Satyajit Ray - Film Craft

Film Craft

Satyajit Ray considered script-writing to be an integral part of direction. Initially he refused to make a film in any language other than Bengali. In his two non-Bengali feature films, he wrote the script in English; translators interpreted it in Hindi or Urdu under Ray's supervision. Ray's eye for detail was matched by that of his art director Bansi Chandragupta. His influence on the early films was so important that Ray would always write scripts in English before creating a Bengali version, so that the non-Bengali Chandragupta would be able to read it. The craft of Subrata Mitra garnered praise for the cinematography of Ray's films. A number of critics thought that his departure from Ray's crew lowered the quality of cinematography in the following films. Though Ray openly praised Mitra, his single-mindedness in taking over operation of the camera after Charulata caused Mitra to stop working for him after 1966. Mitra developed "bounce lighting", a technique to reflect light from cloth to create a diffused, realistic light even on a set. Ray acknowledged his debts to Jean-Luc Godard and Fran├žois Truffaut of the French New Wave for introducing new technical and cinematic innovations.

Ray's regular editor was Dulal Datta, but the director usually dictated the editing while Datta did the actual work. Because of financial reasons and Ray's meticulous planning, his films were mostly cut "on the camera" (apart from Pather Panchali). At the beginning of his career, Ray worked with Indian classical musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan. He found that their first loyalty was to musical traditions, and not to his film. He had a greater understanding of western classical forms, which he wanted to use for his films set in an urban milieu. Starting with Teen Kanya, Ray began to compose his own scores.

He used actors of diverse backgrounds, from famous film stars to people who had never seen a film (as in Aparajito). Robin Wood and others have lauded him as the best director of children, pointing out memorable performances in the roles of Apu and Durga (Pather Panchali), Ratan (Postmaster) and Mukul (Sonar Kella). Depending on the talent or experience of the actor, Ray varied the intensity of his direction, from virtually nothing with actors such as Utpal Dutt, to using the actor as "a puppet" (Subir Banerjee as young Apu or Sharmila Tagore as Aparna). Actors who had worked for Ray praised his customary trust but said he could also treat incompetence with "total contempt".

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