January 30, 2011

Oscar academy restores Satyajit Ray's banned film Sikkim

Source : reuters
The Oscars academy has restored a rare print of a controversial film by India's famed director Satyajit Ray that was banned by Indian censors for glorifying monarchy in a Himalayan kingdom that acceded to India.
Made in 1971, "Sikkim" was about the Himalayan redoubt of the same name ruled by the Chogyals before it acceded to India in 1975 amid some criticism that New Delhi had browbeaten its tiny neighbour. China opposed India's claim on Sikkim until 2005.
Sikkim is now India's second smallest state, wedged between Nepal, China and Bhutan, and is strategically important for New Delhi.
Ray scholars say the Indian government's fears that the documentary depicted monarchy in a way that undermined democracy -- at a time when Sikkim faced being annexed by either India or China -- was unfounded.
"To imagine Satyajit Ray would glorify monarchy over democracy is utterly wrong because he is the same person who could make films ridiculing monarchy as we see in 'Hirak Rajar Deshe'," said Arup K. De, head of the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films.
It was thought that all the prints of the hour-long documentary had been destroyed after it was banned by India.
But one was found at the British Film Institute in 2003 and it was restored digitally frame-by-frame by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Audiences in India can watch "Sikkim" for the first time at the 14th Kolkata Film Festival beginning next week. India lifted the ban about four years ago, Sikkim's art and culture trust said.
"If everything works out, the video version would be shown at the Kolkata Film Festival," Josef Lindner, the academy's preservation officer, told Reuters.
"The 35 mm version would be ready by end of the year."
The academy has undertaken to restore damaged prints of the films of Satyajit Ray, who was awarded a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1992. He received the honour on his death bed in a hospital in Kolkata.
Lindner said Ray's "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" (The Chess Players), made in 1977, would be restored next.
The academy has so far restored and preserved 15 of Ray's feature films and two documentaries, including "Sikkim".
Ray shot to global fame with "Pather Panchali" (Song of the Little Road), "Aparajito" (The Unvanquished) and "Apur Sansar" (The World of Apu) from his "Apu trilogy" -- a coming-of-age narrative describing the childhood, education and early maturity of a young Bengali boy in the early 20th century.
He directed several other films and wrote many books, some of them widely translated into other languages.

January 28, 2011

Album #6

Note: All Images are from - Imagine India Film Festival

Note: All Images are from - Imagine India Film Festival

The Inner Eye - Satyajit Ray Documentary

Click here to go to the download page

(Download Instructions: Goto the linked page, scroll down the page to find the download link. You may need to login to the site to download)

January 25, 2011

Another interview with Satyajit Ray - 2

Then again, I was surprised to see so many traces of the American gangster film appearing in your supposed children's fantasy, The Golden Fortress.
That picture was designed to reach audience members who loved my books but had had little opportunity to see my "serious" films. But there are levels to The Golden Fortress other than the one aimed at children. As for the gangster references, my connections to urban American cinema precede the influence of Renoir and Rossellini on my work. I enjoyed and appreciated many American films during the 1940s. I remember seeing films by Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, and John Huston — especially Huston's Beat the Devil, which is a marvelous take-off on gangster pictures.

What do you think of Japanese cinema?
I am a great admirer of Japanese cinema; they are really great masters. I don't know Ozu's early films, but at the end of his career he was totally Japanese — not at all influenced by Hollywood. He subverted all conventions: cinematic, spatial, rhythmic, etc. I have repeatedly seen some of his films and thought, "My God, he doesn't follow at all the Hollywood model or grammar." Ozu has another approach, which one can call a devotion to the geography of actors in their setting. This form of his is original, and it is fundamental enough to necessitate a thorough reassessment of the so-called first principles of filmmaking.

How about Renoir's The River? What's your view of this film?
I can't say that The River was a film about the real India. The background was Indian and it was marvelously used: the riverside, the boats, the fishermen, and the general landscape. But the story itself was a bit idealistic or idealized and not terribly interesting — about an English jute-mill manager and his family, adolescents mainly. It was certainly not an Indian story, and even as a Western story in an Indian setting, it did not come close to telling the truth. There are characteristic Renoir touches here and there, to be sure, and I enjoyed The River overall. But it doesn't compare with his French films.

From your point of view, what has been one of the most discouraging developments in the history of cinema?
The commercial dominance of color and wide-screen imagery, and the consequent asphyxiation of the intimate black-and-white cinema. But color now is much better than it was several decades ago, when they didn't know how to control it. Color back then tended to make everything look too beautiful, too pretty, but the advantage of color today is that it can give more subtlety, more detail. It must be used very carefully, however, and you can't allow the laboratory to change anything. If I choose the costumes for their color, I want the final film to show those colors. If I have emphasized blues and yellows, for example, I don't want the laboratory doing any "color corrections."

Do you always shoot your films on location?
I also shoot in a studio, but I am very careful about the art direction and the use of light in a studio setting. I don't want the audience to be able to tell whether it is a studio or not. Shooting in a studio is much easier, of course; location shooting in Calcutta, by contrast, is extremely difficult. There are always crowds and noise all around you. Sometimes, of course, one has to go outdoors, but when we do, we work very fast and with hand-held cameras. We arrive, we shoot, we go away. There can be problems if you have a long sequence to photograph. We can't even use the police, who don't have a very good image in India; the police attract an even bigger crowd because people come to ask what is happening. So we do our own policing, because everybody in the crowd wants to be in the shot — they don't want to be there just to watch.

I'd like to follow up with a related question: what's your relationship with your cinematographer?
Well, I started out with a very good cameraman, but after each shot he would say, "We must take another." I asked him why, but he was never precise. Multiple takes are very dangerous when one is shooting on a small budget, so I decided to operate the camera myself. Sometimes during a tracking shot in which there is a lot of action, a slight shake — inevitably caused by me — is not important if the action is good. But this man thought only about the shake; he wanted smoothness at any price.

As the camera operator, I have realized that when I work with new actors, they are more confident if they don't see me: they are less tense. I remain behind the camera, I see better, and I can get exactly the framing that I want. If I am sitting over to the side, by contrast, I am dependent on the cameraman. He frames the shot, he does the panning, the tilting, the tracking — he does everything, in fact. Then it's only when you see the rushes that you know exactly what you have. I am so used to doing my own framing, my own visual composing, now that I couldn't work in any other way. It's not that I have no trust in my cameraman's operational abilities; it's just that the best position from which to judge the acting is from behind the camera, and therefore I must be the one looking through the lens.

So I turned to another man to be my lighting cameraman: Subrata Mitra, who was a real beginner. He was twenty-one when he took over the shooting of Pather Panchali; he had never handled a movie camera in his life. But I had to use somebody like this, because all the professionals said that you couldn't shoot in rain, and that you can't shoot out of doors because the light keeps changing, the sun goes down too fast, and so forth. When I got my new cameraman, we decided on certain basic things after a great deal of discussion, one of them being that I would compose the images in my own mind beforehand and that we would work from those. Later on, in the case of my color films, every color scheme was so decided, and the choice of each costume piece as well — the material for which I would go out to purchase myself. My cameraman and I also agreed on the use of available light; and we aimed at simulating available light in the studio, when we had to be there, by using "bounced light" — or light bounced off a big piece of stretched cloth.

What kind of cloth?
Just white sheets, what we call long-cloths. We had framed pieces of white cloth, enormous things, and we bounced light back from them — except during night scenes, of course. And once your source of light is established, you follow that source as much as possible. If it's a candle, a lantern, or an electric light, you follow the source. It simplifies matters.

You know, about seven or eight years after Pather Panchali was made, I read an article in American Cinematographer written by Sven Nykvist — at the time of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, I think — claiming the invention of bounced light. But we had been using it since 1954.

Is it true that these days there are more and more directors emerging in India who do their own camerawork?
Actually, there are very few cameramen-directors. And let me be clear: what I do is just guide the camera; I simply operate it. And a director who can operate the camera has a great advantage, because he gains greater confidence. In my case, the lighting portion is taken care of by my lighting cameraman under my guidance — the lighting, of course, being the main aspect of cinematography. I don't think there's anything wrong with my guiding the camera and the cameraman; it helps me to leave my imprint or personal point of view on the work. But I don't ever actually call myself a cameraman.

Moreover, as far as I can recall, none of the major directors, Indian or otherwise, are cameramen themselves. Yet, certainly, all the really great directors have a distinctive camera-style: you can recognize their work right away on the basis of the photography, the use of color, the deployment of chiaroscuro. So obviously these directors are guiding their cameramen, and they ought to be able to do so as far as possible: it's to the advantage of any film. In my country, alas, there are not yet any cinematographers of the caliber of the best Europeans or Americans — say, Sven Nykvist and Gregg Toland.

You would say, then, that a good cameraman does not necessarily make a good director?
That's right, because the two activities are not really connected. But a good director must know how the lighting and composition should be done. And if he can guide the cameraman in his work — after all, the visual style is very much a part of the film director's statement — it is all the more desirable. Let me be even more blunt: the mastery over tools and technique — how to use the camera, where and how to place it, how to manage sound and lighting — if you don't have that, however much social commitment or aesthetic sensitivity you may display, I don't think you can make a successful film.

