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New Left Review I/141, September-October 1983


Satyajit Ray

The Education of a Film-maker

When I was asked to deliver their annual lecture by the Amal Bhattacharji Centre for European Studies, [*] We are grateful to the Calcutta daily paper The Telegraph for permission to reproduce this lecture from four of its September 1982 issues. my immediate response was to say no. It was easy for me to do so, since 15 years of saying no to such requests has turned it into a habit. The only occasion when I didn’t decline, the lecture never took place. Although I had, in the end, to yield to persuasion, a great deal of diffidence remains. It is difficult to dissociate the idea of discourse from the idea of erudition; especially in the present case, where the enterprise is meant to perpetuate the memory of an outstanding scholar. Now, erudition is something which I singularly lack. As a student, I was only a little better than average, and in all honesty, I cannot say that what I learnt in school and college stood me in good stead in the years that followed. I studied for a degree, of course, but my best and keenest memories of college consist largely of the quirks and idiosyncracies of certain professors. College was fun, but college, at least for me, was hardly a fount of learning. All my useful reading has taken place since I finished my formal education. This reading has been wide and varied, but it has not been deep. Even on films I am not particularly well read. When I got interested enough in films to start reading about them, there were hardly a dozen books in English on the subject. By the time I finished them, I was already at work on my first film. One day’s work with camera and actors taught me more than all the dozen books had done. In other words, I learnt about film-making primarily by making films, not by reading books on the art of the cinema. Here, I must say, I am in very good company. This is how all the pioneers of film-making learnt their craft. But for a few exceptions, none of these pioneers was a learned scholar. Rather, they liked to think of themselves as craftsmen. If they were also able, on occasion, to produce works of art, they often did so intuitively. Or at least, that is how most of them feel. The famous American director John Ford was once asked by an admiring critic how he got the idea for a particularly felicitous touch in one of his films. Ford said: ‘Aw, I don’t know, it just came to me.’

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