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A Ray of Hope

Portrait of Bengali Filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921-1992)

I always thought that I was pretty good about seeing a goodly number of great films from around the world. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies (TCM), I found that I had somehow missed out on the films of Satyajit Ray of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). I had seen a number of Merchant-Ivory productions, but not a single film by India’s greatest filmmaker.

TCM decided to celebrate the Centennial of Ray’s birth by presenting a number of his films. I plan to see a number more of them in the weeks to come, but over the last week, I have seen the following:

  • Pather Panchali (1955), the first film in the Apu trilogy and my favorite
  • Aparajito (1957), the second film of the Apu trilogy
  • The World of Apu (1959), the final film of the Apu trilogy
  • The Big City (1969)

Poster for Ray’s The Apu Trilogy

What I love about the Ray films I have seen is not only the poetic realism, but perhaps the most sophisticated and understanding portrait of human relationships I had ever seen on the big screen. In the three Apu films, we see the growth of the boy Apu after having successively lost his sister, father, and mother to early deaths. In The World of Apu and The Big City, Ray has shown us two marriages that seem to thrive even in the face of hardship. When the wife dies in childbirth in The World of Apu, I actually felt bereft, even as Apu himself did.

In fact, I have never seen marriage portrayed more positively, yet realistically, than in Ray’s films. There is nothing in these films of a standard American heartthrob product. His films do not shy away from death, disease, and dire poverty; yet they are almost religiously positive.

When I finish seeing the ten Ray films that TCM showed, I will post more about him and his work.

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