Satyajit Ray was an Indian director and screenwriter who virtually introduced Indian cinema to the West with his film Pather Panchali (1955). Many consider Ray one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Ray’s works include: The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), The Music Room (1958), The Big City (1963) and Charulata (1964) and the Goopy–Bagha trilogy.
In 1992, Ray and was awarded an Oscar Award from the acadmey for his lifetime of achievement in filmmaking.
Below we’ve listed our favorite Satyajit Ray quotes, which will not only give us an insight into his filmmaking process but also his approach to life and his work.
Satyajit Ray Quotes on Cinema
Cinema has its own way of telling the truth and it must be left free to function in its own right. I am interested first and last and only in the cinematic way of motion-picture making.
For the cinema it’s much better to be more concentrated in time. It’s an instinctive feeling: I can’t put it into words why I feel like that. The film’s better if the period is a day or a week or fortnight or a month, so that nobody grows up: everybody’s as they were in the beginning.
Cinema’s characteristic forte is its ability to capture and communicate the intimacies of the human mind.
In 1950, I went to England for a while, for my firm, and while I was there, in three months I saw more than 90 films. I was studying, everything, ceaselessly. It was Bicycle Thief that finally gave me the idea of how to make my own film. No stars, and mainly on location
For a film maker, an Oscar is like a Nobel Prize, you know. So I am very happy… delighted. There is nothing more after this. I cannot hope to get anything more prestigious.
On Writing and Film Concept
I don’t start a film with the heroine but with the cinema subject. If there is a woman in the story, she has to be of a particular type. It’s not as if I start with Madhuri Dixit and then think what kind of film.
I’ve made seventeen or eighteen films now, only two of which have been original screenplays, all the others have been based on short stories or novels, and I find the long short story ideal for adaptation.
Last, but not least – in fact, this is most important – you need a happy ending. However, if you can create tragic situations and jerk a few tears before the happy ending, it will work much better.
Somehow I feel that an ordinary person–the man in the street if you like – is a more challenging subject for exploration than people in the heroic mold. It is the half shades, the hardly audible notes that I want to capture and explore.
I had developed this habit of writing scenarios as a hobby. I would find out which stories had been sold to be made into films and I would write my own treatment and then compare it.
When I write an original story I write about people I know first-hand and situations I’m familiar with. I don’t write stories about the nineteenth century.
When a new character appears in your tale, you must describe his looks and clothes in some detail. If you don’t, your reader may imagine certain things on his own, which will probably not fit whatever you say later on.
The only solutions that are ever worth anything are the solutions that people find themselves.
Satyajit Ray Quotes on Film Directing
The director is the only person who knows what the film is about.
Sometimes a director is making three films. Perhaps he is shooting a film in Madras and a film in Bombay and he can’t leave Madras as some shooting has to be done, so he directs by telephone. The shooting takes place. On schedule.
I don’t like morals or messages. This story says true things about India. That was enough for me. It had the quality of truth, the quality that always impresses me, wherever I see it and as I have seen it in films such as Nanook and Louisiana Story, Earth and The Southerner
I hate conventional time lapses. They draw attention to themselves. I like strong modulations from one thing to another. You see, I am always hopefully concerned to get the feeling of the movement of life itself. There are no neat transitions in life. Things make the transition for me. A traveling train, for example. Again, there is no moment of evident transition, say, from childhood to boyhood, or on to youth.
There’s always some room for improvisation.
What is attempted in these film is of course a synthesis. But it can be seen by someone who has his feet in both cultures. Someone who will bring to bear on the films involvement and detachment in equal measure.
The conception of background music is changing. You use less and less of it these days.
Particularly in the final stages I always find that I’m rushed. It’s dangerous when you’re rushed in the editing stage, most of my early films are flawed in the cutting.
Shooting the Film
My cameraman and I devised a method, which we started using from my second film, which applies mainly to day scenes shot in the studio, where we used bounced light instead of direct light. We agreed with this thing of four or five shadows following the actors is dreadful.
Costs have to be held to a minimum in enterprises of this sort. This influences the form and structure of the film itself. It means long takes and the minimum of angles. Then again, in India raw stock is rationed. So you can’t afford to waste any. In any case, I don’t rehearse much. Especially with nonprofessional actors. I find the first spontaneous actions are usually their best. I averaged about three takes. Of course I was deeply aware that we were all learning as we went along. For that reason we shot in sequence so that we would be a little more sure of what we were doing when we reached the moments of dramatic climax.
When I’m shooting on location, you get ideas on the spot – new angles. You make not major changes but important modifications, that you can’t do on a set. I do that because you have to be economical.
I’m not talking, for example, about composition for composition’s sake or anything like that: I shy away from it. It is an aesthetic apart, and not truly cinematic. It is self-conscious, and eventually static. It’s too pictorial. I think Sucksdorff falls into that trap, and so, it seems to me, does the Mexican cameraman Figueroa. For surely in cinema we must select everything for the camera according to the richness of its power to reveal.
Satyajit Ray Quotes Final Words
These amazing quotes from the legendary Indian filmmaker prove there’s still so much to learn.
If you’re looking for more quotes from master film directors, check out our profile article section of the website for quotes from others filmmakers including Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard and more.
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