What, in your view, is the essence of film art?
I would say that the cinema's characteristic forte is its ability to capture and communicate the intimacies of the human mind. Such intimacies can be revealed through movement, gesture, vocal inflection, a change in the lighting, or a manipulation of the surrounding environment. But there doesn't have to be literal movement at all — of the camera or the character — in a succession of shots. All the same, the character can appear to unfold and grow. To describe the most important characteristic of the film medium, I would even use the word "growth" rather than "movement." The cinema is superbly equipped to trace the growth of a person or a situation. And to do that — to depict a social situation with the utmost truth and to explore human relationships to the utmost limit — one must eschew all the short cuts that have been artificially imposed over the years by non-artistic considerations. I should also like to banish from my films every last trace of the theatrical and even the pictorial or prettified — two of the most common cinematic impurities.

How do you think, then, that intellectually speaking you have changed — from the way you thought earlier in your film career to the way you think now?
I don't know about my ideas, but my technique — my film grammar — has changed, and the French New Wave was responsible for that. Godard especially opened up new ways of . . . making points, let us say. And he shook the foundations of film grammar in a very healthy sort of way, which is excellent. Indian directors as a result have become much more clipped — fades and dissolves are used much less, for instance; we mostly depend now on cuts. But the audience has also progressed, for they accept this change. Our storytelling had been more American earlier. European influences came later: French, Swedish, German, all kinds of influence. So, if we compare an Indian film from the 1950s to one from today, we find the narrative much sharper in the later film.

A related matter: something that has always been difficult is how to express character without using speech, through the use of gestures, looks, actions, etc. The best example of that kind of expression in my work probably comes in Charulata, but I wasn't able to depict character in this way until after I had completed the Apu trilogy. When I started directing, I just couldn't handle such "silent speech" as well.

As you look back at these early efforts of yours, what do you think? Could you say more about how far and in what direction you have traveled with regard to your approach to filmmaking, your method of handling actors, everything?
In writing dialogue, above all else, I have progressed the most. For Pather Panchali and Aparajito, I wrote only about fifteen to twenty percent of the dialogue; the rest came from the original novels. I never thought I'd be able to write dialogue myself, and the little dialogue that was my own in my first two films was neither significant nor particularly pointed. Now I have a lot more confidence in the writing of dialogue, a greater facility. It was during the making of Kanchenjungha that I realized for the first time that I could write my own dialogue entirely; and that, even as I created a character, I could conceive how that character would speak as well as act.

But insofar as pure cinematic ideas are concerned, those that appeared in Pather Panchali (right) and did not come from the book — such ideas are still there today in my films. The main strength of that first film, however, lay in certain peculiar moments of inspiration, like the death of Indir, Durga's death, the incident concerning the snake at the end, or the sequence in which the train passes by as Apu and Durga watch. None of these were in the novel, and even today I enjoy watching these scenes. But in both Pather Panchali and Aparajito, I overshot a lot — so much, in fact, that quite a bit of it had to be discarded. That sense of proportion or tightness of construction came much later on my part. I have gradually gained confidence about my choice of lens, selecting the right camera position or movement — all such choices have become easier to make with experience. The whole process of filmmaking has become much faster and surer for me.

To get back to the subject of writing dialogue, may I ask you if you have ever thought of writing or directing a play? You used to read a lot of plays, I know, and you still do; you also are an avid theatergoer, I've learned. I ask this question as someone who himself received much of his formal college education in drama.
Well, there are so many wonderfully talented people working in the theater today, so what's the use of swelling the crowd? In the cinema, I must say, there isn't so much artistic talent — perhaps because it's such a technological medium. In any event, I felt quite early on that film was my province, not theater. Maybe because the cinema was in such a backward state in India, but perhaps I shouldn't put the matter so negatively. I've just never thought of writing or directing a play; it's the writing of screenplays that comes to me straightaway, and then of course the filming of them.

Hadn't you ever thought of making a film out of a play?
Until Ganashatru (right), not really, because then the film depends too much on speech — and I am not interested. To me the peak moments of a film should be wordless, whereas in a play the words are of primary importance. At times the situation in a play can be film-like or adaptable to the screen, but there also one should see exactly how far one can go without words — as I trust I have done in Ganashatru. The best source for an adaptation, however, is not a play and not even a novel, but rather a long short story. For a film of two hours or so, the long short story is the most suitable form. You simply cannot do justice to a novel that contains 400 to 500 pages with a film that is less than four or five hours, even if you run it in two or three parts.

What do you think of the filmed plays of Shakespeare?
Whatever else Laurence Olivier may have achieved in his adaptations, his Shakespeare films were never filmic. Grigori Kozintsev is the only director who has ever brought a different kind of vitality to a Shakespeare film with his use of backgrounds, peasants, etc. But apart from him, I don't think anyone else has been able to do this; it's very difficult, you know.

I find it interesting that, time and again, you draw from the non-professional or amateur theater for your actors. Do you find any extra advantage in using such performers?
Not really, because those who act in the theater, be they professional or non-professional, sometimes don't feel comfortable acting in films, where they don't get instant feedback or appreciation from a live audience. Theater actors also dislike the discontinuity of film acting; they have to do a role in small parts, over a relatively long period of time, with the continuity between shots left to the editing table.

Have you ever found a person quite suitable in appearance but totally unable to act, and who therefore had to be discharged?
No, I have been very lucky in this area. You do a screen test before the actual shooting begins, and then you find out who can act and who cannot. Only sometimes with children I have encountered difficulty on the set, as in the case of the boy who played Apu in Pather Panchali. His name was Subir Banerjee, and he looked so right, but he couldn't act at all; he was also inattentive. I made him act only after a lot of hard work — including tricks that I devised with the help of the camera. Some children, you see, are born actors, but not Subir-Apu in Pather Panchali.

In your films, one of the persistent themes has been growing up under different circumstances or conditions, at varying levels of society and even in different time periods. Why are you drawn to this theme to such an extent?
It's true that earlier in my career I did treat this theme, but now narratives with a long span — the ten to twelve years during which a person grows up — do not attract me very much. These days I prefer a short time span during which the character undergoes a change or transformation on account of a traumatic experience — this is the "growth," the development, the movement. A good example of it can be found in Jana Aranya, where the time span is no more than one or two months. During this short period of time a totally honest, innocent boy becomes totally corrupted — and, ironically, then and only then can he stand on his own two feet. This movement from a certain state of character to another state — this complete inner change — quite fascinates, I must say. Even in an older film of mine, like Mahanagar, you can find such an inner change. Here a woman who does not want to work, starts working at her husband's insistence, becomes successful, encounters her husband's envy, and even comes to dominate when he loses his job; then ultimately there is a reconciliation between the two. There are several stages of development in this film, almost a zig-zag, up-and-down movement — and if you don't have something like this, with all your action, you're not making my kind of motion picture.

What you are saying, then, is that, over the years, you have gotten interested more and more in the psychology of a situation.
Let's say that I am interested in psychology itself, and have been at least since I made Devi. Now "psychology" is of capital importance to me.

If you found a story where the extraneous details are important, would you be interested in filming it?
Yes, if the extraneous details are genuinely important, but I would want to know what is happening to the actual human beings in the story as well. If the characters aren't interesting or aren't growing internally, I am not interested.

From 1961 onwards, starting with Teen Kanya (right), you have composed the music for your own films. Before concluding, could you address the subject of music in general and film music in particular?
Yes, of course. Music has been my first love for many, many years — perhaps from the time I was thirteen or fourteen. As a child, I had a toy gramophone and there were always plenty of records in our home. Then later, at Presidency College and while I was at the University of Shantiniketan, I became seriously interested in Western classical music. I did not have very much money in those days, so obviously it was a question of collecting slowly, one movement of a symphony or a concerto at a time.

When I started working, I began to take music even more seriously. I not only began to collect records, but I also got into the habit of buying musical scores. I remember there was a shop in Bombay in those days — S. Rose and Company — which used to sell miniature or pocketbook German scores. These became bedside reading for me. During the day I would listen to the records with the scores in hand, and then when I read the scores again at night, the music would all come back to me. This is also when I started to become familiar with staff notation.

Why primarily the interest in Western classical music?
You see, our home has always had a tradition of listening to Rabindrasangeet and Indian classical music. My uncle was a great music lover, and the promising new musicians in those days would come regularly to our place and perform. So, since I was familiar with Indian music — from these private performances and from going to public concerts — I did not feel that there was anything more I needed to do in order to learn about it.

With Western music, on the other hand, I experienced the excitement of discovering something new, completely uncharted territory: Beethoven and others whom I had only read about, doing something that did not exist in our music. I shared this enthusiasm with several friends, and I remember that the salesmen at Bevan & Co., in Dalhousie Square, used to be quite astonished that three or four young Bengalis could be so interested in Western classical music.

In 1966 you said, "Of all the stages of filmmaking, I find it is the orchestration of the music that requires my greatest attention. At the moment, it is still a painstaking process."
Well, you know, I get involved in the composing of music only once a year or so. If I were a professional composer, perhaps I would have a greater facility for this work. You also have to remember that I was completely self-taught in the area of music. I would jot down musical ideas for a film in shorthand form, so scoring became quite a trial. Now, with experience, the whole process has become somewhat easier for me. Even so, I can't put a musical idea on paper as quickly or as smoothly as a professional composer can. And this work, for me, is very time-consuming and tension-inducing. The tension is sometimes increased when the musicians don't play as I want them to, because they are used to playing very differently — especially here in Bengal.

Did this sense of not being too sure of yourself musically, early on, have anything to do with the fact that, in Pather Panchali (right), Ravi Shankar was one of the few professionals you used?
I thought of using Ravi Shankar not primarily because he was a close personal acquaintance with whom I would feel comfortable working. I thought it would be a good idea to work with someone like him, who would be able to introduce a fresh approach — quite unlike conventional Bengali film composers at the time.

