Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. He was also a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, music composer, graphic designer and film critic. He authored several short stories and novels, primarily aimed at children and adolescents. Feluda, the sleuth, and Professor Shonku, the scientist in his science fiction stories, are popular fictional characters created by him. He was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University.
Satyajit Ray's ancestry can be traced back for at least ten generations. Ray's grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray was a writer, illustrator, philosopher, publisher, amateur astronomer and a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a religious and social movement in nineteenth century Bengal. He also set up a printing press by the name of U. Ray and Sons, which formed a crucial backdrop to Satyajit's life. Sukumar Ray, Upendrakishore's son and father of Satyajit, was a pioneering Bengali writer of nonsense rhyme (abol tabol) and children's literature, an illustrator and a critic. Ray was born to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray in Calcutta.
Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was barely three, and the family survived on Suprabha Ray's meager income. Ray studied at Ballygunge Government High School, Calcutta, and completed his BA in economics at Presidency College, Calcutta then affiliated with the University of Calcutta, though his interest was always in fine arts. In 1940, his mother insisted that he study at the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Ray was reluctant due to his love of Calcutta, and the low opinion of the intellectual life at Santiniketan His mother's persuasion and his respect for Tagore finally convinced him to try. In Santiniketan, Ray came to appreciate Oriental art. He later admitted that he learned much from the famous painters Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee. Later he produced a documentary film, The Inner Eye, about Mukherjee. His visits to Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta stimulated his admiration for Indian art.
In 1943, Ray started work at D.J. Keymer, a British-run advertising agency, as a "junior visualiser," earning eighty rupees a month. Although he liked visual design (graphic design) and he was mostly treated well, there was tension between the British and Indian employees of the firm. The British were better paid, and Ray felt that "the clients were generally stupid." Later, Ray also worked for Signet Press, a new publishing house started by D. K. Gupta. Gupta asked Ray to create cover designs for books to be published by Signet Press and gave him complete artistic freedom. Ray designed covers for many books, including Jibanananda Das's Banalata Sen, and Rupasi Bangla, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's Chander Pahar, Jim Corbett's Maneaters of Kumaon, and Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. He worked on a children's version of Pather Panchali, a classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, renamed as Aam Antir Bhepu (The mango-seed whistle). Designing the cover and illustrating the book, Ray was deeply influenced by the work. He used it as the subject of his first film, and featured his illustrations as shots in his ground-breaking film.
Along with Chidananda Dasgupta and others, Ray founded the Calcutta Film Society in 1947. They screened many foreign films, many of which Ray watched and seriously studied. He befriended the American GIs stationed in Calcutta during World War II, who kept him informed about the latest American films showing in the city. He came to know a RAF employee, Norman Clare, who shared Ray's passion for films, chess and western classical music.
In 1949, Ray married Bijoya Das, his first cousin and long-time sweetheart. The couple had a son, Sandip, who is now a film director. In the same year, French director Jean Renoir came to Calcutta to shoot his film The River. Ray helped him to find locations in the countryside. Ray told Renoir about his idea of filming Pather Panchali, which had long been on his mind, and Renoir encouraged him in the project. In 1950, D.J. Keymer sent Ray to London to work at its headquarters office. During his three months in London, Ray watched 99 films. Among these was the neorealist film Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948) by Vittorio De Sica, which had a profound impact on him. Ray later said that he came out of the theatre determined to become a film-maker.
Ray decided to use Pather Panchali (1928), the classic Bildungsroman of Bengali literature, as the basis for his first film. The semi-autobiographical novel describes the maturation of Apu, a small boy in a Bengal village.
Ray gathered an inexperienced crew, although both his cameraman Subrata Mitra and art director Bansi Chandragupta went on to achieve great acclaim. The cast consisted of mostly amateur actors. He started shooting in late 1952 with his personal savings and hoped to raise more money once he had some passages shot, but did not succeed on his terms. As a result, Ray shot Pather Panchali over three years, an unusually long period, based on when he or his production manager Anil Chowdhury could raise additional funds. He refused funding from sources who wanted a change in script or supervision over production. He also ignored advice from the government to incorporate a happy ending, but he did receive funding that allowed him to complete the film. Ray showed an early film passage to the American director John Huston, who was in India scouting locations for The Man Who Would Be King. The passage was of the vision which Apu and his sister have of the train running through the countryside, the only sequence which Ray had yet filmed due to his small budget. Huston notified Monroe Wheeler at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) that a major talent was on the horizon.
