Satyajit Ray - Critical and Popular Response

Critical and Popular Response

Ray's work has been described as full of humanism and universality, and of a deceptive simplicity with deep underlying complexity. The Japanese director Akira Kurosawa said, "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." But his detractors find his films glacially slow, moving like a "majestic snail." Some find his humanism simple-minded, and his work anti-modern; they criticize him for lacking the new modes of expression or experimentation found in works of Ray's contemporaries, such as Jean-Luc Godard. As Stanley Kauffman wrote, some critics believe that Ray "assumes can be interested in a film that simply dwells in its characters, rather than one that imposes dramatic patterns on their lives." Ray said he could do nothing about the slow pace. Kurosawa defended him by saying that Ray's films were not slow, "His work can be described as flowing composedly, like a big river".

Critics have often compared Ray to artists in the cinema and other media, such as Anton Chekhov, Renoir, De Sica, Howard Hawks or Mozart. The writer V. S. Naipaul compared a scene in Shatranj Ki Khiladi (The Chess Players) to a Shakespearean play; he wrote, "only three hundred words are spoken but goodness! – terrific things happen." Even critics who did not like the aesthetics of Ray's films generally acknowledged his ability to encompass a whole culture with all its nuances. Ray's obituary in The Independent included the question, "Who else can compete?"

Political ideologues took issue with Ray's work. In a public debate during the 1960s, Ray and the Marxist filmmaker Mrinal Sen engaged in an argument. Sen criticized him for casting a matinée idol such as Uttam Kumar, whom he considered a compromise. Ray said that Sen only attacked "easy targets", i.e. the Bengali middle-classes. Advocates of socialism said that Ray was not "committed" to the cause of the nation's downtrodden classes; some critics accused him of glorifying poverty in Pather Panchali and Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) through lyricism and aesthetics. They said he provided no solution to conflicts in the stories, and was unable to overcome his bourgeoisie background. During the naxalite movements in the 1970s, agitators once came close to causing physical harm to his son, Sandip. Early in 1980, Ray was criticized by an Indian M.P. and former actress Nargis Dutt, who accused Ray of "exporting poverty." She wanted him to make films to represent "Modern India."

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