How was it to work with a famous musician like Ravi Shankar?
Even at that time, Shankar was quite busy with his foreign tours. I had written to him in Bombay — or was it Delhi? — that I was thinking of making Pather Panchali and would like him to do the music. Then I went to see him when he came to Calcutta. He sort of hummed for me a melodic line — a folk tune of sorts — and I thought it was just right for Pather Panchali. So that became the film's musical theme — entirely Shankar's contribution.

Despite your interest in Western classical music, then, you have an aversion to using it in your films.
Oh, yes, that's right. A lot of films have used Western classical music, and not always with success. You know that Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan uses, again and again, parts of Mozart's Concerto 453 in G Major. Later on, I found the LP called "The Elvira Madigan Concerto." That's terrible! Scandalous, even. Because, you see, then you are assuming that the film will rise to the level of the music; but what often happens is that the music is brought down to the level of the film! Particularly in this case, the two don't mix — like water and oil. Yes, I know that Stanley Kubrick used the Ninth Symphony played on a synthesizer in A Clockwork Orange; and I suppose it works for this film, though I wouldn't want to possess a record of it. And Kubrick has done some other daring musical things that just come off — like his use of "The Blue Danube" in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I myself wouldn't mind using a relatively unknown piece of Baroque music — something by Couperin or Scarlatti, for instance — in a film if I can find the right subject.
I hate films, by the way, that are drenched with over-romantic music of the kind you find in some of those lush Hollywood films from the early 1940s. You got someone expensive for your music director, like Max Steiner or Alfred Newman, so you let him drown the film in music. You see, most of the American directors — with the exception of four or five, like William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, and George Stevens — had no control over a film after they finished shooting it. I asked John Huston, whose films are so wonderful, about his Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is absolutely ruined by its music. And he said he had no control over the score; perhaps also, he's not musical, as some directors aren't, and the producers took advantage of this fact.

So I gather that you feel background music is really an extraneous element in films — that one should be able to express oneself without it.
My belief is that, yes, a film should be able to dispense with music. But half the time we are using music because we are not confident that certain changes of mood will be understood by the audience — so we underline these changes with mood music. I would like to do without music if such a thing were possible, but I don't think I'll ever be able to do it. I will say that I have used very little music in my contemporary films and as much natural sound as possible.

Initially, I did feel that film needed music partly because long stretches of silence tend to bore the audience: It's as simple as that. With music, the scene becomes "shorter" automatically. And in certain types of films, music is a must unless you have a very rich natural soundtrack. Then there's the type of film where music is needed just to hide the rough edges. You know, De Sica's earlier pictures — Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Shoeshine, Umberto D. — were very grainy films, shot at a time when they were using five different kinds of black-and-white stock, and when shooting conditions were terrible, right after the Second World War. Not that the cutting or camera movement is bad — De Sica's a master in those departments — but some "rough" scenes simply cried out for music, and he had a marvelous composer, Cicognini, who provided it.

In general, let's just say that whether you are going to use music or sound effects depends on the mood of a scene. If a specific sound effect is crucial, I don't even think of using music in its place. And when you are trying to control time, to maintain real or chronological time, I would say the less music there is, the better, though sound effects can help a lot in this instance. When time is broken up, by contrast, music helps to preserve a linear flow.

Which score from one of your films would you re-do if you could?
All of them! Whenever I see an old film of mine, I say to myself: given the chance, I would re-edit it and do the music all over again. Today recording quality has improved enormously, but what used to happen in the old days is that immediately after the shooting was over and the rough cut was done, we were faced with a deadline to deliver the finished film — as a result of which everything was done in a rush and everything suffered. Sometimes we used to mix through the night, keeping just one step ahead of the editor, who was probably laying the tracks of reel four while we were mixing reel three! That's the way we used to work, on the music as well as everything else. There was no possibility of getting total precision, exactly what I wanted, etc.
Today, things are a little easier. One even develops improvised methods of one's own. For instance, now I record all the dialogue in my films on a cassette, with the silences. Then I make a chart of each character's lines so that I can work out precise timings and know exactly what music to put where. And I can do this because, as the director, I have every little detail of the film in my head. So I can even work at home, and I can work faster there. Everything I know about musical scoring — indeed, filmmaking as a whole — I learned as I went along. There were no rules; one had to make up one's own.

Could you give an example of a scene in one of your films that calls for music but doesn't have any?
Aparajito, after Harihar's death. It's the very first day that Sarbajaya and Apu arrive in the village; it is also dusk and there's practically nothing happening, nothing to see — almost nothing to hear — in that long sequence. I feel so awkward when I see it now. But Ravi Shankar hadn't provided any music here, and I didn't have the confidence at this point to write any.

Which of your early films, above all the others, needed strong orchestration to strengthen the main theme?
Jalsaghar, which I knew would have long passages of silence, called for a fairly extensive use of background music.

I am certain that you have your own musical favorite among your films. Which is it?
If you judge just by the background score, I would say Charulata is my best "musical film." Here everything was right, everything worked. The music in this picture had a lot to do with theme and context. Charulata's loneliness is established visually at the start, but it had a special quality. I had to explain that there was also a youthfulness, even a restlessness, about her loneliness. And as soon as something new or "connective" occurs — when Amal comes along, for example — she is revitalized, as it were. So I needed something that was both playful and wistful. And I got it, for the musical theme that finally emerged is one of the best I have done.
Then consider the context: we're dealing with a liberal, progressive, Westernized family here, so I knew I needed a Western element. In two of the songs, I got both the Western and the Indian elements. In a sense, the possibilities of fusing Indian and Western music began to interest me from this point on. I began to realize that, at some point, music is one, though on the whole I have to say that Western music is better able to reflect mood changes. It does this through transition from key to key, from major to minor, and so on. In Indian music, such transitions can only be accomplished through a sudden shift, from raga to raga — which itself can, in the right instance, be quite thrilling.

One final question, Mr. Ray. What do you feel are the main fears or crises confronting filmmakers today — I mean contemporary, serious filmmakers?
I'm afraid I don't know much about the others. I can only talk about myself. Obviously anyone who makes movies is concerned about the financial aspect. There possibly are directors who are not really concerned whether the producer gets his money back or not. But I put myself among those directors who are extremely aware of the fact that somebody else is making it possible for you to be creative. Without somebody else's help you are helpless, and you can never be creative in films. Making even the simplest of pictures costs money, and you don't always have that kind of money yourself. So you have to depend on others. Thus the need for communication, particularly of the economic kind.

Moreover, I don't think India is the place to be obscure, avant-garde, or abstract in the cinema. That is, unless you are making a film in Super-8 or using your own funds. Then you can do whatever you like. And it's good to conduct experiments from time to time. But when you consider yourself to be part of the commercial set-up, as I do, subconsciously you always think of an "ideal" audience. You are not necessarily thinking of the lowest common denominator in audiences; still, you are thinking of an audience for your film. And you expect this audience to respond to what you are doing. After a degree of experience, you know more or less what that audience is capable of responding to — which is what one endeavors to keep in mind.

One last thing, really. What truly amazes me is your utter accessibility. I mean, one has only to venture climbing a big flight of stairs to reach you, virtually unannounced. It's incredible, and I am so grateful to you for taking the time to talk to me.
Yes, I am in the phone book, and you can knock on my door. Everybody has access to me, anyone who wants to see me. In fact, the people who come to visit on Sunday mornings are often very ordinary folks. Not big stars or anything like that. Some are my old colleagues from advertising days. Others are those who simply feel friendly towards me as a result of the films of mine they have seen. In the end, I think it's rather stupid to raise a wall around oneself. This way of doing things — as we have done today — is much more interesting, rewarding, exciting.

November 2005 | Issue 50

Another interview with Satyajit Ray - 1

Revisiting Satyajit Ray
An Interview with a Cinema Master
Bert Cardullo


Since The Home and the World, shown at the Cannes Festival in 1984, Satyajit Ray had not completed any full-length feature films. Two heart attacks and bypass surgery in Houston, Texas, led to a period of convalescence. Although advised by doctors to avoid the rigors of filmmaking for a while, Ray had not been inactive. He had been writing, as before, for children and editing Sandesh, a magazine for young people. Some of his stories that have appeared there and elsewhere were translated by Ray himself into English and published by Dutton in The Unicorn and Other Fantastic Tales of India (1987).

Ray had also been busy writing screenplays and scoring music for a series of television films made by his son, Sandip. Then in 1987 he made a documentary on his father, Sukumar Ray, the gifted poet, writer, illustrator, and essayist, who died when Ray was only two-and-a-half years old. When I met him in the summer of 1989, the good news was that Satyajit Ray was working on a new feature, his twenty-sixth. Based on Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Ganashatru is in the Bengali language and was released later that year. The bad news was that his heart problems would lead to his death in April 1992, after the heroic completion of two more feature films: Branches of the Tree and The Stranger.

I met Ray on a hot morning at his home in Calcutta, up two flights of stairs in an old building on Bishop Lefroy Road. We talked for several hours about all aspects of his long career as a cinematic auteur.

Bert Cardullo: How do you feel when some of your films do not get a favorable critical, or box-office, response?

Satyajit Ray: Actually, I've been amazed and heartened by some of the critical reaction to my films. One of my favorite films, for example, is Days and Nights in the Forest. It was rejected in India. No box-office success, no critical success here, but it's considered one of my best films abroad. Days and Nights in the Forest had a very long run in London and was widely praised in America. I mean, that's the way it is. You learn about people, their likes and dislikes and their response to things Indian, and some of the Western criticism has been most beneficial. To speak of India, I think that, over the years, I have built up a following in Calcutta, certainly. Any film I make will play for six to eight weeks in three separate theaters in the city. There is definitely always an anticipation of my next film from a very large section of the Calcuttan public.

