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9 Most Important Films Of Satyajit Ray

9 Most Important Films Of Satyajit Ray

Best Indian movies

Bollywood and Hollywood are two separate worlds. Hollywood ranged from the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, to the teenage rebellion of James Dean, to the intriguing lives of the Cosa Nostra, to tales of war in Vietnam, and now, superhero sagas. Bollywood, on the other hand, from its Golden Age of films like Mughal-E-Azam, Mother India, Pyaasa, made a distinctive shift in the general storyline to movies like Anand, Bobby and Sholay, on to the world of comedy and sci-fi with movies (Mr. India), to making technical advancements in the 21st century, by adding visual effects in stories. Despite technological advancements, the styles of the two have always been too different to be judged on the same parameters. But during the Golden Age of Bollywood, there rose an exceptional talent who bridged the gap. Satyajit Ray was revered by critics and fans worldwide.

His meaningful and progressive body of work put India on the global map. Besides countless national and international film awards, Ray was bestowed with the Academy Honorary Award in 1992. He is, without an iota of doubt, one of the most accomplished filmmakers of the 20th century.



On his 99th birth anniversary, it is fitting to honour the timeless works of art of this renowned auteur:

Satyajit Ray must watch movies
Image Source: Flickside


1. Pather Panchali – Song of the Little Road (1955)

His first and most famous work (of art), Pather Panchali ranks as one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinematic history. It was the movie that first put Bollywood on the map as a leading force in cinema. Yes, filmmaking in India had been well established at that point. But what Ray brought to the table with Pather Panchali was something very different from the signature Bollywood melodrama/musicals. The realist narrative style of Pather Panchali was influenced by Italian neorealism and the works of French director Jean Renoir. Ray assisted Renoir in his 1949 film The River, when the Frenchman arrived searching for locations to shoot his film. It was here where Ray disclosed to Renoir about his dream to shoot Pather Panchali. Renoir encouraged him to proceed.

But the real inspiration came from the treatment of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thief, which was shot on location with non-actors playing lead roles. A scene involving a train in Pather Panchali is proof of Ray’s vision and genius. A scene so simple, without any camera tricks or staged stunts. Yet, a scene so beautiful that captures the natural landscape of rural Bengal for the viewers to behold. He changed the landscape of Indian cinema with his first film. Pather Panchali is an adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name, which follows the protagonist Apu, growing up in rural Bengal. Following the success of Pather Panchali, Ray continued Apu’s story with Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), which depict Apu’s life as a student in Calcutta, and later on as an adult. The Apu trilogy remains his greatest and most famous accomplishment.

Where to Watch: Eros Now, Mubi


2. Aparajito – The Unvanquished (1956)

Satyajit Ray must watch movies
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Following the success of Pather Panchali, Ray decided to take Apu’s story a step further with Aparijito. The movie, not being as critically acclaimed as the first and third part of this trilogy still ranks as one of his great achievements. This is a coming-of-age story, which acts more as a link between Pather Panchali and Apur Sansar, the third in the Apu trilogy. The film won a Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival.

Where to Watch: Eros Now, Mubi


3. Devi – The Goddess (1960)

Satyajit Ray best movies
Image Source: The Film Sufi

In 1899, Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay wrote a short story based on a 16-year-old girl who is considered an incarnation of a goddess by her religious father-in-law. Satyajit Ray, many years later, adapted the short story to screen. Starring Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterji, Devi is a meaningful commentary on blind religious beliefs and idol worship. The film, at the time of its release, courted much controversy over its anti-Hindu narrative. On Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention in Ray’s favour, though, the film was spared a ban.

Where to Watch: Mubi


4. Jalsaghar – The Music Room (1958)

Satyajit Ray Movies
Image Source: Asian Movie Pulse

Starring Chhabi Biswas, this film set in the 1920s, depicts the last days of a landlord (or zamindar) in Bengal, who tries to uphold his family prestige after the zamindaari system was abolished by the Indian Government. Roy, Biswas’ character’s name, shuts himself in his grand home, taking refuge in his beloved classical music while the winds of change raged through the outside world. This was a tale of a man unwilling to change with the times, one who sacrifices everything to get back his family prestige. Jalsaghar, which received mostly poor reviews in India on its release, became a critical and financial hit in Europe and the United States. This film is a testament to Ray’s vision and attention to detail, especially in set locations.

