Article

Throwback Thursday: 25 years ago today, Satyajit Ray was awarded the honorary Oscar


This fascinating video is the perfect reminder of Ray who never aspired for the Oscar, but was given one for his extraordinary achievements. 

Shriram Iyengar

On 30 March 1992, the Academy of Motion Pictures awarded Satyajit Ray an honorary Oscar for his contribution to the cinematic universe. It was a moment when the world stood up and applauded a filmmaker who inspired and touched a whole generation of filmmakers and audiences around the world with his work. With it, Ray became the first Indian filmmaker ever to receive an Oscar award. Surprisingly, he was never nominated for any Oscar awards during his lifetime. 

Presented by the gracious Audrey Hepburn, the honorary Oscar was a category created in 1929 and saw past winners like Charlie Chaplin (1972), Sir Laurence Olivier (1979), Henry Fonda (1980) and Akira Kurosawa (1982).

Speaking about Ray's cinematic contribution, Hepburn says the award was 'in recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.'

Sadly, the director himself was on his last legs in 1991. Suffering from heart complications, the director of Pather Panchali (1955) was bedridden, and in a hospital, when he accepted the award. He passed away on 23 April 1992. However, his illness did little to dampen the eloquence in his speech.

Speaking through video, Ray says, "Well, it's an extraordinary experience for me to be here tonight to receive this magnificent award; certainly the best achievement of my movie-making career." 

The director also displays his characteristic wit and humour in the speech saying, "When I was a small, small school boy, I was terribly interested in the cinema. Became a film fan, wrote to Deanna Durbin. Got a reply, was delighted. Wrote to Ginger Rogers, didn't get a reply. Then of course, I got interested in the cinema as an art form, and I wrote a twelve-page letter to Billy Wilder after seeing 'Double Indemnity'. He didn't reply either. Well, there you are." 

For a filmmaker about whom Kurosawa once said: 'Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,' Ray had often been ignored by the Academy for several years. It took the insistence of directors Martin Scorcese and Elia Kazan, along with many others, to get the board moving on the honorary Oscar.

In his request to the board, Scorcese wrote, "We would like to bring to your attention, and to the attention of the distinguished board of directors of the Academy, a master filmmaker, Satyajit Ray... Though somewhat unwell, during the past few years he has completed two additional films, centered around his deeply humanitarian vision. His work is in the company of that of living contemporaries like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini."

Kazan added his voice praising the director of Apur Sansar (1959) as 'the film voice of India, speaking for the people of all classes of the country...He is the most sensitive and eloquent artist and it can truly be said in his case that when we honour him we are honouring ourselves.' 

In an age where Indian filmmakers constantly promote their films overseas with the Oscars as a target, it is telling that Ray neither tried nor regretted that his films were never nominated. The quality of his work was such that the board itself had to bend its knee to this master filmmaker.