Not just other movie people and the intelligentsia but a larger —
Yes, my audience is getting to be bigger and bigger now. It's spreading out to the suburbs, and that is good.

Do you secretly dream of something you want to do that you haven't done yet?
Oh, there are lots of things that I'd love to do, but some of them cost a lot of money and others maybe are too complex. I would like to do something, for instance, from the epics. I would like to do some more folk tales in a very different style. Not in the conventional narrative style that I've used so far, but with a simple, stylized type of approach. I'm not sure whether there's an audience for such a film, but one has to do it to find out. Perhaps I could do a segment as well from one of our two national epics — you know, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata particularly fascinates me: the epic itself, the incidents, the characters, all so human and timeless. I'd also like to do more historical films, on the Mughals perhaps. I'm fascinated by certain characters from the Mughal period. I would also like to do something on the English adventurers who used to come to India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of the foreign painters were very interesting — the ones who left records of India, like Daniel or Forbes or Hodges. I mean, these men did marvelous work. Without them we wouldn't know what the India of the eighteenth or nineteenth century looked like. And they came here as adventurers. They were real adventurers, out to make money, which they made in the most extraordinary ways. I'd be interested in filming something like that.

Do you think the British influence is still significant in India, and is it good or bad?
Well, you see, we all admit that we owe a lot to the British. After all, I think I myself am a product of East and West, and I think that my filmmaking reflects that. We've been exposed to Western literature, the cinema has done a lot, and BBC radio has done quite a bit. You can't help it: you're part, not just of India, but of the whole world; the world has shrunk. And my style of film reflects that. As a director, I can't deny the influence of the West. But, at the same time, one still feels rooted to one's own country, to one's own culture. It's a question of absorbing what you think is good and what you think you can use. For example, I've been trying through my films to explore the history of Bengal over the years: the British period, the nineteenth century, independent India, the end of feudalism. The death agony of a particular class, from any country, fascinates me. There's a poignancy to it. One has to take a sympathetic attitude to something that is dying after so many years. The Music Room (above) itself is a film that shows a sympathetic attitude even to Indian noblemen, who were useless people, really. But to tell a story about one such character, one has to take a sympathetic stance. From his point of view, it's a major tragedy; to us, it's the folly of trying to cling to something that is inevitably going to vanish. These noblemen, though idlers, were great patrons of music and the arts, and all that is gone now. The subject of class has fascinated me all along, the fact that such social contrasts could exist side by side — and continue to exist today. This conflict between old and new has been one of the major themes of my films over the years.
Well, you see, we all admit that we owe a lot to the British. After all, I think I myself am a product of East and West, and I think that my filmmaking reflects that. We've been exposed to Western literature, the cinema has done a lot, and BBC radio has done quite a bit. You can't help it: you're part, not just of India, but of the whole world; the world has shrunk. And my style of film reflects that. As a director, I can't deny the influence of the West. But, at the same time, one still feels rooted to one's own country, to one's own culture. It's a question of absorbing what you think is good and what you think you can use. For example, I've been trying through my films to explore the history of Bengal over the years: the British period, the nineteenth century, independent India, the end of feudalism. The death agony of a particular class, from any country, fascinates me. There's a poignancy to it. One has to take a sympathetic attitude to something that is dying after so many years. The Music Room (above) itself is a film that shows a sympathetic attitude even to Indian noblemen, who were useless people, really. But to tell a story about one such character, one has to take a sympathetic stance. From his point of view, it's a major tragedy; to us, it's the folly of trying to cling to something that is inevitably going to vanish. These noblemen, though idlers, were great patrons of music and the arts, and all that is gone now. The subject of class has fascinated me all along, the fact that such social contrasts could exist side by side — and continue to exist today. This conflict between old and new has been one of the major themes of my films over the years.

You have been criticized by some people in India for not dealing more with social problems. Do you want to say anything about that?
That's not strictly true. I think I have dealt with a lot of social problems in my films. Maybe not in the way some people would like me to treat them. They want solutions to the problems at the end of the film, but I don't know the solutions myself in most cases. I like to present problems as clearly as possible, and let the audience think for themselves.

As you speak, I think of Distant Thunder, which seems to me to make your point in its treatment of the Bengal famine.
Yes, I think you're right. Let me give you some context. At the time of the famine, 1943, I had just got my new job as an advertising designer, and I was living in Calcutta. Hundreds and thousands of people, from the villages, were streaming into Calcutta. I remember the railway stations were just jam-packed with refugees. People were at the point of death, or they would have died in a few days' time at the most. We would come out of the house on our way to work and step across dead bodies, just lying all over the place. Ten, fifteen years later, I read this novel by a writer whom I admire greatly, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee. He was actually living in a village at the time of the famine, and he had written the book from his own experience. This was around 1958 or '59. And I decided immediately to turn this material into a film. But I couldn't find the right actors to play the parts, and then all sorts of things happened — including the fact that I went on to make other films. Finally, in 1972, I decided that I had to make the famine film: Distant Thunder.

But I approached the famine from a paradoxical angle: that of the extreme generosity in the villages to a guest, particularly from the city. You can go to a village, anybody's house, and they will offer you a meal. On an hour's notice you will get a meal there. They have very little themselves, but a guest is treated like a god. This, by the way, is called for in the Indian scriptures. In Distant Thunder (right), a very old man appears at the height of the famine, and the wife says, "We must give him a meal." Her husband is clever at this point, but he is gradually changing. He says, "No, he's a scrounger. I know he's come to beg, so we must be very cautious; we must think of our own meal first." She responds, "I'll go without it. I'll go without lunch and dinner, but let's give him a meal." The husband is a priest, he's a schoolmaster, he's a doctor. He knows nothing very well, but he has status because he's the only Brahmin in a village of peasants. Then he goes to perform a ceremony to ward off cholera; but before he goes, he reads his book on hygiene and performs the appropriate ritual. He says, "By the way, don't drink the river water, don't eat food where flies have settled," you know, that kind of thing. He believes, in a way, in what we call progress and science.
Fine, excellent. But in the beginning he is a bit of a racketeer, because he's exploiting the ignorance of these poor village people. At the end, when death, through famine, comes to an untouchable woman, and nobody will touch her body, it is the husband, the Brahmin, who declares, "I'll go and do something about this. I'll perform the cremation myself." So he is liberated enough in the end to be able to do that. His humanity then emerges.

Is censorship a serious problem in India?
Politically it is, yes. Every film is censored.

Have you run into any problems?
I haven't, perhaps because of my special position. The Middleman, for instance, had a fairly outspoken scene. If somebody else had made this film, its political references probably would have been censored. But for a while now, I have been able to get away with a few things.

Have you ever actively participated in politics or worked with a political party?
No. Although most of my friends are leftist-minded, I've become disillusioned with politics and don't think about such matters any longer. Now I've almost stopped discussing politics altogether, even reading newspapers. I take account of the man; I don't care about his politics.
Having a political consciousness, though, can also mean having a consciousness of the failure of politicians, like our Indian ones. I find politicians and their game of politics extremely dishonest and puerile. They change colors like chameleons, so much so that it's difficult to keep pace with them. Besides, the brain has a rather limited number of compartments, and I have no vacant compartment to take in all that's happening on the political front.

Can political involvement obstruct creativity?
It has happened — take the filmmakers in the Soviet Union. Whenever they try to make films about modern life in their country, their work becomes simplistic and two-dimensional. At the same time, they make very good films based on their literature from the past. The filmmakers themselves feel constricted. At the Moscow Film Festival once, Grigori Chukhrai told me that he didn't make a film for seven years after Ballad of a Soldier, because about eighty of his scripts had been disapproved for political reasons. He sat in a studio watching other people work. And Mark Donskoi asked me, "What do you think of our films? Why don't you just say they are all rubbish?"

What kinds of political opinion can an artist hold in contemporary society, then?
As an artist, I only want an environment in which I will be free to work as I like. I have no other opinions.

Yet it is commonly felt that you are sympathetic to the left. Perhaps this was because your first film, Pather Panchali, was about the lives of poor Indian villagers.
At the same time, many have said that I upheld feudalism in The Music Room — that since I didn't condemn feudalism, I was sympathetic to it.

What were the aesthetic and reactive impulses that prompted you to make Pather Panchali?
Well, I felt that if I made the film, then Bengali cinema would take a different turn. I was inspired, I have no doubt about that. I thought I had found an ideal subject for a first film. One must keep in mind that before I made Pather Panchali, I had been to London and had seen some Italian neorealist films. But even before I went to England, I had spoken to a number of professional people about this project. They told me that it was not possible to make a film in the way I proposed. You cannot shoot an entire film outdoors, I was told. Nor can you make a film just with new faces. It is difficult, they said, to make a film without make-up or to manage your camerawork outside the studio. Thus was I dissuaded from even attempting to make Pather Panchali. But I made it independent of the commercial set-up, which enabled me to ignore conventional audience expectations. However, I did have to keep my own estimate of the potential audience in view, as it was not my intention to make an esoteric film.

As one of the most creative forces in world cinema today, you must have certain ideas fermenting within you when you start thinking about a new film. What draws you most when you start a new work: a persistent image, a certain location, a particular character?
It's everything combined, really. But I would say the dominant factor is the characters, the human relationships. Then come the setting and the possibility of telling the story cinematically — in motion. Other aspects that engage me are the structure of the picture, its internal contrasts, and its dramatic rhythm. These are all integrally related to the creation of film art. Then again, I also feel that the element of rasa — the concept of nava rasa as specified in Indian aesthetics — is quite important. Rasa is best described as the interplay of moods as expressed by various characters in a work of art.