With a loan from the West Bengal government, Ray finally completed the film. It was released in 1955 to great critical and popular success. It earned numerous prizes and had long runs in both India and abroad. In India, the reaction to the film was enthusiastic; The Times of India wrote that "It is absurd to compare it with any other Indian cinema [...] Pather Panchali is pure cinema." In the United Kingdom, Lindsay Anderson wrote a glowing review of the film. But, the reaction was not uniformly positive. After watching the movie, François Truffaut is reported to have said, "I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands." Bosley Crowther, then the most influential critic of The New York Times, wrote a scathing review of the film. Its American distributor Ed Harrison was worried Crowther's review would dissuade audiences, but the film had an exceptionally long run when released in the United States.
Ray's international career started in earnest after the success of his next film, Aparajito (The Unvanquished). This film shows the eternal struggle between the ambitions of a young man, Apu, and the mother who loves him. Critics such as Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak rank it higher than Ray's first film. Aparajito won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, bringing Ray considerable acclaim. Before completing The Apu Trilogy, Ray directed and released two other films: the comic Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone), and Jalsaghar (The Music Room), a film about the decadence of the Zamindars, considered one of his most important works.
While making Aparajito, Ray had not planned a trilogy, but after he was asked about the idea in Venice, it appealed to him. He finished the last of the trilogy, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) in 1959. Critics Robin Wood and Aparna Sen found this to be the supreme achievement of the trilogy. Ray introduced two of his favourite actors, Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore, in this film. It opens with Apu living in a Calcutta house in near-poverty. He becomes involved in an unusual marriage with Aparna. The scenes of their life together form "one of the cinema's classic affirmative depictions of married life." They suffer tragedy. After Apur Sansar was harshly criticised by a Bengali critic, Ray wrote an article defending it. He rarely responded to critics during his filmmaking career, but also later defended his film Charulata, his personal favourite.
Ray wrote his memoirs during his filming of the Apu Trilogy which has been published as My Years with Apu: A Memoir.
Ray's film successes had little influence on his personal life in the years to come. He continued to live with his wife and children in a rented house, with his mother, uncle and other members of his extended family.
During this period, Ray composed films on the British Raj period (such as Devi), a documentary on Tagore, a comic film (Mahapurush) and his first film from an original screenplay (Kanchenjungha). He also made a series of films that, taken together, are considered by critics among the most deeply felt portrayals of Indian women on screen.
Ray followed Apur Sansar with Devi (The Goddess), a film in which he examined the superstitions in Hindu society. Sharmila Tagore starred as Doyamoyee, a young wife who is deified by her father-in-law. Ray was worried that the censor board might block his film, or at least make him re-cut it, but Devi was spared. In 1961, on the insistence of Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Ray was commissioned to make a documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, on the occasion of the poet's birth centennial, a tribute to the person who likely most influenced Ray. Due to limited footage of Tagore, Ray faced the challenge of making a film out of mainly static material. He said that it took as much work as three feature films.
In the same year, together with Subhas Mukhopadhyay and others, Ray was able to revive Sandesh, the children's magazine which his grandfather once published. Ray had been saving money for some years to make this possible. A duality in the name (Sandesh means both "news" in Bengali and also a sweet popular dessert) set the tone of the magazine (both educational and entertaining). Ray began to make illustrations for it, as well as to write stories and essays for children. Writing became his major source of income in the years to come.
In 1962, Ray directed Kanchenjungha. Based on his first original screenplay, it was his first film in colour. The film tells of an upper-class family spending an afternoon in Darjeeling, a picturesque hill town in West Bengal. They try to arrange the engagement of their youngest daughter to a highly paid engineer educated in London. He had first conceived shooting the film in a large mansion, but later decided to film it in the famous hill town. He used the many shades of light and mist to reflect the tension in the drama. Ray noted that while his script allowed shooting to be possible under any lighting conditions, a commercial film contingent present at the same time in Darjeeling failed to shoot a single scene, as they only wanted to do so in sunshine.
In the sixties, Ray visited Japan and took particular pleasure in meeting the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, for whom he had very high regard. While at home, he would take an occasional break from the hectic city life by going to places such as Darjeeling or Puri to complete a script in isolation.
