Best Satyajit Ray Movies, Ranked

Born in Kolkata, India, in 1921, Satyajit Ray would grow up to become one of South Asia’s defining filmmakers and writers. His father was Sukumar Ray, a prominent Bengali poet and writer, but Ray would not have had his father in his life for long; he died when Ray was only three years old. He would always have a love for fine arts, but he studied economics in college. That did not last long, though, as he would adapt the Bengali novel Pather Panchali into his debut feature film. Released in 1955, Pather Panchali marks a turning point in Indian cinema as a whole, and it would become a driving force for Ray’s filmmaking career.

Pather Panchali turned into The Apu Trilogythree movies about life and coming of age story of one boy. The trilogy gained Ray critical acclaim all over the world. He was also an author, creating some of the most iconic characters in Bengali literary history, and several of his stories he turned into full-length films. Over 42 years, Ray created an impressive body of work that would inspire filmmakers even today. These are his best movies.


7 Distant Thunder

Ashani Shanketor Distant Thunder, was Ray’s first movie in color. Released in 1973, the movie details life in a Bengal village during World War II. In a decade where starvation was rampant due to the ongoing war and a rapidly increasing population, a doctor and teacher journeys with his wife to the many villages in the region. As he passes through the villages, social order and the traditional ways of living have been broken down because of the impacts of starvation. Distant Thunder is a moving elegy to those who died – up to four million are speculated to have died during this time.

6 Nayak

In Nayak, a famous Bengali actor travels on a train to Delhi to accept an award. As he sits in his section with the morning newspaper, he spots that one of the articles is about him and describes an altercation he got into with another man. When a young female journalist traveling on the train discovers that the actor is on it as well, she begins to plot out a way to interview him and get the scoop that will define her career. But when she starts talking to him, she discovers some of his deepest secrets and regret, changing them both for the better.

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5 The Music Room

Many of Ray’s first stories were book-to-film adaptations from the Bengali writer Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, and The Music Room was one of them. The Music Room was the first film to incorporate Indian dance and music within the story, setting an entirely new precedent that can be seen even in Bollywood today. A local zamindar / landlord in Bengal is facing a difficult time financially, but does not want to be seen as lesser than he already is, so he will face any challenge to his status despite the potential consequences. At the same time, his heavy devotion to music comes into play within the story, making this a unique experience.

4 Days and Nights in the Forest

Aranyer Din Ratrior Days and Nights in the Forest, is a classic tale now in cinema, although it was not at the time. A group of four friends from Kolkata decides that they want to leave the city behind for a bit and head off into the wilderness. These four friends come from different walks of life, but the constant cycle of work and hustling in the big city is getting to them all. But once they arrive in the forest, they make new friends and discover new aspects about each other.

3 The Big City

The Big City is considered to be one of Ray’s greatest films. During the 1950s, somewhere in Kolkata, a young woman decides to defy all expectations about what she can and cannot do by becoming a saleswoman. Naturally, her family is scandalized and wants her to quit, especially when she becomes more successful than her husband. The Big City represents a shifting time in West Bengal, especially as middle-class women find themselves needing to get jobs to support their families, even if said family disapproves of the notion of her working.

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2 Charulata

Charulata was released in 1964 and was adapted from the beloved writer Rabindranath Tagore’s 1901 novel Nastanirh. At the end of the 1800s, the Bengali Renaissance is in full swing despite Indian being under British colonial rule. Charulata is the wife of an editor at a political newspaper, and her husband has no time for her. Lonely, she turns to her interest in the arts to fill her time, leading her to publish her first short story in a magazine. It is a simple film about a wife drowning in her sorrow and finding ways to cope with her failing marriage.

1 The Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar)

The Apu Trilogy defined Satyajit Ray’s career and put him on the global map. It consisted of three films tracking the life of one boy: Pather Panchali, Aparajitoand Apur Sansar. While the first story, Pather Panchalifollows Apu as he is a young boy, the following movies progress through the doldrums of life: the death of his parents, going off to university in Kolkata and eventually falling in love. The Apu Trilogy is now considered some of the best movies ever created.


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