There is also the element of numbers. I feel that I need an odd number of characters. If you analyze my films carefully, you will see that, most often, three, five, or seven characters come into play. The triangle, as you know, unquestionably plays a role here as well. In Charulata, for instance, there are five characters. If I had used four, I would have had problems; the use of five characters, I think, enhanced the dramatic possibilities of this film a bit.

Elsewhere, you have said that everything you learned as a student of fine arts has gone into your films. Can you specify how your training has shaped your visual style? For instance, you once drew an analogy between your films and painting — the paintings of Pierre Bonnard in particular.
Yes, I have drawn such an analogy, but it's not to be taken literally, of course. I love Bonnard, the way everything has the same uniform importance in his paintings. The human figure is no more or less important than objects like chairs and tables, a bowl of fruit, or a vase full of flowers. There's one single blend, and everything is expressed through it. I have tried to achieve the same effect in some of my films: to mix all kinds of things together, so that they are all related and equally important. You have to understand the characters in context, in relation to everything — objects, events, little details. They all mean something together. You can't take a single element out of this mix without disrupting the whole. And you can't understand one small thing without taking into account the film in its entirety.

I find this organicity in Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs all the time, even in his portraits. The one of Sartre shows him off-center so that you can see everything around him: the bridge, the lamppost, the shape of the building behind him. You cannot ignore all this because it makes the photograph what it is, and it expresses the man. Similarly, Matisse sits among his pigeons in another Cartier-Bresson portrait, and the elements of bird and man are perfectly integrated.

How important has Cartier-Bresson been to your work, then?
Cartier-Bresson has been a major influence on my work from the very start. There is a wonderful shaping power in his photographs, a unity that in the end can only be called organic. He can create perfect fusion out of all kinds of diverse things, and, at the same time, achieve a precise sense of form. I also enjoy his wit very much. Most of all, I am drawn to his humanism, his concern for man — always expressed with sympathy and understanding.

Is there any specific reason why you write your own scripts — be they adapted or original — though you never write for another director?
I have always proceeded in this way. I did once write a screenplay for an assistant of mine who was promoted to full-fledged director, and he wanted me to do his first script. But that is the only time I have ever worked as a screenwriter for someone else. I think a script can best be turned into a film by the writer himself. Otherwise there is every chance the script will not be understood properly, or that the maximum will not be extracted from it. I think that, as a rule, directors should write their own screenplays.

A lot of directors, even abroad, say that they can compose their own scenario yet not write the dialogue. But then they have a different idea from mine about writing: they think that dialogue is something very literary, full of flourishes and puns and what not. I personally think that what one needs to write dialogue is a good ear, a sense for the rhythm and content of normal, everyday speech. For if you know what you want to say through your scenario and ultimately your film, why can't you put the words into the mouths of your characters?

What do you think is basically wrong with the Indian cinema? Why are Bengali films more artistic than the Bombay ones?
Well, not all Bengali films are that good. We hardly produce twenty films a year, whereas in Bombay they make something like 150 films or so. Naturally, the proportion between good and bad is probably higher here: out of our twenty films, there may be five or six a year that are worthwhile.

I think one important factor here in Bengal is that the directors are more aware of their roots. In Bengal it is the Bengalis who make the films, whereas in Bombay people have migrated from all sorts of places and consequently do not have the feeling of being rooted there — at least not in the sense that we feel rooted in Bengal. Bombay directors view filmmaking as an entertainment industry, and the stories they concoct do not have very much basis in reality.
But if you take the regional industry — in Marathi, for instance — you will find a certain amount of affinity with Bengal. This is how significant art becomes possible: if you are making films about people you know, the people who belong to a particular region, you will make more valuable and artistic films. But if you make a film about people who belong to no particular place, no particular country really, but who exist instead in a world wholly concocted by the cinema — an upper-class world with certain rarefied mores and morals — then you can only make entertainment, never art.

It is important, let me reiterate, that stories have their roots in reality. For a Punjabi director the reality is that of the Punjab, and yet he finds himself working somewhere other than the Punjab. There are a lot of directors in Bombay who originally come from the Punjab and, if given a story about their native region, they might be able to produce something worthwhile — something that they feel belongs to them, something that acquires a certain integrity along with its regional characteristics. But since Bombay is such a hybrid and cosmopolitan place, the only world these directors want to depict is a kind of cosmopolitan hybrid with certain qualities and values that have no relation to the qualities and values of the existing world. I can understand a satirical film that comes out of this kind of set-up, but if you take this world seriously, then you can only make very ineffective films from an aesthetic point of view.

Nonetheless, I don't know how many more years I can go on making films in Bengal. In my position, maybe I can make Bengali films for the international market for a few more years. But Bengali films today don't have much of a future, in my view, given the market and the overall expenditure that such a film requires. Making Hindi-language films or films in English seems to be the only solution. Even I have to make a Hindi film once in a while; there seems to be no other way out. This is purely a matter of circumstance, since I don't want to make films in Hindi very much because I do not know the language well.

That was one of the things I wanted to ask: when you make films in a language other than your own, do you feel there are barriers that you must overcome?
Yes, absolutely. In The Chess Players, for example, when I came to the English-language portion, I was much more at ease, for my Hindi is not as good as my English. So, although I wrote the English dialogue for The Chess Players myself, in Sadgati (above) my English script had to be translated into Hindi dialogue. And I never knew whether that dialogue was good or right. Even the coaching of actors — where I often act out the pieces myself in advance — became impossible during the making of a Hindi-language film. Since I do not have enough knowledge of the language, I can only give a certain amount of verbal direction to the actors; what I cannot do, however, is act out the parts myself. So for Hindi films I can't even go in search of new faces; I must work with experienced actors only.

Will you ever make films in a language apart from Hindi?
No, never.

What about English?
Perhaps I will, but even then, the story I select must be a story from my own country. I really don't have any desire to make films abroad. A film in which the use of English sounds logical — where, say, people from different provinces in India come together and speak English so that they can all communicate — I might make such an English-language film in my own country.

Could you tell me something about the image of Indian cinema abroad? And then, has the Indian cinema as a whole been able to serve the cause of the common man?
I don't know what image the Indian cinema has abroad. Actually, it is mainly my films that have been playing in the West. But in the Middle East, where my films are not screened but where a lot of Bombay films are shown, I don't know what particular image they have of Indian cinema. A lot of people regret that there are not more export-worthy films, by directors other than me, produced here. But it seems that people in the Middle East enjoy the Indian films they see, which to them are highly entertaining and colorful. After all, India has lots of beautiful actresses and handsome actors, and there are good singers as well. But it is impossible to get an idea of the country from these films, and if Middle Easterners try to draw their conclusions about India from Hindi films, I am afraid they will arrive at a dead end.

As for your second question, I doubt very much that the Indian cinema has been able to serve the cause of the common man, because films — particularly Bombay films — give the impression of great affluence and the country is made to look very attractive, with lavish homes, gorgeous costumes, and the like. This gives an incorrect notion of India as a whole, but I don't think that intelligent people abroad have any delusions about India's wealth. They know this is a country that has to beg for aid from the international community. They accept the Bombay films as a kind of phenomenon, as a kind of habit of filmmaking, and they go to see these movies to be entertained — not to learn anything about the country of India.

Well, you know the country — the countryside — intimately, and yet you're a city person.
Yes I am, but I love the countryside. As an advertising man, I would go for excursions by train into the countryside to sketch or take photographs. So I feel deeply rooted in Bengal and its traditions; I love, for example, the country bazaars and village fairs.

November 2005 | Issue 50

An Interview with Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray was interviewed by Lindsay Anderson at the NFT, in 1969 or 1970.

In this interview, the director discusses his early films and influences, the novelists he has adapted, and the evolution and future of his film-making.


Lindsay Anderson: I've left all my notes behind, which is a Freudian error because he hates this sort of thing and when I'm in his position I hate it. So we're going to make the best of it with your cooperation. I think what Mr Ray likes best is concrete questions rather than speculative questions because, like any artist, these can best be answered by looking at his work.

I always think that, in Britain, we are terribly ignorant about India, as befits an ex-imperialist nation. There's a tendency to call you an Indian film-maker, when it would be more accurate to call you a Bengali film-maker. Would you accept that?

Satyajit Ray: I suppose so. Yes.

LA: We don't know much about the Indian cinema apart from your films. There are three centres of production, each representing a very different type of film-making, which I got to know a little bit about at the '65 film festival. We were flown to Madras, Calcutta and Bombay and one realised what a distinction there is between the Bombay film-makers, who are Hindi, the Madras film-makers, who are Tamil...

SR: And Hindi too...

LA: Yes, but a very different tradition. But Bombay is the centre of commercial film-making, really.

SR: So is Madras. We also try to be commercial in our own way.

LA: Well, one never likes to be called uncommercial, because our aim is to be commercial. But I thought I'd ask something about the Bengali cinema, which has a tradition of its own, was there a tradition of making films in Bengal when you started?

SR: We have been making films ever since the silent days of the 1920s, I should imagine. I think the first feature was made in Bombay in 1913, not so long after Hollywood. The cinema industry in Calcutta started not long after that. There were very few Bengali fimmakers and actors in those days. It was the Parsees from Bombay who started the industry in Calcutta, then it was taken up by Bengalis, and we've had an industry ever since then. The silent movies looked very much like any other silent film. Most of the silent films were burnt in two big fires, so we don't get to see them anymore - they weren't properly stocked.

