From Devi To Charulata (1959–64)
During this period, Ray composed films on the British Raj period (such as Devi), a documentary on Tagore, a comic film (Mahapurush) and his first film from an original screenplay (Kanchenjungha). He also made a series of films that, taken together, are considered by critics among the most deeply felt portrayals of Indian women on screen.
Ray followed Apur Sansar with Devi (The Goddess), a film in which he examined the superstitions in the Hindu society. Sharmila Tagore starred as Doyamoyee, a young wife who is deified by her father-in-law. Ray was worried that the censor board might block his film, or at least make him re-cut it, but Devi was spared. In 1961, on the insistence of Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Ray was commissioned to make a documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, on the occasion of the poet's birth centennial, a tribute to the person who likely most influenced Ray. Due to limited footage of Tagore, Ray faced the challenge of making a film out of mainly static material. He said that it took as much work as three feature films.
In the same year, together with Subhas Mukhopadhyay and others, Ray was able to revive Sandesh, the children's magazine which his grandfather once published. Ray had been saving money for some years to make this possible. A duality in the name (Sandesh means both "news" in Bengali and also a sweet popular dessert) set the tone of the magazine (both educational and entertaining). Ray began to make illustrations for it, as well as to write stories and essays for children. Writing became his major source of income in the years to come.
In 1962, Ray directed Kanchenjungha. Based on his first original screenplay, it was his first film in colour. The film tells of an upper-class family spending an afternoon in Darjeeling, a picturesque hill town in West Bengal. They try to arrange the engagement of their youngest daughter to a highly paid engineer educated in London. He had first conceived shooting the film in a large mansion, but later decided to film it in the famous hill town. He used the many shades of light and mist to reflect the tension in the drama. Ray noted that while his script allowed shooting to be possible under any lighting conditions, a commercial film contingent present at the same time in Darjeeling failed to shoot a single scene, as they only wanted to do so in sunshine.
In the sixties, Ray visited Japan and took particular pleasure in meeting the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, for whom he had very high regard. While at home, he would take an occasional break from the hectic city life by going to places such as Darjeeling or Puri to complete a script in isolation.
In 1964 Ray made Charulata (The Lonely Wife); it was the culmination of this period of work, and regarded by many critics as his most accomplished film. Based on "Nastanirh", a short story of Tagore, the film tells of a lonely wife, Charu, in 19th-century Bengal, and her growing feelings for her brother-in-law Amal. Critics have referred to this as Ray's Mozartian masterpiece. He said the film contained the least flaws among his work, and it was his only work which, given a chance, he would make exactly the same way. Madhabi Mukherjee's performance as Charu, and the work of both Subrata Mitra and Bansi Chandragupta in the film, have been highly praised. Other films in this period include Mahanagar (The Big City), Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), Abhijan (The Expedition) and Kapurush o Mahapurush (The Coward and the Holy Man).
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