Satyajit Ray Though Satyajit Ray's ancestry can be traced back at least ten generations, the family history took a decisive turn with his grandfather, Upendrakishore Raychowdhury. A writer, illustrator, philosopher, publisher and amateur astronomer, Raychowdhury was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a religious and social movement in 19th century Bengal. Sukumar Ray, his son, was arguably the greatest Bangla writer of "nonsense rhyme" and children's literature, an able illustrator and a critic.
Satyajit Ray was born to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray on May 2, 1921 in Kolkata. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was hardly three, his mother had to work hard to bring him up. Satyajit studied Economics at Presidency College, Kolkata, though his interest was always in fine arts. In 1940, after the completion of his education in Kolkata, his mother insisted that he go and study at Rabindranath Tagore's university, the Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan, away from the bustle of the city. Ray was reluctant, due to his love of Calcutta, and general low impression about the intellectual life at Santiniketan. Some persuasion on his mother's part and his respect for Tagore finally convinced him to give it a try. In Santiniketan, Ray came to appreciate oriental art, and he would later admit he learnt a lot from both Nandalal Bose and specially Benode Behari Mukherjee, for whom Ray had great admiration and would later make a documentary on. His visits to Ajanta, Elora and Elephanta during this period were also eye-openers; he would start admiring Indian art perhaps for the first time.
Without completing the five-year course, Satyajit left Santiniketan in 1943, returned to Kolkata, and took a job with a British advertising agency named D.J. Keymer. He joined as a "junior visualiser", earning eighty rupees a month. This was a mixed experience. On one hand, visual design was something close to his heart and he was treated well for the most part, on the other, there was palpable tension between the British and Indian employees of the firm (the former much better paid), and Satyajit's complaint that "the clients were generally stupid". Around 1943, Ray became involved with Signet Press, a new publishing house started up by D. K. Gupta. Gupta asked Ray to cover designs for books published from Signet Press and gave him complete artistic freedom. Ray designed covers for many books, including Jim Corbett's Maneaters of Kumaon, Nehru's Discovery of India and poetry books by many contemporary poets. Most important of these was his work on a children's version of Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, renamed as Am Antir Bhepu (The mango-seed whistle). Ray immensely appreciated the work which would later furnish the subject matter of his first film. In addition to designing the cover, he also illustrated the book, and many of his illustrations ultimately found their place as shots in his groundbreaking film.
Throughout this time, Satyajit Ray continued to watch and study films seriously. He befriended the American GIs stationed in Kolkata during World War II, who would inform him of latest American films showing in the city. He also became friends with Norman Clare, who worked with RAF and shared Ray's passion of films, chess and western classical music. In 1949, Satyajit married Bijoya, his distant cousin and longtime sweetheart. The couple would have a son, Sandip, who is now a prominent film director in his own right. In the same year, Jean Renoir came to Calcutta to shoot his film The River. Ray met him, and also helped him find locations in the country side. Subrata Mitra, Ray's friend and a young photographer, spent even more time with the unit. Mitra would later become Ray's cinematographer. Ray also told Renoir about his idea to film Pather Panchali, which had been on his mind for some time now, and Renoir encouraged him to go ahead.
In 1950, Ray was sent to London by D.J. Keymer to work at its head office. In his 3 months in London, Ray watched exactly 99 films. Among this was the neorealist masterpiece, The Bicycle Thieves. This film had a profound impact on Satyajit. Ray would later say that came out of the theater determined to become a filmmaker.