Sound film, again, started soon after Hollywood, in 1931 I imagine. So I think it's fair to say we have a tradition in Bengal, not that I think of myself as belonging to the mainstream. There has been a tradition because we've had a literary tradition in Bengal too - quite a rich fund of stories and novels, quite a lot of which have been adapted. The novel happened in the late part of the nineteenth century, influenced by the British. Ever since then we've had a literary tradition, Tagore wrote something like 1,500 short stories, three or four hundred of which are masterpieces and very filmable and I've done about half-a-dozen so far.

LA: Tagore enjoyed a very great reputation in the West at one time, but isn't known so much now.

SR: One of the reasons is that he's probably untranslatable. As most Bengali poetry is. As you say, he's not as widely known, or loved, or liked, or respected as he was in the 1920s, but the fact remains that he's written wonderful short stories. Many other directors adapted Tagore as well as other writers, so I think the film-maker has been helped by the fact that there is a fund of stories to draw from.

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.

LA: How long was the original novel [Aparajito by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee]?

SR: It was two books from which I made three films. For the first film I used half of the first book, for the second film I used the second part of the first book, and for the third film I used a segment of the second film.


LA: When you came to make Pather Panchali, had it always been your ambition to make a film of that book? How did that come to be the first film that you made?

SR: 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. I'm talking around 1947, four or five years before I came into film-making. I would compare my version with what I saw on screen. Often I had two versions - one would be a prediction of what was going to appear...


LA: Really?

SR: Yes. It was quite useful.

LA: Were they very detailed?

SR: Not really. Just rough outline treatments. Sometimes fairly detailed and some of them I'd still like to film. It was published in 1930 or 1931, but I read sometime in the 1940s when I was still an advertising artist and doing book illustrations. I was asked to do the illustrations for a new edition of the book. That's when it struck me that it would make a wonderful film.

LA: Was that before The River?

SR: Yes, it was about three or four years before The River.

LA: The first time we ever contacted was when you wrote to Sequence.

SR: Yes, I wrote to Sequence suggesting that I write about Renoir.

LA: Yes, that must have been 1949.

SR: Yes, 1949. Twenty years ago.

LA: My God.

SR: That was when Renoir had not started shooting yet. He had come down to look for locations and had put an ad in The Statesman saying, 'Mr Jean Renoir, the French director is in town, and he'd like to Anglo-Indian girls for a part in his film.' My advertising office was near the hotel where he was staying, so I went there one day and saw him and introduced myself. I got to know him quite well, because I knew the countryside quite well and he wanted someone to guide him, so he took me along on Sundays and weekends.

LA: You didn't give up your job?

SR: Not even when I was shooting, because part of the salary went into the film.


LA: The River was made in 1949, or 1950?

SR: 1950, I think. He was actually shooting The River when I came to England. I told him that I had this idea to turn this story into a film and I told him roughly what it was about. He said, 'It sounds wonderful, go ahead.' But I hadn't yet started writing the script. I wrote the first draft on my way back from England on the boat.

LA: There's an interview where you talk about the climate of Flaherty...

SR: I had seen Louisiana Story in England. I found it quite inspiring. I liked other films too, but Flaherty's films and Renoir's films had an affinity to my work because of the setting and the people involved... in the trilogy ones.

LA: It was quite a revolutionary thing to make a film along those lines at that time, wasn't it?

SR: Yes.

LA: How did you go about getting money?

SR: Well, I had a treatment and a book of drawings. It was difficult because it wasn't a conventional kind of story, so it was hard to read out the scenario - you couldn't describe insects swimming about in a pond and make it sound...

Starting Out

LA: Was the Bengal film like the Bombay film?

SR: Well the Bombay film wasn't always like how it is now. It did have a local industry. There were realistic films made on local scenes. But it gradually changed over the years. I think at the moment it's completely controlled by the people with the money. The directors are not their own masters, they follow a set of patterns. But they like doing that because there's a lot of money made in those films.

LA: Producers don't like you very much, do they?

SR: Where?


I think they quite like me when I work because I'm one of the safer directors to back, because even if my films don't bring their costs in back home, once they're shown outside of India they manage to cover the costs.

LA: The first one was made...

SR: Well we started with our own money, because we wanted to shoot some footage which we wanted the producers to see in order to establish the fact that we were bone fide. Then we ran out of funds.

They didn't like the footage we'd shot, they didn't like the look of the old woman for one thing.

LA: Was it material that you eventually used?

SR: Oh, yes. Not the first two or three days shooting. We didn't know anything. We'd read a lot, seen a lot, but you learn only when you're out with your camera, shooting. And in the cutting room. The mistakes we made on the first two and three days, well, we tried to avoid. It turned out that the material could be cut... So we had about forty minutes of rough cut which we went to every producer, about a dozen, and no-one was interested. Then we scraped together some more money, and we shot some more, and it went on like that for about two years.

Finally, we had to pull a few strings, the government of West Bengal finally took over. They put up the money. But it was a success at home.

LA: From that time you went ahead and more or les finished it.

SR: Yes.

LA: You've always worked with the same team.

SR: More or less. I've had the same art director right from the beginning, Bansi Chandragupta, who was also art director on The River. I've had the same editor. But I've worked with two cameramen, the first one was Subrata Mitra, who made most of my films, he's also worked with Jim Ivory. And an assistant of Mitra's, who is now an independent cameraman, who has more or less the same style.

LA: Where did you find them? Were they technicians?

SR: No, Mitra was just out of college and he was very interested in stills photography, and he was around when Renoir was making The River, because he had nothing to do. Unlike me, I had a job to do. I would have loved to have watched Renoir shoot. I felt that Mitra had very good taste and he would listen to me, we had more or less the same attitude. We were both very fond of Cartier Bresson, that was a big influence.

Writing, Shooting, Editing

LA: You actually write pretty close scripts.

SR: There's always some room for improvisation. 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.

LA: The visual style, and rhythm, of the film, is present in your mind in a fairly concrete way, isn't it?

SR: Yes, it's almost cut in the camera. It's only the finer points of cutting that we do in the editing room.

LA: You edit as you go along?

SR: It's not always possible. The film I'm shooting now, I've shot nearly all of the film and I've only seen 2000 feet of rushes so far.

LA: Do you let the editor put it together?

SR: No, I'm always there. Even rough cuts. Nothing is done without my presence.

LA: Absolutely correct.


SR: The director is the only person who knows what the film is about.

LA: When you're shooting, do you manage to edit the days filming in the evenings?

SR: No. It's too much. You're not at your best.

LA: Do you, economically, have to shoot to the same remorseless schedule that we have here? You couldn't take a day off?

SR: I like to shoot as much as possible. I like to keep on shooting. On location, we shoot on Sundays too - every day of the week. Certainly if the weather's good.

LA: This is another way that your method differs from the vast majority of Indian film-makers, isn't it?

SR: In Bombay there's a completely different atmosphere. Most of the top actors and actresses may be working in ten or twelve films at the same time, so they will give one director two hours and maybe shoot in Bombay in the morning and Madras in the evening. It happens.

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.


LA: You don't like following one film with another in the same mood or style?

SR: I've done that in only one instance. After Pather Panchali I did Aparajito. But of course then I didn't have a trilogy in mind. It was only after Pather Panchali had some success at home that I decided to do a second part. But I didn't want to do the same kind of film again, so I made a musical. After Aparajito I made Paras Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone), which was a satirical comedy and is little-known. I had great fun doing that.

LA: Was that a success.

SR: I wouldn't call it a great success, but it covered its costs. No more and more I find I come up with something in a different mood. If I make a heavy, tragic, morbid film then it affects you too much and you want some relaxation.

LA: You've kept up an average of one a year...

SR: One and a half, really... one and a quarter. If you want accuracy...

LA: When you've made a film, you go on quite quickly to a new one?

SR: I wouldn't mind taking a rest for three or four months, but I have to keep on making films for the sake of my crew, who just wait for the next film because they're not on a fixed salary.

LA: Do they work for other people as well?

SR: They try not to. My cameraman has worked for others, and my editor, but my assistants sort of like to be with me. So it's just making one film after another.

International Distribution

LA: The film you've just made is another departure in a way because it's a fairy story.

SR: It's based on a story by my grandfather, who was a very famous writer for children. It was written about sixty years ago, and I read it as a child in a magazine he used to edit. I have revived that magazine now, and we reprinted the story about six years ago. I've been wanting to make it for quite a while now, but it's very elaborate with a lot of music and lots of extras... So it seemed like it would be a very expensive film and I had to wait to find a backer for it.

I was supposed to do it two years ago, I had composed the songs and had them recorded but at the last moment the producer backed out and I was left with nothing to do. I made a detective story which was not a film of my own choice. My assistants wanted to do something in the meantime and they had bought the rights to the story and got one of the top actors to be involved.

I didn't want to put my name to it. I said I would do it, but I'll assist you. They got more and more nervous and I took over eventually. The distributor said that they couldn't find a theatre without my name, so I put my name to it.

LA: Films can do adequately with a purely Bengali distribution, can they?

SR: You cannot go beyond a certain limit in your expenditure if you want to bring back money from your local market, which is very small after Pakistan. There is a ban on Indian films in Pakistan, so that's half of our market gone. My films play only in Bengal, and my audience is the educated middle class in the cities and small towns. They also play in Bombay, Madras and Delhi where there is a Bengali population.

A lot of non-Bengalis go, and take their Bengali friends along to give a running commentary.

LA: They don't title the films?

