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Review

Books

A different line of control

Our Films Their Films
Satyajit Ray
Disha books
Rs 110

"In Santiniketan, as a student of painting, I had been drawn towards far-eastern calligraphy, which goes to the heart of perceived reality and expresses it by means of minimal brush strokes applied with maximum discipline." (Introduction, Our Films Their Films)

This seems exactly to describe Satyajit Ray's films, music, and his writing itself. Minimal brush strokes applied with maximum discipline.

Our Films Their Films takes you through the mind of Satyajit Ray as he writes his scripts, plans his shots and composes his music.

His essay on music in films is very brief, but his other essays give the reader a good idea of what music must have meant to him, and also help in understanding the music he composed for his films.

Great maestros like Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar made music for his films, but later Ray chose to do it himself. Incidentally, The Music of Satyajit Ray is available in two tapes on HMV.

In India aesthetics has always leant towards delicate extravagance (sculpture) and stylised over-representation (folk theatre like Yakshagana and classical dances like Bharatanatyam and Kathakali). But Ray delights in the subtle expression that results from understatement.

Much influenced by Western classical music (he was introduced to Indian music only while at Santiniketan), the music he composed reflects restraint and meticulous craftsmanship.

In India, he says, we dare not plunge into "blockbusters" on the Hollywood scale. "For one thing, we do not have the money. Even if we did have the money, we would not have the market, and certainly not the knowledge how to compete with Hollywood. That is why -- and not becasue we do not have the prediliction -- we have chosen for ourselves the field of intimate cinema: the cinema of mood and atmosphere rather than of grandeur and spectacle."

His music, likewise, is intimate. Never does he use a big violin ensemble, a favourite of all Indian film music composers. You don't find in him sweeping Hollywood-style crescendoes and upsurges.

Satyajit Ray composed music on the piano which he used quite extensively in his mood bits, along with the sitar and flute and other Indian instruments. Folk drums were also a favourite. The Western classical influence is clear in his simple polyphonic arrangements; yet he could use just the bass string of the sitar to create a whole array of emotions.

Ray believed our mainstream cinema was so full of song and dance because a majority of us had no other form of entertainment. Films thus had to be all in one: music, dance, drama, tragedy, comedy ... Ray is all admiration for Mumbai's music directors and their grasp of all styles of music.

He says, "... the really striking things are in the tunes and in the orchestration. They first embrace all possilbe musical idioms -- classical, folk, Negro, Greek, Punjabi, Cha-Cha, or anything you can think of from any part of the world."

He is struck by the orchestra, which "shows a brashness and a verve in the combination of instruments -- again as disparate as you can imagine -- and a feeling for tonal colour and contrast which call for high praise." Finally, what impressed him was that "it all makes sense as music..."

Before the release of Pather Panchali in 1955 he also worked as a visualiser, an illustrator and designer for book covers. And no doubt he worked within the same line of control: minimum expression with maximum discipline.


S Suchitra Lata








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