In 1964 Ray made Charulata (The Lonely Wife); it was the culmination of this period of work, and regarded by many critics as his most accomplished film. Based on "Nastanirh", a short story of Tagore, the film tells of a lonely wife, Charu, in 19th-century Bengal, and her growing feelings for her brother-in-law Amal. Critics have referred to this as Ray's Mozartian masterpiece. He said the film contained the fewest flaws among his work, and it was his only work which, given a chance, he would make exactly the same way. Madhabi Mukherjee's performance as Charu, and the work of both Subrata Mitra and Bansi Chandragupta in the film, have been highly praised. Other films in this period include Mahanagar (The Big City), Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), Abhijan (The Expedition), Kapurush (The Coward) and Mahapurush (Holy Man).
In the post-Charulata period, Ray took on projects of increasing variety, ranging from fantasy to science fiction to detective films to historical drama. Ray also made considerable formal experimentation during this period. He expressed contemporary issues of Indian life, responding to a perceived lack of these issues in his films. The first major film in this period is Nayak (The Hero), the story of a screen hero travelling in a train and meeting a young, sympathetic female journalist. Starring Uttam Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, in the twenty-four hours of the journey, the film explores the inner conflict of the apparently highly successful matinée idol. In spite of the film's receiving a "Critics prize" at the Berlin International Film Festival, it had a generally muted reception.
In 1967, Ray wrote a script for a film to be called The Alien, based on his short story "Bankubabur Bandhu" ("Banku Babu's Friend"), which he wrote in 1962 for Sandesh, the Ray family magazine. Columbia Pictures was the producer for what was a planned US-India co-production, and Marlon Brando and Peter Sellers were cast as the leading actors. Ray found that his script had been copyrighted and the fee appropriated by Mike Wilson. Wilson had initially approached Ray through their mutual friend, Arthur C. Clarke, to represent him in Hollywood. Wilson copyrighted the script credited to Mike Wilson & Satyajit Ray, although he contributed only one word. Ray later said that he never received a penny for the script. After Brando dropped out of the project, the project tried to replace him with James Coburn, but Ray became disillusioned and returned to Calcutta. Columbia expressed interest in reviving the project several times in the 1970s and 1980s, but nothing came of it. When E.T. was released in 1982, Clarke and Ray saw similarities in the film to his earlier Alien script. Ray claimed that this film plagiarized his script. Ray said that Steven Spielberg's movie "would not have been possible without my script of 'The Alien' being available throughout America in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied any plagiarism by saying, "I was a kid in high school when this script was circulating in Hollywood." (Spielberg actually graduated high school in 1965 and released his first film in 1968). Besides The Alien, two other unrealised projects that Ray had intended to direct were adaptations of the ancient Indian epic, the Mahābhārata, and E. M. Forster's 1924 novel A Passage to India. In 1969, Ray released what would be commercially the most successful of his films. Based on a children's story written by his grandfather, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha), it is a musical fantasy. Goopy the singer and Bagha the drummer, endowed with three gifts by the King of Ghosts, set out on a fantastic journey. They try to stop an impending war between two neighboring kingdoms. Among his most expensive enterprises, the film project was difficult to finance. Ray abandoned his desire to shoot it in color, as he turned down an offer that would have forced him to cast a certain Hindi film actor as the lead.
Ray made a film from a novel by the young poet and writer, Sunil Gangopadhyay. Featuring a musical motif structure acclaimed as more complex than Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) traces four urban young men going to the forests for a vacation. They try to leave their daily lives behind. All but one of them become involved in encounters with women, which becomes a deep study of the Indian middle class. According to Robin Wood, "a single sequence [of the film] ... would offer material for a short essay".
After Aranyer, Ray addressed contemporary Bengali life. He completed what became known as the Calcutta trilogy: Pratidwandi (1970), Seemabaddha (1971), and Jana Aranya (1975), three films that were conceived separately but had thematic connections. Pratidwandi (The Adversary) is about an idealist young graduate; if disillusioned at the end of film, he is still uncorrupted. Jana Aranya (The Middleman) showed a young man giving in to the culture of corruption to make a living. Seemabaddha (Company Limited) portrayed an already successful man giving up his morality for further gains. In the first film, Pratidwandi, Ray introduces a new, elliptical narrative style, such as scenes in negative, dream sequences, and abrupt flashbacks. In the 1970s, Ray adapted two of his popular stories as detective films. Though mainly addressed to children and young adults, both Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) found some critical following.
