Satyajit Ray has to be India's best-known director, a name synonymous with Indian art cinema. He came from an illustrious artistic family. His father was a popular satirist and author of limericks. Satyajit Ray studied at Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's art institution before embarking on an early advertising career. By the early 50s, he had become a noted illustrator. At the same time, he was avidly watching American, European and Soviet films. He also met up with Jean Renoir several times during the shooting of 'The River' (1951) in Bengal. These formative years would stand him in good stead when he eventually got into filmmaking. But primarily, Ray has said that watching 'Bicycle Thieves' was what truly compelled him to get into films.
His 'Apu' trilogy was a resounding success and put Indian cinema on the world map. The first of the trilogy, 'Pather Panchali' won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
You will find a lot of his films are set in the past - the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, his best known being 'Charulata' (Rabindranath Tagore's novella was taken as it's source material). But my favourite and I think one that tends to be overlooked when compared to the aforementioned titles is 'Jalshagar' (The Music Room). Steeped in realism and high melodrama, the painfully reconstructed sets capture the rhythms of past Bengal with a melancholic gracefulness that takes your breath away. It depicts the destruction of an aristocratic family due to it's music-obsessed patriarch. He holds lavishly decadent concerts, and these are the most hauntingly beautiful scenes, whilst his mansion and life crumbles around him. No expense was spared on authenticity, Ray hired international classical musicians and dancers for his masterpiece. A humanist portrayal of a bygone era, a stark contrast to the heady escapism of mainstream Bollywood.