Behind every successful man there is a woman, goes the adage. Bijoya Ray, the wife of the illustrious film-maker, Satyajit Ray, proved this in every way conceivable. From selling off her jewellery to finance Ray’s debut, Pather Panchali, to checking his film scripts to helping in costume designing to majorly influencing his casting to recording demo versions of the songs used in Ray’s films (the tapes being then sent to the singers to practice), Bijoya Ray remained a constant inspiration for her husband. This very talented woman passed away on June 2.
Satyajit Ray and Bijoya Ray (telegraphindia.com)
She inspired him and was instrumental in encouraging him to follow his film-making career despite the financial hardships. Many of Ray’s cult works have the stamp of Bijoya's intellectual inspiration, those close to the Ray family say.
Every time Ray finished writing a script, he would give it to Bijoya for correction. Only then would they be taken up for production. She would also make fair copies of her husband’s screenplays as Ray had a nearly illegible handwriting.
He wanted her to check his Feluda series too, because she was heavily into reading detective novels. He wanted her to make sure that the crime detection was properly handled in the stories.
Regarding casting, for example, many say that her admiration for Uttam Kumar could have bolstered Ray's resolve to cast him in Nayak. Ramesh Sengupta, one of the oldest surviving assistants of Ray, says that he had heard stories of how Bijoya might have influenced her husband to cast Uttam Kumar, and that even Manikda's (as those close to Ray called him) mother admired Uttam Kumar's films.
Son Sandip Ray, a film-maker of repute, echoes him, saying that his father had written the screenplay of Nayak with Uttam Kumar in mind. He confirms that his mother was a big fan of Uttam Kumar, and that it’s possible that her admiration influenced his father to go ahead with his choice of casting.
The idea is backed by Sromona Chakraborty, Bijoya's grand-niece, too. Sromona, the daughter of Ruma Guha Thakurta, has sung in two Ray films.
The Ray couple on a film set (Pablo Bartholomew/Mumbai Mirror)
Coming to songs, here again, Bijoya was a very big influence. Music was where Bijoya excelled. Not too many know that Bijoya was trained in Atulprasad's songs, who happened to be her uncle.
According to Sromona, Bijoya wanted to teach her Atupprasad’s songs since she thought they would get lost with her. Bijoya had taught Sromona ‘Baajilo kaharo bina’ that the latter would go on to sing in Agantuk. She had also insisted that Sromona sing ‘Mori lo mori’ and ‘Baajilo kaharto bina’ in Shakha Proshakha, which Ray acceded to. For all these films, Bijoya recorded the songs on cassettes and sent them to Sromona to practice.
Similarly, when Charulata was being made, Kishore Kumar was first sent a recording of Bijoya Ray’s rendition of ‘Ami chini go chini’ before he actually recorded for the film. For Charulata, she had taught Madhabi Mukhopadhyay to sing ‘Phule phule dhole’.
Another instance was when had she had guided Ruma Guha Thakurta for the playback songs in the film, Baksho Badal, of which Ray was the scriptwriter, supervisor and music director.
Ramesh Sengupta talks about another recording Bijoya had done with mother-in-law Suprabha Ray. They, along with Bijoya’s sister, Jaya, had rendered the national anthem under the supervision of Sailaja Ranjan Mazumdar.
However, despite overflowing with talent, Bijoya Ray never came to the forefront. She was content to do everything from the wings.
The Rays at an adda in Kolkata in the early 80s, with Ravi Shankar and Soumitra Chatterjee, among others (telegraphindia.com)
Bijoya Ray was also a writer in her own right. She took over as the editor of Sandesh, the Ray family magazine, after the death of her husband. She translated Ray’s childhood memoirs, Jokhon Chhoto Chhilam from Bengali to English, under the title, Childhood Days: A Memoir. She also authored a memoir, Bijoya Ray Remembers and the remarkably candid and much-feted Amader Katha (‘Speaking of Ourselves’). This autobiography has been on the bestseller list ever since its publication. Its immense popularity led to it being translated into English as Manik and I: My Life with Satyajit Ray.
The family: (sitting) Satyajit Ray (standing, from left) Bijoya Ray, Sandip Ray, wife Lalita with their child (archives.deccanchronicle.com)
Lead image: satyajitrayworld.com