The Film Society of Lincoln Center will celebrate India’s greatest filmmaker and one of cinema’s greatest auteurs, Satyajit Ray, with First Light: Satyajit Ray from the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy, unspooling at the Walter Reade Theater from Wednesday, April 15 through Thursday April 30, (16 Days). Featuring over 20 films, with six in new 35mm prints from the Academy Film Archive, the series concentrates on what is roughly the first half of Ray’s career, when he broke out internationally as an important new voice in world cinema.
“A Ray film invites you in, but also demands that you accept it on its own terms,” says Richard Peña, The Film Society’s Director of Programming. “And those who open themselves to Ray’s method are in for some of the richest experiences the cinema has to offer.” The recent spike of interest in India—from its propitious emergence as a major economic power to the worldwide success of Slumdog Millionaire—makes this an especially apt moment to witness and celebrate the accomplishments of Satyajit Ray, who won the Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement at the 1991 Academy Awards, “for his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”
First Light opens on Wednesday, April 15 with the film that put him on the cinematic map, Pather Panchali (1955), of which Pauline Kael wrote “beautiful, sometimes funny, and full of love.” With a brilliant soundtrack by Ravi Shankar, to which Wes Anderson paid tribute by using it in The Darjeeling Limited (along with music from many other Ray films), Pather Panchali is the first part of the “Apu Trilogy” following a boy’s adventures in a remote Bengali village. The trilogy’s 2nd part, Aparajito (Wed, Apr 15 & Sat, Apr 18) made a year later, which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival (the Golden Lion), follows Apu after his father passes away. Finally, 1959’s Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (Thu, Apr 16 & Sat, Apr 18), made two films after Aparajito, is considered by many as the trio’s masterpiece, a deeply affecting portrait of a more opaque, ambiguous Apu struggling to discover his place in the world.
Other highlights of the series are 1960’s Devi (“One of Satyajit Ray’s greatest early films” – Jonathan Rosenbaum), playing on Thu, Apr 21; 1964’s Charulata (“Surpasses everything Ray has ever achieved before” – Richard Roud, NYFF), playing Fri, Apr 17, Sat, Apr 18 & Mon, Apr 20; and, showing in a new 35mm print, 1958’s The Music Room (Wed, Apr 15 & Thu, Apr 16), an atmospheric nod to India’s splendiferous past which draws comparisons to Citizen Kane. Tom Milne (Time Out London) called it “a remarkable experience”.
Other new 35mm prints made possible by the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project at the Academy Film Archive are The Expedition (1962), The Coward and the Holy Man (1965), The Hero (1966), The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1968) and Two (1965), a rare short made for the Esso World Theater.
The series concludes with Ray’s “Calcutta Trilogy”; 1971’s The Adversary (Mon, Apr 27 and Tue, Apr 28), is “one of Ray’s tenderest love stories” (10th New York Film Festival), but also powerfully captures the turmoil of the late ’60s through reactions to Vietnam. Company Limited, also from 1971 (Tue, Apr 28), is a thoughtful, biting satire of a Westernized India on the decline and is filled with inventive humor; its final scene is among the most poetic in Ray’s oeuvre. Finally 1975’s The Middleman (Wed, April 29) follows a college grad who enters a life of corruption; Jonathan Rosenbaum has compared it to Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and John Cassavetes’s Faces.
Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), was born into a family of distinguished printers, writers and artists in Calcutta. At the age of 18, upon his mother’s prodding, he started studies at Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishva-Bharati University in order to become a commercial artist. Ray left the university before graduating and joined an advertising agency, where he would work for 13 years. An avid film fan since school years, he co-founded Calcutta’s first film society in 1947. Around the same time, Ray started writing film criticism, which appeared in both English and Bengali publications. In 1949, Ray met Jean Renoir, while the French director was scouting locations in India for The River. Renoir encouraged Ray’s passion for cinema; however, an appointment to the London office of the ad agency prevented him from working on Renoir’s film. While in London, Ray saw De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, which solidified his ideas about making a realistic Indian film, shot in existing locations with a non-professional cast. This resulted in Pather Panchali, a project that was on Ray’s mind before he met Renoir. Filmed over the course of three years, it premiered at MoMA in 1955 and was released in India a few months later to become a great box-office success. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India at the time, was so touched by the film that he arranged for its inclusion into Cannes, where it won a special prize. Worldwide recognition soon followed, allowing Ray complete authority over his subsequent films. A prolific director, he made a feature every year from 1956 to 1981. In addition, Ray developed a notable literary career, writing short stories, articles and novels as well as reviving a children’s magazine, Sandesh, started by his grandfather. On March 30, 1992, Satyajit Ray was awarded the Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. Due to ill health, he could not attend the ceremony and his acceptance speech was pre-recorded in Calcutta. He died on April 23 that year.
