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The Poetic Reality ofSatyajit Ray

For decades, most Westerners only knew one name in Indian film: Satyajit Ray. The director’s masterly 1955 debut, Pather Panchali, was a tale of life in a poor Bengali village, with particular attention paid to a young boy, Apu, whose subsequent life would be chronicled in Ray’s next two films. The film’s concerns and style were indebted to Italian neorealism, but the filmmaker’s outlook was gentler, with a sense of enchantment supported by a score performed by a name new to most European and American viewers: Ravi Shankar. Partha Mitter, a research professor at the University of Sussex, will mark the approximate 50th anniversary of Ray’s first film with a lecture, “The Poetic Reality of Satyajit Ray.” A friend of the late director, Mitter will discuss Ray’s work and its balance of the otherworldly and the everyday. No small-town naif, he was born into a prominent family in Calcutta and studied economics and physics before enrolling at a university run by an eminent family friend, writer Rabindranath Tagore (some of whose stories Ray later adapted to the screen). Ray later filmed Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and wrote short stories that could have been set on H.P. Lovecraft’s turf, but there was always a part of him that was rooted in Apu’s village. Followed by a screening of an archival print of Pather Panchali, whose simplicity and humanity remain beguiling, the talk begins at 4 p.m. the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Mark Jenkins)