As the title suggests Satyajit Ray writes about his own films and about the world cinema. He talks about Cinema that influenced him and that he was a part of. It is a collection of essays written over a period of more than twenty years from the 1940s to the 1970s. Since they were written at different points in time, at times they give an impression of disjointed thoughts. At the same time, you get to know the thought process of someone in the middle of the action as it was. Not how he thinks in retrospect.
The first half of the book talks about mainly his cinema. His journey into the world of cinema and a bit of Bengali cinema. While the latter half he talks about the world cinema and its people who make this industry or are the stalwarts of this industry.
He begins by talking about his love for world cinema as an audience. His professional career started as an ad man before he took his seat behind the camera, something for which he would be known for the rest of the time. What is really interesting about the book is that he talks about the craft of film-making – technique, the equipment, the search for right locations. The imagination that blends with the right amount of practicality.
In fact, one essay talks about the aspects of his craft. It covers topics like story, script, casting, handling actors, designing, camera work, editing, and music. Satyajit Ray takes examples from his films to explain them, though I found the essay very brief. He also talks about the problems that Bengali cinema faced primarily due to limited funds. Only in one essay, he talks about Hindi films. His analysis is more focused on the genre of films than anything else.
Satyajit Ray formed the first film club in India before becoming a film-maker and wrote articles about Bengali cinema in newspapers.
He talks about how Pather Panchali happened in his mind. Especially the learnings that he had each day while shooting this film. There are excerpts from his diary when he was location hunting and shooting in Benaras. These small daily excerpts say a lot about behind the scene activities and struggles without explaining them. At places, he shares his experiences of meeting cinema and other personalities during his course of work. It appears very interesting as he always has his film on his mind and the other person has him on his mind.
Satyajit Ray narrated an important story behind his movie ‘Jalsaghar’ which is based on Tarashankar Bannerji’s short story. He went all around looking for a palace for the movie, and just when he was about to give up someone directed him to a palace in Nimtita. As soon as he saw the palace he knew this was the exact location that he was looking for. Later he mentioned this to the author of the story. In return, the author revealed that this very palace and the Zamindars who owned the palace were the inspiration for the story. You can make out the sensitivities of the author to capture and portray the spirit of the place. Also the sensitivity of the reader to absorb the same to be able to locate the place by its mere fictional description.
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In the second section, he talks about Italian, American, British, Japanese and Russian films. Films that he saw and I assume he likes or found worth his criticism. He writes a complete essay on Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, what it tells about the actor and what it does not. He dedicates an essay to Akira Kurosawa. The Japanese director who directed Rashomon and is considered to be a genre in himself in the Japanese cinema.
The book ends with a chapter on Silent films. It clearly shows Ray’s admiration for them, for he feels cinema is a visual medium and it should be able to convey everything through visuals and need not require the help of spoken word. You can almost feel that he is missing the silent cinema as there seems to be no way to go back to them.
For those who have not been a part of the filmmaking, it makes an interesting reading to learn what goes into the making of a film. This also shows Satyajit Ray’s global persona. I am not sure how many of his contemporaries had it.
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