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A Film-Maker's Musings

P. Balakrishnan

By Satyajit Ray
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1976, 219, 60.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

There already exist two full-length studies on Satyajit Ray: a biographical study by Marie Seton and Robin Wood’s Apu Trilogy. But Orient Longman’s expensively brought out Our Films, Their Films is a rare book-a noted film-maker's musings about himself, his craft and about other film makers. The book which represents a sizeable amount of Ray’s writings on films is actually a compilation of magazine articles (and, therefore, contains little that is new to any serious student of cinema) written between 1948-73. The 25 pieces fall neatly into two sections : the first discusses Indian Cinema and includes the justly celebrated but controversial article ‘An Indian New Wave’ which first appeared in Filmfare; the second section discusses Chaplin, the silent films, Kurosawa, Hitchcock (all provoked by books to be reviewed) Hollywood Then and Now, the British Cinema, Renoir, Ford and Italian Films. It will come as no surprise to anyone already aware of Ray’s versatility in the arts and that he has never collaborated on his film scripts that he writes extremely well. His writing, like his films, is marked by a singular economy of expression. The reasons are not far to seek; ‘In Santiniketan’, Ray writes, ‘as a student of painting, I had been drawn towards far-eastern calligraphy which goes to the heart of the perceived reality.’ Another striking similarity between his writing and his films is the use of significant detail. It is this unerring eye for detail, a trait he shares with Renoir and his mentor Erich von Stroheim, that raises his films and his descriptions of people, places and events above the ordinary. Thrown for the first time into the alien world of the village, he worries over minute details. ‘To one born and bred in the city, it had a new flavour, a new texture: you wanted to observe and probe to catch the revealing details, the telling gest­ures, the particular turns of speech. You wanted to fathom the mysteries of “atmosphere”. Does it consist in the sights, or in the sounds? How to catch the subtle difference between dawn and dusk or convey the grey humid stillness that precedes the first monsoon shower? Is sunlight in spring the same as sunlight in autumn?’ To Ray it is this attention to detail which allows the film-maker to invest the casual moment with poetic significance and is unique to the medium of cinema. He ...

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