SR: I usually provide my producers and distributors with a cue sheet, but they never get down to doing it. One of the reasons is that we do not have a proper titling machine in India. It's done on a Heath-Robinson home-made device. If you want your film subtitled then you have to do it in Beirut, and for that you need foreign exchange which would probably take six months to come from Delhi.

LA: What is your experience of the international distribution?

SR: In Europe there is someone in Munich who buys up everything I do and then never plays them!


He buys it for the whole of Europe, including Eastern Europe. But he seems like more of a collector... I don't know what he does with them. I don't keep track of what happens to my films. When I finish, I go onto the next one and let my distributors handle that. You have to trust somebody...


LA: They sell them abroad?

SR: We had a distributor in the States called Ed Harrison who sadly died two years ago. I was told by somebody in Berlin that my films are running all over the place and they have been distributed amongst the distributors. They're running the films but I never get to know about them. I own two of them and I should be getting monthly statements if nothing else.

LA: Does that drive you mad?

SR: Only momentarily, because I'm normally working on something. You have to concentrate...


LA: Any questions?

Q: Your first scores were written by Ravi Shankar?

SR: Yes. Ever since Two Daughters I've been composing my own music. The composers I'd used previously were not film composers. They were concert performers. Ravi Shankar had done a lot of ballet compositions.

LA: Did he do The River?

SR: No, but the sitar you hear at the beginning of the film was my cameraman - he's quite a gifted sitarist.


He's also in a scene playing the sitar.

I had difficulty working with them because they were friends and I was starting to get too many ideas of my own. Obviously a composer wouldn't like to be guided beyond a certain point and I didn't want to jeopardise the friendship so I decided to try my own hand. I had no previous experience, but music has been my first love for quite a long time. I was interested in both Western and Indian classical music.

It was extremely difficult in the early stages, and what I would write would sound atrocious in the orchestra, so I scrapped a lot. I wrote some music for The Postmaster, but I didn't use any of it because it didn't sound right. But then I developed a certain proficiency.

LA: Does one write music down with the same series of notation as in the West?

SR: There is no system of orchestration in Indian music, so what's written down is a kind of [inaudible]

LA: Do they improvise much?

SR: Well, I would describe certain moods to Ravi Shankar, he rarely saw the films, but he would have the main motif in mind. So we had him do six or seven of these motifs on different instruments at various tempos. Then I had him play three minute pieces of sitar music and some pieces of orchestration that was improvised in different moods. When it came to actually laying down the tracks I found I was a little short of music, I needed more. Some of it was done by my cameraman. The music in The Confectioner was him and not Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar had some difficulties in the States because everyone would ask him to play the music from The Confectioner and he didn't know it!


LA: So when you're doing your music, do you do it closely to the picture?

SR: I know the picture so well that I don't have to look at it.

The conception of background music is changing. You use less and less of it these days. In The World of Apu, Ravi Shankar used teacups and things like that. Percussive. With the detective film, I didn't enjoy the story so I decided to have some fun with the music. I played some instruments and recorded them at different speeds and it was all synthetic. All done in my room, and no-one can work out what is being played, but it has the desired effect.

LA: When you use a musical ensemble for a score, how many people are involved?

SR: The largest number was about thirty. Generally it's about sixteen - you need a string section. I mix Indian instruments with Western instruments all the time.

LA: You can do Western notation?

SR: Yes. Some of my musicians don't know Western notation, so I sometimes have to do an Indian version too. I have an assistant who's also a flautist and who conducts.

LA: Had you written many songs before this film?

SR: I wrote the lyrics to a very traditional piece of music, there's hundreds of versions.

[Inaudible question]

SR:...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. There are some very serious blemishes that, if I had had more time, wouldn't be there. One of the reasons why some of my films seem so slow is because the soundtrack isn't expressive enough - maybe they need more sound or music.

LA: Do you have special dubbing editors?

SR: No, the same editing team.

Pace and Lighting

LA: Talking of pace...

SR: Sometimes I can understand why some people find certain things slow, because I feel that... Maybe the cutting is not as it might have been, but most of the time I think slowness is a matter of whether you're involved.

We use certain visual symbols with which the West is not familiar which mean something to a Bengali or Indian audience but don't mean anything to a Western audience. So you may have a pocket of boredom. This happens very often, actually.

LA: Do you think it's also to do with the tempo of life?

SR: Well, there are also a lot of European films that are slow.

LA: Absolutely. But most audiences are more prepared for Bullitt.


Life is moving to that tempo.

SR: I've accepted this fact of boredom. There's nothing I can do about it.


Q: Can you tell us about your lighting methods?

SR: 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. Even when I shot in colour, we had only one interior scene in a hotel, we used mirrors to reflect sunlight from the windows, onto a white sheet that then reflected back. This we found to be very satisfactory.

But in the early days we didn't have Double-X or Tri-X so we needed a tremendous amount of light. More and more we are finding it simpler and we use a box containing light with a translucent piece of paper that gives a strong, diffused light.

LA: Did you make them yourselves?

SR: My cameraman made them. He's very brainy. It was interesting because about five or six years ago my cameraman showed this me this article in The American Cinematographer written by Bergman's cameraman and this described this wonderful new method they had found. We'd been using it since 1958. It's something you devise out of necessity.

In America they still use direct lighting. I think that unless there's a definite source of light in a room, like a lamp, why use direct lights? Sunlight is diffuse.

Q: Can you give an example of the symbols that Western audiences might not understand?

SR: It certainly applies to all the small ritual scenes. The scene where Apu's father dies and what happens afterwards - there are a series of dissolves that show what is happening, but there are no words or subtitles to explain what's going on.

In India, a widow wears white. Apu's mother is shown wearing dark saris at the beginning of the film. After the death of her husband, the first shot of her wearing a white sari has an impact on an Indian audience that a Western audience entirely misses. There are many instances like that.


Q: What do you look for in a story that makes you think it is filmable?

SR: It's hard to describe, it consists of many things. Certain characters, certain situations and certain...

LA: Anything that happens to appeal?

SR: Yes! But it's hard to give an example. I don't like over-dependence on words, so that's important.

LA: It doesn't seem to me, for example, that Dostoyevsky can ever be filmed.

SR: Yes, I'm not very fond of the novelistic-type thing. If I were to do a novel I'd make a six-hour film, because if you want to deal with that depth you need more footage. Filmable must also mean it must be adaptable to a two hour span.

What I have done with some of the short stories is to create a package of stories, keeping them short, instead of trying to expand them.

You read a story and either it grips you in terms of the cinema or not. It's a chemistry. I'm sorry that this is obtuse... A background that is visually interesting - a village of mansion, and a certain movement or growth, something developing. A relationship developing, perhaps, coming to fruition...

Q: Can you say something about your own original screenplays?

SR: The first one was Kanchenjungha. 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.

LA: I don't think Kanchenjungha has been shown in London. That's very much a story about movement between bourgeois people in Darjeeling. It is entirely in terms of movement of personality between people.

SR: It's a bout a family on holiday in Darjeeling and it's the last day of the stay and the film starts at four in the afternoon and finishes at six. The film is also two hours long, so the story is continuous.

There's the autocratic father, the wife, two daughters, one of whom is married. There's a suitor around who wants to marry the younger daughter, but she feels differently. There is a son also who is a light-heated kind of person and in this short pace of time is jilted by one girl but finds another one.

The younger daughter manages to refuse the suitor, she has the courage to say no having been under the power of her father. The elder daughter is on the brink of divorce with her husband, but at the end of the story they are brought together through their child.

They're all together at the beginning of the story, then the story splits up and the characters go their own ways. There are little developments along the way and then the father suddenly realises that he has lost his domination. It's established in the beginning of the film that they all want to see the wonderful snow peaks of the mountains, and they are hoping for the cloud to lift. They make an arrangement to meet at a certain spot at six o'clock. The father turns up but no-one else is there, because they have all been involved in their own problems. Finally, it's the audience who sees the peaks, but non-one else does because the father is too flustered.

Q: When you make films about social problems, you never offer an answer, why?

SR: I don't provide the answers, but I like to make the audience aware of certain things and clarify certain things.

Q: Do you not think that people want to change the things they are aware of?

LA: They don't.

SR: That's all I can do, I'm afraid. I'm not capable... Has any film changed anything? No. Is If... going to change the public school system?

[Huge laughter]

I'm a huge admirer of the film...

LA: I didn't think it was going to change anything, but I'm beginning to wonder... There are some very disturbing things in the papers at the moment... An artists strives to make people aware in a different, and perhaps deeper, sense than they are made aware by a newspaper. The only solutions that are ever worth anything are the solutions that people find themselves.

Chaterjee and Tagore

Q: Your films seem to be obsessed with a time gone by? Why not take the work of a modern author?

SR: Have you seen all my films?

Q: Most of them.

SR: Have you seen Mahanagar? That's about contemporary Calcutta. Have you seen Nayak? That is a present day story. The one I'm in the middle of at the moment is by one of our most promising novelists about very contemporary people. But I'm also interested in the nineteenth century. I'm interested in the fantasy. I'm interested in satirical comedy.

About fifty percent of my films have been about contemporary Bengali society. But there is the rural scene and the urban scene. There's the past, present, music, history...so many things you have to do.

Q: Your films seem to portray the fatalism and emotionalism of the Bengali temperament with great sensitivity but I think this has changed in the cities.

SR: I'm not saying that I wouldn't touch that material, I'm just waiting for the right story. The moment I find a story that interests me, or when I write an original screenplay...

