Review Bengali

Sukumar Ray review: When Satyajit Ray made an engaging documentary with just photographs

Release Date: 01 Jan 1987

Cinestaan Rating

  • Direction:

Keyur Seta

The documentary shows how the legendary filmmaker's father Sukumar Ray, too, led a fascinating life as an artist.

Satyajit Ray is known the world over for his path-breaking contribution to the world of cinema. But not many know, especially those who do not hail from eastern India, that his father Sukumar Ray too led a fascinating life as an artist.

Satyajit Ray created a documentary film on his father titled, simply, Sukumar Ray (1987) for his birth centenary. The almost half-hour-long film gives a snapshot of his father's life.

Sukumar Ray was born in Calcutta in 1887, during the Bengal Renaissance. It was a time when the literary scene in the region was at its pinnacle. Despite graduating with honours in physics and again in chemistry, Sukumar Ray devoted most of his time to writing and illustration.

He is best known today for his literature and cartoons for children. His biggest influence was the legendary artist and social reformer Rabindranath Tagore (on whom, too, Satyajit Ray made a documentary titled Rabindranath Tagore in 1961). Sukumar Ray died at the young age of 36 due to illness, but his works continue to rule the hearts and minds of many. 

Satyajit Ray is best known for his acclaimed feature films like the Apu trilogy, Jalsaghar (1958), Charulata (1964), and so on. But he also has a rich legacy of interesting documentaries, which aren’t talked about much. Sukumar Ray (1987) is one such film.

The most impressive aspect of Sukumar Ray is that it doesn’t contain any video footage, except for a then recent clip of a spoof on the Ramayana (which might have got the filmmaker in trouble today with self-appointed guardians of religion and morality). He has used only old photographs, cartoons made by Sukumar Ray, magazine covers and news articles to tell the story of his father's life.

Given how even video documentaries can be boring, Ray's narration of the film using just photographs is riveting. You simply cannot take your eyes off the screen. The narrative is not only swift, but it also gets you completely involved in the world of Sukumar Ray. Clearly, creating an engaging documentary is a task of tremendous skill.

It is impossible to find a negative point here. At the most one can say the explanation of the family tree at the beginning is a bit confusing, but that is certainly not a flaw in the documentary.

Sukumar Ray was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival in January 2020.


Related topics

Mumbai International Film Festival Satyajit Ray Centenary

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