Where to Watch: Eros Now, Mubi


5. Charulata – The Lonely Wife (1964)

Satyajit Ray Cinema
Image Source: Rita Banerjee

Dealing with themes like adultery and loneliness, Charulata was way ahead of its time. A bored housewife is attracted to her mentor, who is also her husband’s cousin. The film is based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, titled The Broken Nest. While her wealthy husband Bhupati (Sailen Mukherjee), busies himself with running his own newspaper, his bored wife, Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee), occupies her time reading, relaxing and spying on passers-by through her field glasses. The arrival of her husband’s young cousin not only provides the much-needed attention she’s craved all along from her husband, it also provides her the intellectual companionship she didn’t know she needed. This sets Charu along her own path towards an artistic awakening as a writer.

Where to Watch: YouTube (English subtitles), Mubi


6. Mahanagar – The Big City (1963)

Satyajit Ray movies watch
Image Source: Pinterest

Set in Ray’s hometown of Calcutta, Ray talks about the challenges of the everyday life in a metropolitan city. Even though the story revolves around a woman taking control of her life, it’s the city which compels her to be independent. You could also say this was Ray’s personal campaign for feminism and equality before such notions were even thought of in the first place. It is a story about a hypocritical patriarchal society and a woman’s struggle to earn herself an independent place in such a society. Ray portays the struggle a woman has to go through, challenging the orthodox norms followed and imposed on her by the society. This was in 1963. Has anything changed?

Where to Watch: YouTube (English subtitles), Mubi


7. Parash Patthar – The Philosopher’s Stone (1958)

Satyajit Ray Films
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Between Aparijito and Apur Sansar, Ray made this initially outrageous, but genius piece of film in 1958. A working class clerk accidentally finds a stone which can transform anything that it comes into contact with, into gold. A kind of Midas touch. It all seems nonsensical given Ray’s style of filmmaking, but it turns out to be an endearing, genuinely humourous, and believable story. The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Given that his previous film was Aparijito, it is proof of his versatility. His ability to swiftly shift from genre to genre seamlessly is what makes him a true genius.

Where to Watch: Mubi

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8. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969)

Satyajit Ray must watch films
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The film is a fantasy adventure. It is based on a story written by Ray’s grandfather, Upendra Kishor Roy Choudhary. With this film Ray, for the first time after Parash Patthar, ventured into comedy. Ray made this film about an unlikely duo – Goopy (the singer) and Bagha (the percussionist) who are given special powers i.e. with their music, they can make anyone stop and listen. They can also fulfill all their wishes by a clap of the hands. At the 16th National Film Awards in 1970, this film won Best Feature Film and Best Direction.

Where to Watch: Mubi


Deep Focus: Reflection On Indian Cinema


9. Apur Sansar – The World of Apu (1959)

Satyajit Ray
Image Source: BFI

The third and final installment to the Apu trilogy. Apur Sansar was made with the intention to take Apu’s story full circle, by meeting his own child and rediscovering his childhood in rural Bengal. It acts as the end to Apu’s story, as well as a new beginning. Sharmila Tagore, who plays Apu’s wife, debuted with this film. She went on to act in several other films directed by Ray, as well as become one of the most popular actresses in Indian cinema. The last scene of the movie shows Apu reuniting with his son and walking away from the camera. Apt in a story that was so focused around the theme of loss.

Akira Kurosawa, legendary director of Seven Samurai once said, “To have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun.” That was the level of respect, admiration and awe Ray garnered in his career, which helped redefine an entire era of Indian cinema, and shape the generations to come. Ray was the visionary whose films are still relevant even in today’s society. He was someone who saw beauty in the most ordinary things. One can only hope, that Indian cinema may find another auteur in the mould of the great Satyajit Ray.

Where to Watch: YouTube (English subtitles), Mubi


Speaking of Films by Satyajit Ray