When writing to his old friend Satyajit Ray on his seventieth birthday, the great Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa was reminded of a story that Ray had once told him: ‘It was about a huge tree in India which measures one mile in girth. I wonder why I suddenly recalled that story. Perhaps, it is because I have always felt from the first time I met you that you are the kind of man who is like a huge tree. A great tree in the woods of India.’ Nobody with any knowledge of Ray’s career could disagree with that appraisal.
India has long had the largest film industry in the world, but it was only with Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali, released exactly fifty years ago, that Indian cinema acquired any reputation for artistic excellence or cultural depth. That reputation came to be reinforced by the work of directors who,