LA: An artist isn't any good if they make a film out of a sense of obligation to this or that section of society that doesn't correspond to their creative impulse. It might be critically approved, but creatively dead. An artist isn't a portable Arts Council...

Q: Why aren't you inspired by Chaterjee's novels rather than Tagore's?

SR: Most of Chaterjee's novels have been filmed two or three times, right from the start of the silent cinema. There is very little left, and what is left is of such a high price that it's beyond my reach.

I don't like everything he's written, but there are two or three stories that I would like to film one day, if they would step down the price a little.

Q: But what about realism?

SR: I think Tagore is realistic... I don't quite agree with you.

Q: Are there established traditions of acting in Bengal, or have you found your actors elsewhere?

SR: In the trilogy I primarily used actors who had never acted before, with the exception of three or four. Of course, those actors were not necessarily used to film acting rather than classical theatre acting which is a bit larger than life. We have a great theatrical tradition in Bengal, started by a Russian in the eighteenth century. We have some great young actors that can perform for both stage and screen.

When I use non-professionals, I use different methods for different actors. Some of them are very intelligent indeed.

LA: You work with many actors more than once.

SR: Yes, you build up a relationship that makes it easier to do another film. It becomes a quicker and easier process. Some of the actors and actresses who I 'discovered' are now leading stars. Some of them have gone to Bombay. Sharmila Tagore herself is one of the leading Bombay actresses. She's in my current film, and she returns back to the old Sharmila. She is still useable in my films.


I think the actors and actresses in Bombay are great craftsmen, very intelligent.

LA: You do use a lot of actors when you want to...

SR: I start looking for amateurs, and if I don't find someone who fits a certain image in my mind then I go after professionals. Or maybe the other way round.

Q: Would you ever like to work outside of India?

SR: I have no intention of doing that, there's lots to be done inside Bengal.

Q: Would you like to make a film elsewhere in India?

SR: Since I write my own screenplays, making a play in Hindi would involve using another scriptwriter, because I couldn't direct a film in a language I wasn't fluent in. I'd feel lost, and I'd lose confidence. And I need confidence.

Q: [Inaudible question about a scene in Charulata]

SR: I didn't want it to be completely naturalistic, because it starts in a naturalistic vein with him at the piano but then he gets up to do a dance and I wanted a sort of lift there. To give it another level. It's supposed to be a very gay scene. It's in contrast to the scene where she's on the swing in the garden, and she sings but there's no orchestra. I wanted to point out the difference between the two scenes.

Q: [Inaudible question about the Indian classic, The Mahabharata]

SR: No, I've given it up. I could do a segment, perhaps, but the whole thing is too large. One difficulty I faced in trying to reduce it to a scenario was the fact that there are fourteen major characters and the relationships are so complicated. An Indian audience would know who was related to whom...

It's impossible, and this one had a family tree in it. In film, it's very difficult to establish relationships. If somebody is someone's father, you have to call him that three times before it is established. The same with geography.

Q: Why did you ever think of it?

SR: It's a splendid epic. It has been filmed in India in Hindi and Tamil several times - not the whole of it, but large chunks. I wanted to do it on an international scale, but I think it would be a failure for the reasons I've given. I could do a small segment one day, I suppose.

Q: What about Ramayana rather than The Mahabharata?

SR: I think The Mahabharata is less supernatural. The monkey army and all that...

Q: [Inaudible question about the ending of Charulata]

The story had no definite conclusion, so I had the two hands coming closer, then a freeze to suggest it couldn't happen immediately. I wanted an ambiguous ending.

LA: And it's not really the end of the story...

SR: No, it ends with a word, the husband says something. I was looking for a visual equivalent of the words, so I used a freeze.


Q: When can we expect to see a film about the Indian and non-white experience in England. It is surely a responsibility for someone to describe this?

SR: Isn't there an Indian in Britain who is making films who might be in a better position than I am to do so.

[Inaudible argument between members of the audience...]

Q: I don't think Mr Ray should be expected to make films about things he has little experience of.

[More audience comment that is inaudible]

SR: I've only been to England ten or twelve times, and never for that long.

LA: May I suggest that we don't spend our time telling Mr Ray what films he should and should not be making.


Q: Mr Ray, you have not concerned yourself with the Muslim population of Bengal...

Q: Can we get back to discussing film?

Q: What other film-makers do you admire?

SR: Truffaut, Kurosawa - I admire many Japanese directors. They are great film-makers, which means all aspects of film-making. Kurosawa has great humanism, style and verve. His style is very different, and has something of the West in him. I also like Western directors. These days I find I like films more than I like directors. These days, directors do not come up to your expectations all the time. I like Masculine et Feminine, but there is a lot of Godard that I don't enjoy.

Q: Has censorship in India limited your work?

SR: In certain areas there is a limitation. In the area of sex for example, and certain areas of politics. It also serves as a certain kind of challenge, and you are forced to be subtle which can be an interesting thing at times.

LA: Yes, it makes you be clever.

SR: Oblique, yes.

Q: Do you feel you are evolving style-wise, and if so, where are you going?

SR: No, working on a fairy tale demanded a different style of camera work. It had to be told in a different way with a different pace. Style grows with the piece. I'm not an intellectual film-maker, I don't work it out with triangles and squares. It just evolves. If it feels right then I do it.

LA: Are you limited to any great degree by technical limitations?

SR: I'm often not happy with processing. We really have only one good lab in Calcutta, so there is a great pressure there and you don't get as much personal service as you would like. The Swedes are incredible, you don't ever get a quality like that. But nowadays, grain and diffuse patches don't seem to matter so much. Thanks to Godard.

LA: What about colour?

SR: Colour processing is excellent in India.

LA: Would you like to work more in colour?

SR: Not necessarily. It depends on the story you get. You can't think of every story being right for colour. I'm still old-fashioned.

LA: You're lucky. Here, to get finance, you have to shoot in colour. Also, if it is shown in a different format, you can't compose your film properly because they cut a bit off the frame. You still compose for the whole frame?

SR: Yes, but I don't dislike widescreen. It's alright. I don't like Cinemascope so much.

The stock problem is that we can't use Kodak anymore. We've been told that we've got to use East-European film instead. The labs have to get used to this new stock.

We have dollies and trains and all that, but whether it's a good dolly, you never know.

LA: Do you think that that keeps your style simple?

SR: Well, fantasy's not that simple any more. You can achieve a certain complexity in the cutting too, it's not just camera movement. Although I like a fairly mobile style of shooting. I find the zoom quite useful now.

Period films

Q: Is it easier to do a period film in India or Japan than in the West, do you think?

SR: I don't know if it's difficult for the West. I like it as an exercise, I like the research and the challenge you face.

LA: I think it's very difficult to say here. It cost more money. If you can shoot a period film in a rural area then it's obviously cheaper.

SR: It's difficult for us too. Charulata was easy for us because there were no exterior shots at all. There was one scene in a street where it was hard to avoid electric lights, but we didn't think we could do a story based in Calcutta in the 1820s without a lot of shooting in the street. So we avoided that.

[Inaudible question]

LA: One thing we are uncovering here is a good new season for the NFT. Three Daughters became Two Daughters in England because one of the films was not subtitled in time.

Q: How much do you see your films as being about a conflict between rural India and new India?

SR: I agree with that, yes. I think it's one of the most interesting things about our country.

Q: Has the subject of Gandhi been of interest to you? Would you like to make a film about him?

SR: Well, a three or four hour documentary has been made, using most of the available footage of him. I wouldn't like to do a biopic of Gandhi, I wouldn't want anyone to impersonate Gandhi. It's too soon.

LA: They're going to now. I think David Lean is going to make it.

SR: Who will play Ghandi?

LA: Well, I don't think Alec Guinness...


Why do they laugh? You think it's unlikely?

SR: Yes, I've heard that Guinness could play Gandhi because he has similar ears.


Final Questions

Q: Could you elaborate on the censorship problems that you face?

SR: There is a central board in Delhi which applies to foreign films and a local board in Bengal. Approximately the same sets of rules apply across the country. They're very strong on violence, they'll cut out scenes of bloodshed. And bedroom scenes. Also political, up to a point. It's not clear to me, I've discussed it with people in Delhi and there's been an effort to discuss this issue. They're trying to arrive at a more relaxed set of rules so that at least we can show kissing on the screen.

In the early days there was kissing on the screen, but censorship was started by the British.

Q: The film you're shooting at the moment, could you tell us more? And is there another Bengali film director that you admire?

SR: There has been some interesting and admirable work in Bengal over the last ten years. Ghatak and Sen are both good, and they should be shown here. Ghatak will stop making films because no-one will take him on. He's an alcoholic. Sen has started making a Hindi film instead, in order to get money.

The story I'm filming at the moment is, as I say, by a very promising young novelist. It is about some young men who go out into a forest area for a holiday. They're hoping to have a bohemian, relaxed time. They get very seriously involved with three girls. It's a story about relationships.

There are three kinds of affairs, one is on a very serious, intellectual level that might develop into a love affair. The second one is a very timid young man who is being seduced by a young widow, but he can't shake his timidity. The third is a sportsman who has a very brief affair with a tribal girl on a very physical level. At the end they all cover it up from each other.

Q: Which of your films do you like best, and why?

SR: Your reactions to your own films are coloured by the reactions of audiences and critics. I've had some unfortunate experiences with films that I thought were good but have been made to reconsider. You get confused.

I like the trilogy, I think of it as one film. I like...oooh...I like quite a lot of my films!

My first original screenplay was very personal to me, and I wouldn't necessarily expect anyone to like it.

LA: Satyajit Ray, ladies and gentlemen.

Source: BFI