This series is a tribute to the work of the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, which together with the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz has done so much to preserve and promote the work of this major film artist for future generations. The archive is currently hard at work restoring the rest of Ray’s films. We hope to be able to present a series built around the second half of Satyajit Ray’s career in the not-so-distant future.
In conjunction with this series, a major conference on Satyajit Ray will be held at Columbia University on Saturday, April 25. The conference will include a keynote lecture from Robert Young (Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature, New York University) and talks by Samik Banerjee (theater, film, and arts critic; Vice Chairman, National School of Drama, India), Shyam Benegal (filmmaker), Mihir Bhattacha Rya, Moinak Biswas (Film Studies Professor, Jadavpur University; Editor, Journal of the Moving Image), Marcia Landy (Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh), Mira Nair (filmmaker; President, Mirabai Films), Ashish Rajyadhyaksha (Centre for the Study of Culture & Society, Bangalore) and Sandip Ray, film director and the son of Satyajit Ray. For more information, call (212) 851-0231.
Wednesday, April 15
2:00 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)
4:15 Aparajito (The Unvanquished)
6:40 Jalsaghar (The Music Room)
8:45 Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone)
Thursday, April 16
4:00 Jalsaghar (The Music Room)
6:15 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)
8:40 Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)
Friday, April 17
1:30 Charulata (The Lonely Wife)
4:00 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)
6:30 Charulata (The Lonely Wife)
9:00 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)
Saturday, April 18
1:45 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)
4:10 Aparajito (The Unvanquished)
6:30 Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)
8:45 Charulata (The Lonely Wife)
Sunday, April 19
6:00 Rabindranath Tagore, with Two
7:45 Teen Kanya (Two Daughters)
Monday, April 20
3:30 Charulata (The Lonely Wife)
Tuesday, April 21
1:00 Abhijaan (The Expedition)
6:15 Devi (The Goddess)
8:15 Kapurush-o-Mahapurush (The Coward and The Holy Man)
Wednesday, April 22
1:00 Mahanagar (The Big City)
3:30 Kapurush-o-Mahapurush (The Coward and The Holy Man)
9:00 Abhijaan (The Expedition)
Thursday, April 23
6:45 Nayak (The Hero)
9:10 Chiriyakhana (The Zoo)*
Saturday, April 25
9:00 Mahanagar (The Big City)
Sunday, April 26
1:30 Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha)
4:00 Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest)
Monday, April 27
4:00 Nayak (The Hero)
6:30 Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest)
8:45 Pratidwandi (The Adversary, aka Siddharta and the City)
Tuesday, April 28
1:45 Pratidwandi (The Adversary, aka Siddharta and the City)
4:00 Seemabaddha (Company Limited)
9:00 Seemabaddha (Company Limited)
Wednesday, April 29
1:00 Satyajit Ray, Filmmaker
3:40 Jana Aranya (The Middleman)
6:15 Satyajit Ray, Filmmaker
8:50 Jana Aranya (The Middleman)
Thursday, April 30
7:30 YOUNG FRIENDS OF FILM: Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest)
all times p.m.
* Note: This film is not subtitled. A synopsis will be provided.
Single screening tickets to First Light: Satyajit Ray from the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at filmlinc.com. A series pass admitting one person to a total of five titles in the series can be purchased at the Walter Reade Theater box office (cash only) for $40; $30 for Film Society members. For information, call (212) 875-5601.
Single screening tickets to Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), screening on Sunday, April 19 at 7:45pm are $15; $12 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $13 for seniors (62+).