Ray and Ray.
As his centenary carries on hundreds of tributes are being given to Satyajit Ray. Not only the leading filmmaker from India, but he also ranks among the last millennium’s all-time greats. Martin Scorsese, an ardent Ray admirer, stated, ”Viewing Shatranj Ke Khiladi I marveled at Satyajit Ray’s mastery over every department of film making. The Apu Trilogy remains a classic cinematic experience which every film lover still cherishes.”
A reserved and quiet person, Satyajit Ray was believed by many as a proud, egoist person. True he never opened himself to everyone. Only if he developed full confidence in someone did Ray allow him/her to come near himself. This myth is broken by his son Sandip Ray who says, “Ritwik Ghatak and Tarun Majumdar were frequent visitors to our residence. Baba shared an excellent rapport with them and all the three had a mutual set of unspoken ethics with genuine silent regard for each other.”
Satyajit Ray had a soft corner for Tapan Sinha. When the latter was scripting Khudito Pashan, he was initially confused. Ray came to his rescue by sketching a fort, similar to Fatepur Sikri and it helped Tapan Sinha to complete his script. Sinha fondly remembered Ray complimenting him for Khaniker Athiti and Ek Doctor Ki Maut. He also affectionately admonished Sinha for directing inane Hindi films like Zindagi Zindagi and Sagina. Tapan Sinha considered Ray the greatest filmmaker he saw in his lifetime from India.
Watch a video here which paid unique tribute to the legendary filmmaker. Courtesy: FFSI
Ray always encouraged young talented filmmakers like Ajay Kar, Bijay Bose and Pijush Bose to make decent films in their styles. Never did he impose his views on anyone. Remembers Goutam Ghose, “Manikda (Ray) was a guardian like a figure to us. I learned many aspects of filmmaking like detailing, time management and handling of actors from him. When my Antarjali Yatra faced hurdles at the censors, Manikda, Mrinalda and Tapanda gave strong statements in the media supporting me.”
Goutam Ghose also fondly remembers before the shooting of Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray, Subrata Mitra, Banshi Chandragupta and director Asit Sen shot a trial of the film at Everest Studio with a wall camera. The results were fruitful. Satyajit Ray respected and cared for everyone in his team irrespective of his designation.
Never did Ray look down on anyone. Says Sharmila Tagore, “The way Manikda handled me in my teens in Apur Sandar and Devi are memories I always cherish. Viewing Devi Ingar Berman informed Manikda my eyes haunted him even in his dreams. Manikda was so happy hearing it.”
Not only in Bengal, but Satyajit Ray also shared the best of vibes with film personalities throughout the nation. Govind Nihalani says, “When Shyam Benegal and I were at Manikda’s residence to shoot a documentary on him, he was truly co-operative. Never did Manikda throw any tantrums. As he spoke with pauses in his inimitable baritone we were mesmerized listening like students.”
While Adur Gopalkrishan always states, “Ray along with Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen are my sole inspirations as directors.”
Ray’s cinematographer Subrata Mitra remembered till he breathed his last how Ray and he shared the best vibes though they separated after Nayak.
Decency, courtesy and commitment were some of Ray’s assets. No wonder his association with film people was warm, cordial and genuine. While sharing lunch with him at Taj Mahal, Agra even iconic David Lean commented, “Satyajit Ray is truly humane, grounded in reality, dreaming practically.”