Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), who has been one cultural icon, admired as much in Bengal as in much of the world, continues to inspire filmmakers and scholars of different hues. Besides making twenty-eight feature films, all in Bengali except Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977), three short films and five documentaries, he has also written extensively. While his stories and novels have been both original and immensely popular, his incisive writings on the art and craft of cinema collected in books such as Our Films, Their Films (Orient Longman, 1976), My Years With Apu: A Memoir (Penguin Books, 1996), Speaking Of Films (translated from the Bengali, Penguin Books, 2005) and Deep Focus: Reflections On Cinema (HarperCollins, 2017) belong to a class of their own. In addition, there has been extensive literature on Ray—in English, Bengali and other languages—deliberating on the man and his artistic creativity. In fact, so much has been written about Ray from 1955 onwards, that any new book runs the risk of being repetitive.
Yet, Amitava Nag’s work has something new to offer. It focusses on the important actors—heroes and heroines—whose talent Ray utilized in his films. In order to understand the complex triangular relationship ‘between the maker, the machines and the human material that is deployed’, one has to watch his films and read his essays on the subject.