Satyajit Ray, the great Indian film director who died last Thursday in Calcutta at age 70, will be remembered as one of the seminal voices of 20th century cinema. Although his works were not commercial hits at home -- like audiences elsewhere, Indian moviegoers preferred films that allowed them to forget the grimy realities of everyday life -- Mr. Ray's portraits of change in modern India were marked by eloquence, compassion and a simple humanity that won worldwide recognition for his art. Last month, he received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement.
Mr. Ray, who began his career as a commercial artist in the Calcutta office of a British advertising firm, described himself as a self-taught filmmaker. After a visit to London in 1950, where he spent much of his time going to and discussing movies with the city's artists and critics, he determined to change careers. During the return voyage to India by ship, he wrote the screenplay for his first movie, "Pather Panchali," about a high-caste but poor Bengali family in a remote rural village.
Three years later, desperate after having sold all his possessions to finance the project, Mr. Ray enlisted the help of the late American director John Huston, who was visiting Calcutta. Huston persuaded the Indian government to provide $35,000 to finish the film, which became an immediate critical, if not commercial, success. But Indian officials were puzzled by the final product; apparently they had been under the impression Mr. Ray was working on a travelogue.