Tribute of a renowned student to his famous teacher
Satyajit Ray had been exposed to Rabindranath Tagore quite early. The Tagores and the Rays, two of the most elite families of Bengal under British India, enjoyed a close relationship. Ray’s grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray and his father Sukumar Ray, were regular visitors to Jorasanko Thakurbari. It was quite natural, the master film-maker would seek Tagore’s artistic company.
Later, Satyajit Ray was sent by his mother to Tagore’s Santiniketan, where he spent a few years learning oriental art, that had immense influence on his movies. Marie Seton, in her biography of Ray, Portrait of a Director, writes:‘Tagore had appeared to a young Ray, when he visited him at his home, as remote, like God.’
The lyricism of Tagore’s work and his exposure to the best of both Western and Eastern cultures, influenced young Ray. It was quite natural that he later went on to create celluloid creations, either being influenced by Tagore, using his songs in films, or even direct adaptation of his novels and short stories like 'Ghare Baire', Postmaster etc. Natir Puja (1932), a recording of Tagore’s stage production which he directed himself, was one such film that influenced his student, Satyajit Ray.
However, when it came to adapting Tagore on screen, Ray interpreted his teacher in a different style, as per his own vision. As an ode to the man who taught him so much, Tagore went on to make a documentary called Rabindranath Tagore in 1961. Ray had been commissioned by the Government of India, with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s approval, to make a documentary that would pay appropriate tribute to Gurudev on his 100th birth anniversary. The documentary began with Ray’s commentary: ‘On 7th of August, 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished, but he left behind him a heritage which no fire could consume.