Today marks the 101st birth anniversary of one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Satyajit Ray. While his socio-political movies are often talked about and discussed deeply, we often forget about the documentaries directed by the legend. And what better day to discuss the top 5 documentaries of the auteur that you absolutely cannot miss? Let’s take a look:
Set against the backdrop of Tagore’s death in 1941, this documentary is a homage to the writer and poet’s work through his life. The film features many interesting details like real footage from Tagore’s funeral, Ray’s own narration and several different acted scenes. What’s even more interesting is that Ray refused to include any of Tagore’s poetry in the documentary, as he was not happy with the English translation. He believed, “it would not make the right impression if recited” and that people would not consider Tagore “a very great poet.”
Through his career, Ray explored various political themes. One of which, or perhaps the most controversial them all is Sikkim. The film which was commissioned by the Chogyal (King) of Sikkim, after his rule was challenged by both India and China, was banned on release and was only screened after 39 years in 2010.
Before its public release, Ray was heard describing the documentary and the beauty of Sikkim in a rather poetic way: “I cut to a shot of a piece of telegraph wire. It’s raining and there are two drops of rain approaching on a downward curve. It’s a very poetic seven minutes. And the end is also very lively, very optimistic, with children, happy, laughing, smoking, singing. The whole thing builds up into a paean of praise for the place.”
What happens when two artists at the peak of their prowess meet each other? You get a visual treat like Bala. The documentary was commissioned by the Tamil Nadu state government, to capture the life of Balasaraswati, who’s considered to be the greatest Bharatanatyam dancer of all time. The film, which again features narration by Ray, takes us from understanding the basics of the dance form and culminates into two performances: one on a beach, the other in front of a live audience.
Considered to be one of Ray’s last works, this short documentary is also perhaps his most personal one. Released on his father’s 100th birthday, Ray puts the focus on his father, Sukumar Ray and his life as a poet, illustrator, photographer, and social reformer.
The documentary begins by showing us the drawing of Sukumar Ray for children’s books Abol Tabol, HaJaBaRaLa, and Heshoram Hushiarer Diary and ends with his death from a terminal disease on September 10th, 1923.
Considered one of his best works, this 20-minute documentary details the life and work of Benode Behari Mukherjee, a blind artist and a teacher of Ray at Tagore’s University at Santiniketan. The film takes us through his journey from childhood to his blindness, with a showcase of the artist’s paintings and photographs. The Inner Eye won a National Award for Best Information Film (Documentary).
Image credits – Nemai Ghosh, Stayjitray.org