From HT Archives: Bharat Ratna for Indian cinema’s great global icon - Hindustan Times

From HT Archives: Bharat Ratna for Indian cinema’s great global icon

Mar 23, 2024 05:56 AM IST

Renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, honored with Bharat Ratna and an Oscar, praised for his exceptional contributions to Indian cinema, passed away.

New Delhi Renowned film producer and director Satyajit Ray was conferred with the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, a Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson announced on March 20, 1992 -- days after Ray became the first Indian filmmaker to be honoured with a lifetime achievement Academy Award.

The government conferred the Bharat Ratna on Ray days after the film producer-director won the Oscar Award for lifetime achievement. (Getty Images)
The government conferred the Bharat Ratna on Ray days after the film producer-director won the Oscar Award for lifetime achievement. (Getty Images)

The announcement came shortly after Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao called on the President and held discussions for about 20 minutes.

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A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said the award was conferred on Ray, who is presently undergoing treatment for respiratory problems at a South Calcutta nursing home, for his “distinguished and excellent services”.

The 71-year-old acclaimed filmmaker was also conferred the national professorship, along with noted economist KN Raj, by the government.

Ray was awarded the Oscar on March 16 in the Intensive Coronary Care Unit of the City Nursing Home in Calcutta, in the presence of his family members, including his wife Bijaya Ray and son Sandip Ray, besides Dilip Basu, a family friend.

Born in Calcutta on May 2, 1921, Satyajit Ray made his debut in the film world in 1955 with Pather Panchali which instantly became an all-time great of Indian cinema. The film won a special jury prize at the 1956 Cannes International Film Festival and 15 other international awards and is considered by many experts to be one of the best films ever made. It also earned him the prestigious gold and silver medals.

Some of his well-known films include Apur Sansar, Aparajito, Charulata, Nayak, Mahanagar, Devi, Shatranj ke Khiladi, Sadgati, Aagantuk, Pratidwandi, and Ganashatru.

Ray received the President’s gold medal five times besides several awards for screenplay, direction and music. Thrice he chaired IFFI juries and also served on juries at Moscow, Berlin and Cannes. In 1985, a retrospective of Satyajit Ray’s 25 films was held in the United States.

In 1989, the French President flew to Calcutta to decorate Satyajit Ray with the highest French national honour in the bicentennial year of the French revolution.

At least four foreign authors have written books on him, and three foreign TV companies have made full-length documentaries about him.

Writing in The New York Times in 1985, American film critic Vincent Canby hailed Ray as a great and extraordinary movie maker, concluding that “no matter what the particular story, no matter what the social-political circumstances of the characters”, his cinema “is so exquisitely realized that an entire world is evoked from comparatively limited details”.

After receiving his Oscar, Ray said: “I have survived because of my foreign market. Without that I wouldn’t have survived at all. I would have stopped making films and gone back to my old profession, advertising.”

He described himself as “completely self-taught” and said he had learned his craft by watching American films.

“You had to find out yourself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village,” he told NYT in an interview, “when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass dappled by the leaves of the trees, and the smoke from ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and the plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and wide are joined by the chorus of crickets, which rises as the light falls, until all one sees are the stars in the sky, and the stars blink and swirl in the thickets.”

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