Satyajit Ray is undoubtedly one of the greatest film makers in the history of Indian cinema who garnered international recognition with his legendary film Pather Panchali. The film maker has given the audience a number of great films which are phenomenal, catering to film enthusiasts around the world. Showtime took time to list some of Ray’s finest films for you to watch which are known to represent our society, making them ever so relatable for us.
Jalsaghar - The Music Room (1958)
Jalsaghar, (The Music Room) is set in the 1920s, after the Indian government had abolished the feudal zamindari system. The film stars Chhabi Biswas as a landed aristocrat, Roy, who sequesters himself in his grand home, taking refuge in his beloved classical music while the winds of change rage outside. Ray brings Roy’s perfumed world to life with glittering images of fireworks, gleaming chandeliers and the cavernous extravagance of his music room, where he invites satirists and dancers to entertain him and his guests. But there are also portentous images of doom – a lightning storm, an insect drowning in a goblet, a spider crawling across the portrait of one of his illustrious ancestors – which suggest that these musicians are merely fiddling while Roy’s Rome burns.
Mohanagar - The Big City (1963)
There’s a scene minutes into The Big City when Arati Mazumdar (Madhabi Mukherjee) turns to her husband, Subrata (Anil Chatterjee), saying, “If you saw me at work you wouldn’t recognise me.” Her eyes are bright with pride, widened by new experiences. He’s envious of his wife’s professional prowess, and struggling to adapt to these changes in the subservient housewife he loves.
Finding it hard to support a large, extended family on his bank-clerk salary alone, she persuaded him to let her take a job as a saleswoman. To her surprise, and the consternation of her hidebound, traditionalist family, Arati - who has never known much outside cooking and cleaning at home - takes to the world of work like a duck to water. She finds herself surprisingly adept at earning money, and laps up her newfound independence in the city, the camaraderie of her colleagues, and glowing praise from her boss. With this 1963 drama, Ray found himself railing against the “a woman’s place is in the home” mentality, making a sassy, nuanced and deeply moving film about the gathering speed of modernity and feminism in his home city of Calcutta.
Aranyer Din Ratri - Days and Nights in the Forest (1970)
Mentored by the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir in his early career, Ray created a tribute to Renoir’s classic Partie de campagne (1936) with Days and Nights in the Forest, transplanting the scene from pastoral France to the forests of north-eastern India. In Bangla, this film is known as Aranyer Din Ratri.
Widely considered as Ray’s best film, it talks about four men in their late twenties looking to take a vacation to escape the boredom of their city lives. The little vacation, in the end, turns out to change their lives forever.
Like the Renoir film, the story is about middle-class city folk taking a holiday to the countryside. Four male friends from Calcutta go on a road trip to rural Bihar, where they lodge at a forest guest house despite the protestations of its caretaker. They’re from the big city: brash, confident, careerist and ready to lord it over the more “backward” tribal communities living near their lodging. They vow not to shave, but that changes when they come across two beautiful women staying nearby, and an elegant game of flirtation and embarrassment ensues.
Ray’s ode to the prevalent Naxalism during the mid-70s in Calcutta, and the uprising of CPML under Charu Majumdar, the film showcases a stellar performance from Dhrittiman Chatterjee as the protagonist.
The story revolves around a young college graduate who is struggling to find a job. He lives in a flat with his younger, employed sister, revolutionary brother and widowed mother. The strain of the situation ultimately causes him to hallucinate.
This story was originally written by Sunil Gangopadhyay while the screenplay was written by Ray himself.
Shatranj ke Khiladi – The Chess Players (1977)
Shatranj ke Khiladi, Ray’s satire on the annexation of Awadh is based on the source material of Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same title. Amjad Ali Khan plays Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, while Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey play two noblemen obsessed with chess.
Satyajit Ray portrays the nawab as an extravagant but sympathetic figure. He is an artist and poet, no longer in command of events and unable to effectively oppose the British and fight to retrieve his throne. Parallel to the wider drama is the personal (and sometimes humorous) tale of two rich noblemen of this kingdom, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali. Inseparable as friends, the two nobles became passionately obsessed with the game of shatranj (chess), neglecting his (Mirza Sajjid Ali’s) wife and failing to act against the real-life seizure of their kingdom by the East India Company. Instead, the two nobles abandon their families and responsibilities, fleeing from Lucknow to play chess in a village, living in exile and untroubled by greater events. Ray’s basic theme in the film is the message that the detachment of India’s ruling classes assisted a small number of British officials and soldiers to take over Awadh without opposition.
Surprisingly, Shatranj ke Khiladi was Ray’s only Hindi film.