January 25, 2011

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


  1. wonderful...fantastic work.

  2. thnk you sayantan...

    keep visiting...