Satyajit Ray is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the world. He remains the only Indian filmmaker to have won an Academy Award. A master of neo-realistic cinema, Ray’s style remains unparalleled to this day. He was phenomenal, renowned worldwide for his unique style of writing, storytelling and graphic-design (in a time where there were no computers) apart from his second-to-none direction. He directed 37 timeless classics in his lifetime and each teaches a new lesson in filmmaking. It is almost impossible to categorize his films in an order of superiority but nevertheless we present a list of top 10 movies directed by Satyajit Ray just because we have to restrict ourselves to that.
10. Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) – 1973:
The film is set in famine struck Bengal of British India. The British Army takes up control of all food reserves and the Indian masses starve. The story revolves around Gangacharan, a priest, and his wife Ananga. Suddenly, World War II breaks out and the situation of Indians worsens further. People are forced to live like animals in order to satiate their hunger. Thousands die mercilessly for want of a piece of bread. The movie portrays the situation with utmost precision and unmatched craftsmanship. It won the Golden Bear for best film at Berlin and three Indian National Awards among others.
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9. Agantuk (The Stranger) – 1992:
Anila, the lead character in the movie, receives a letter from a man claiming to be her uncle one fine morning. The stranger was almost given up for dead as he was out of touch with anyone in the family for 35 long years. One day, he arrives home and boasts of his anthropologic ways of life and his journeys around the world. Anila’s husband suspects him from the very start. Though, he proves to be harmless in the end, spreading joy in the family, he leaves home and all others one day. It won three National Film Awards.
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8. Nayak (The Hero) – 1966:
This timeless classic is a beautifully crafted movie centered on the life of a famous Bengali film star. The film star is invited to Delhi to receive a prestigious award. He travels by train to his destination due to unavailability of plane tickets and meets a young female journalist on-board. The journalist secretly plans to interview him for her magazine. As the movie proceeds, he churns out his life history and instances that affected his career. The actor even confesses his guilt on many issues. Later on, as the movie advances, the girl realizes that the story in her magazine could tarnish the public image of this famous actor. It won the Special Jury Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Bear.
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7. Abhijan (The Expedition) -1962:
The movie revolves around a taxi driver named Narsingh. He learns one day that his permit has been taken away after his taxi collides with the car of a powerful policeman in the city. He takes refuge in the nearby border area. Thereafter, a beautiful woman named Gulabi, a prostitute, enters his life after his wife Neeli, a reserved school teacher, elopes with her crippled lover. Narsingh experiences numerous downturns in his life. Finally, he is united with Gulabi, a woman who truly loved him and supported him in times of need.
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6. Mahanagar (The Big City) -1963:
The film is dedicated to a typical Bengali family. Subrata Mazumdar is the lone earning member of this family and his wife Arati takes care of the family including her father, mother in law and sister in-law. Arati takes up a job to make some extra money for her family amidst opposition from her husband and father-in-law. One day, her husband loses his job and Arati is left as the sole earning member. Towards the end of the story, Arati also leaves her job due to unavoidable tensions with her boss.
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5. Devi (The Goddess) -1960:
Kalikinkar Roy, an aging widower, is an ardent devotee of Goddess Kali. He dreams one night that his daughter-in-law, Doyamoyee is an incarnation of Goddess Kali. The news spreads like jungle fire around and devotees of Goddess Kali throng their house. Doyomoyee is dumbstruck looking at such a rush. Then, after some days, her husband Umaprasad, who worked away from the city, returns home and registers opposition with his father. While his father is unmoved, his wife Doyomoyee is unconcerned too and absorbed in the theory laid by her father-in-law.
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4. Aparajito (The Unvanquished) – 1956:
The second of the Apu Trilogy, Aparajito is about Apu when he is just 10. He lives with his family at Banaras on the banks of the holy River Ganga. Harihar, his father, is a poor priest and the family struggles to make their ends meet. He gets sick and his soul departs; leaving Apu and his mother awestruck, and without any financial backing. Apu’s mother thereon shifts to a different place. With time, Apu grows to be a charming young man and completes his studies to find a job in Calcutta City, away from his mother.
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3. Charulata (The Lonely Wife) – 1964:
The movie is based on Nastanirh, a story written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The main protagonist, Charulata, is a beautiful, childless and intelligent wife of Bhupati who is to be an intellectual running a political newspaper in British India. He remains very busy and has no time for his wife. One day, his younger brother Amal comes to live with them. With time, Charulata starts harbouring feelings for Amal. Realizing this Amal leaves the family. Charulata’s husband gets to know about the whole issue but chooses to forgive his wife.
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2. Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) – 1959:
In this third part of the Apu Trilogy, the protagonist is shown as an unemployed graduate living in then Calcutta tirelessly searching for a job. One day, his friend invites him to his village to attend a marriage. During the wedding preparations, the father of the bride learns that the groom is mentally challenged and cancels off the marriage. Apu marries the cousin of his friend out of moral sympathy and moves with her to a new city to find a good job. Few months later, his wife loses her life while giving birth to their child. He wanders around in foreign places for five long years in grief. At last, he reunites with his son and both live happily ever after.
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1. Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) – 1955:
The movie that made Satyajit Ray the iconic filmmaker is this. This movie is centered on a Brahmin family based in a remote village in Bengal. The family has a priest, his aged cousin, wife, son, and a daughter. Satyajit Ray portrayed the poverty of the family masterfully in this movie. The film has many interesting scenes picturized around the daughter Durga and her brother Apu. The movie ends with the family leaving for Banaras, hoping to live a better life. The Apu Trilogy has been listed among the 100 best films of all time.
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