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RAD REVIEW: Satyajit Ray used silences in films to build a universe!

Updated: Jun 9, 2021



 

An orchestra being conducted by filmmaker Satyajit Ray opens the documentary THE MUSIC of SATYAJIT RAY. Serene, focused Ray stands tall in front of the musicians and waves his hands while tunes of Vande Mataram is played.


It's charming to see Satyajit Ray give reasons for most of his musical decisions in THE MUSIC of SATYAJIT RAY: why he started composing at all, why he feels sure about composing music, talking about his lineage, and more. The documentary film is a rich montage in video and photos of Ray talking and clips from his films. Like a crescendo, the 50-minute film by Utpalendu Chakrabarty is a journey to the music of the master, his musical mind, and his films as a whole. Ray had a gramophone to play western classical music. Also, he would be found more in the school library reading on music than reading on poetry or painting.


In a frame, Ray tells us that he conceived the music of a film first beforehand working on the script and actors and more. Initially, when Ray started making films there was not much music in films. Satyajit Ray says:


By the late 30s, a film would be drowned with music. Lazy composers used this formula to make scores. For me, it was important to keep the originality in place.


Ray collaborated with Pandit Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan. But, there was difficulty in working with them as their music was becoming global and they were busy. So, Ray started composing for his own films. Ray had initial difficulties but “ achieved some proficiency”.

Ray used the western notation. But, his musicians were more versed in working in Indian/Bengali notations. Ray actually transcribed them in the Indian notations!


Ray's music came to have an increasing sense of silence. Citing the example of Ingmar Bergman, Ray says: Bergman hardly used any music in films. Directors put music in the films for the audience to listen to in the halls. So, that the audience understands the mood. Ray tells in the documentary THE MUSIC of SATYAJIT RAY that he wants to use music as discreetly as possible in films. Using music in a film without any reason can actually harm the film.


The first film that Ray composed music was for Teen Kanya.




Image Source: moma.org



A scene from Rays film Satgati comes and it gives you a brilliant example of what Ray means. With this sense of using music imaginatively, Ray found it difficult to compose for anyone else. Ray did the music for Shakespeare Wallah. As a rule, Ray stopped composing for other music directors/films.



Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal in the 1965 film “Shakespeare Wallah.” (Cohen Film Collection)




What Ray succeeded in doing is combining elements of both western and Indian elements. Where all other film directors of his time failed, Ray mastered it: home and the World is a perfect example of this.


 

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