Ray considered making a film on the Bangladesh Liberation War but later abandoned the idea. He said that, as a filmmaker, he was more interested in the travails of the refugees and not the politics. In 1977, Ray completed Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players), a Hindi film based on a story by Munshi Premchand. It was set in Lucknow in the state of Oudh, a year before the Indian rebellion of 1857. A commentary on issues related to the colonisation of India by the British, this was Ray's first feature film in a language other than Bengali. It is his most expensive and star-studded film, featuring Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Amjad Khan, Shabana Azmi, Victor Bannerjee and Richard Attenborough.
In 1980, Ray made a sequel to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, a somewhat political Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds). The kingdom of the evil Diamond King, or Hirok Raj, is an allusion to India during Indira Gandhi's emergency period. Along with his acclaimed short film Pikoo (Pikoo's Diary) and hour-long Hindi film, Sadgati, this was the culmination of his work in this period.
In 1983, while working on Ghare Baire (Home and the World), Ray suffered a heart attack; it would severely limit his productivity in the remaining 9 years of his life. Ghare Baire was completed in 1984 with the help of Ray's son (who operated the camera from then on) because of his health condition. He had wanted to film this Tagore novel on the dangers of fervent nationalism for a long time, and wrote a first draft of a script for it in the 1940s. In spite of rough patches due to Ray's illness, the film did receive some critical acclaim. It had the first kiss fully portrayed in Ray's films. In 1987, he made a documentary on his father, Sukumar Ray.
Ray's last three films, made after his recovery and with medical strictures in place, were shot mostly indoors, and have a distinctive style. They have more dialogue than his earlier films and are often regarded as inferior to his earlier body of work. The first, Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People) is an adaptation of the famous Ibsen play, and considered the weakest of the three. Ray recovered some of his form in his 1990 film Shakha Proshakha (Branches of the Tree). In it, an old man, who has lived a life of honesty, comes to learn of the corruption of three of his sons. The final scene shows the father finding solace only in the companionship of his fourth son, who is uncorrupted but mentally ill. Ray's last film, Agantuk (The Stranger), is lighter in mood but not in theme. When a long-lost uncle arrives to visit his niece in Calcutta, he arouses suspicion as to his motive. This provokes far-ranging questions in the film about civilisation.
In 1992, Ray's health deteriorated due to heart complications. He was admitted to a hospital, but never recovered. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an Honorary Academy Award. Ray is the first and the only Indian, yet, to receive the honor. Twenty-four days before his death, Ray accepted the award in a gravely ill condition, calling it the "Best achievement of [his] movie-making career." He died on 23 April 1992 at the age of 71.
Satyajit Ray considered script-writing to be an integral part of direction. Initially he refused to make a film in any language other than Bengali. In his two non-Bengali feature films, he wrote the script in English; translators interpreted it in Hindi or Urdu under Ray's supervision. Ray's eye for detail was matched by that of his art director Bansi Chandragupta. His influence on the early films was so important that Ray would always write scripts in English before creating a Bengali version, so that the non-Bengali Chandragupta would be able to read it. The craft of Subrata Mitra garnered praise for the cinematography of Ray's films. A number of critics thought that his departure from Ray's crew lowered the quality of cinematography in the following films. Though Ray openly praised Mitra, his single-mindedness in taking over operation of the camera after Charulata caused Mitra to stop working for him after 1966. Mitra developed "bounce lighting", a technique to reflect light from cloth to create a diffused, realistic light even on a set. Ray acknowledged his debts to Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut of the French New Wave for introducing new technical and cinematic innovations.
Ray's regular film editor was Dulal Datta, but the director usually dictated the editing while Datta did the actual work. Because of financial reasons and Ray's meticulous planning, his films were mostly cut in-camera (apart from Pather Panchali). At the beginning of his career, Ray worked with Indian classical musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, and Ali Akbar Khan. He found that their first loyalty was to musical traditions, and not to his film. He had a greater understanding of Western classical forms, which he wanted to use for his films set in an urban milieu. Starting with Teen Kanya, Ray began to compose his own scores.
