When he was three years old, Satyajit Ray's father Sukumar Ray – a noted writer, illustrator and critic passed away. His grandfather, another towering figure in Bangla literature, had passed six years before his birth, too, so Satyajit could not really be directly influenced by his ancestry. He graduated in Economics from the Presidency College, but his mother Suprabha Ray always knew that her son's calling would be in fine arts, and insisted that he go study at Tagore's Visva Bharati University. There he found his interest in oriental arts, from the likes of Nandalal Bose and Benod Behari Chowdhury, and after graduating, began work in an advertising firm DJ Keymer as a visualiser. Later, during his stint at Signet Press, he designed covers of a number of books, including Jibanananda Das's “Banalata Sen” and “Ruposhi Bangla”, Bibhutibhushan's “Chander Pahar”, Jim Corbett's “Maneaters of Kumaon”, and Jawaharlal Nehru's “Discovery of India”, but the work that really stuck with him was a children's version of the Bibhutibhushan classic “Pather Panchali”, renamed as “Aam Antir Bhepu”. He would go on to make it the subject of his first film, bringing his illustrations to life on the camera.
His fascination for cinema was not an overnight whim either. He founded the Calcutta Film Society in '47, screening mostly foreign films.y. When he was sent to London by his office for three months, Ray went on a spree and watched 99 films – something that would shape his life and legacy in years to come.
Starting work on “Pather Panchali” was not easy. His savings went into it, and despite having amateur actors and an inexperienced crew on board, expenses were hard to meet. The shoestring-budget film was completed on a grant from the West Bengal government, after three years in the making. The film was unlike anything anyone had seen in Indian cinema, and drew attention from the biggest film critics of the world. It won 11 international awards including Best Humane Documentary at Cannes in 1955. Over the next years, he would make “Aparijito” and “Apur Sansar”, completing the Apu trilogy, in all of which he did the scripting, casting, scoring, editing, and designed his own credit titles and publicity material.
Ray considered his 1964 film “Charulata”, based on Tagore's short story “Nashtanirh”, as his work with the least flaws; it is also widely considered his most accomplished work. But in the meantime, he had made “Kanchenjungha”, “Mahanagar”, “Teen Kanya” and “Kapurush O Mohapurush”. After that, he began taking on challenges of varying genres, including “Nayak” (starring Uttam Kumar and Sharmila Tagore), musical fantasy “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” and Aranyer Dinratri”, based on a novel by then-young and promising writer Sunil Gangopadhyay. Addressing contemporary Bengali life, he made a thematic 'Calcutta Trilogy' of “Protidhwoni”, “Seemabodhho” and “Jana Aranys” in the seventies, as long as bringing on screen his immortal character, Feluda the sleuth, with “Sonar Kella” and “Joy Baba Felunath”. In 1977, he would make his first non-Bangla film, “Shatranj Ke Khiladi”, set in Lucknow a year before the Revolution of 1857.
In 1983, he suffered a heart attack while filming “Ghaire Baire” based on Tagore's novel, that he had written the first draft for in the '40s. His son took the camera to complete it. His last three films were shot mostly indoors as his health gave in slowly.
Ray won a staggering 32 Indian National Film Awards, along with accolades from all the major awards worldwide; Cannes, Venice, Moscow, and Berlin Film Festivals, and 24 days before he would pass away, he received an honorary Academy Award, in 1992. He was conferred an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the Bharat Ratna, and the Legion of Honor by the president of France.
With his works, Ray told tales, in content and style in a way no one had done in India. And it should therefore come as no surprise that he influenced many noted filmmakers of generations to come, and his name is taken with great honour and respect in any film fraternity across the globe.