He used actors of diverse backgrounds, from famous film stars to people who had never seen a film (as in Aparajito). Robin Wood and others have lauded him as the best director of children, pointing out memorable performances in the roles of Apu and Durga (Pather Panchali), Ratan (Postmaster) and Mukul (Sonar Kella). Depending on the talent or experience of the actor, Ray varied the intensity of his direction, from virtually nothing with actors such as Utpal Dutt, to using the actor as a puppet (Subir Banerjee as young Apu or Sharmila Tagore as Aparna). Actors who had worked for Ray praised his customary trust but said he could also treat incompetence with total contempt.
Ray created two popular fictional characters in Bengali children's literature—Feluda, a detective, and Professor Shonku, a scientist. The Feluda stories are narrated by Topesh Ranjan Mitra aka Topse, his teenage cousin, something of a Watson to Feluda's Holmes. The science fictions of Shonku are presented as a diary discovered after the scientist had mysteriously disappeared. Ray also wrote a collection of nonsense verse named Today Bandha Ghorar Dim, which includes a translation of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky". He wrote a collection of humorous stories of Mullah Nasiruddin in Bengali.
His short stories were published as collections of 12 stories, in which the overall title played with the word twelve (for example Aker pitthe dui, or literally "Two on top of one"). Ray's interest in puzzles and puns is reflected in his stories. Ray's short stories give full rein to his interest in the macabre, in suspense and other aspects that he avoided in film, making for an interesting psychological study. Most of his writings have been translated into English. Most of his screenplays have been published in Bengali in the literary journal Eksan. Ray wrote an autobiography about his childhood years, Jakhan Choto Chilam (1982), translated to English as Childhood Days.
Ray penned his experiences during the period when he filmed the Apu Trilogy in his memoirs titled My Years with Apu: A Memoir.
He also wrote essays on film, published as the collections: Our Films, Their Films (1976), Bishoy Chalachchitra (1976), and Ekei Bole Shooting (1979). During the mid-1990s, Ray's film essays and an anthology of short stories were also published in English in the West. Our Films, Their Films is an anthology of film criticism by Ray. The book contains articles and personal journal excerpts. The book is presented in two sections: Ray first discusses Indian film, before turning his attention toward Hollywood, specific filmmakers (Charlie Chaplin and Akira Kurosawa), and movements such as Italian neorealism. His book Bishoy Chalachchitra was published in translation in 2006 as Speaking of Films. It contains a compact description of his philosophy of different aspects of the cinemas.
Satyajit Ray designed four typefaces for roman script named Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis, and Holiday Script, apart from numerous Bengali ones for the Sandesh magazine. Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre won an international competition in 1971. In certain circles of Calcutta, Ray continued to be known as an eminent graphic designer, well into his film career. Ray illustrated all his books and designed covers for them, as well as creating all publicity material for his films, i.e., Ray's artistic playing with the Bengali graphemes was also revealed in the cine posters and cine promo-brochures' covers. He also designed covers of several books by other authors. In his calligraphic technique there are deep impacts of: (a) Artistic pattern of European musical staff notation in the graphemic syntagms; (b) alpana ("ritual painting" mainly practiced by Bengali women at the time of religious festival; the term denotes 'to coat with'. Generally categorized as "Folk"-Art cf. in Ray's graphemes representations.
Thus, so-called division between classical and folk art is blurred in Ray's representation of Bengali graphemes. The three-tier X-height of Bengali graphemes was presented in a manner of musical map and the contours, curves in between horizontal and vertical meeting-point, follow the patterns of alpana. It is also noticed that the metamorphosis of graphemes (This might be designated as "Archewriting") as a living object/subject in Ray's positive manipulation of Bengali graphemes.
Ray's work has been described as full of humanism and universality, and of a deceptive simplicity with deep underlying complexity. The Japanese director Akira Kurosawa said, "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." But his detractors find his films glacially slow, moving like a "majestic snail." Some find his humanism simple-minded, and his work anti-modern; they criticize him for lacking the new modes of expression or experimentation found in works of Ray's contemporaries, such as Jean-Luc Godard. As Stanley Kauffman wrote, some critics believe that Ray assumes that viewers "can be interested in a film that simply dwells in its characters, rather than one that imposes dramatic patterns on their lives." Ray said he could do nothing about the slow pace. Kurosawa defended him by saying that Ray's films were not slow, "His work can be described as flowing composedly, like a big river".
Critics have often compared Ray to artists in the cinema and other media, such as Chekhov, Renoir, De Sica, Hawks or Mozart. The writer V. S. Naipaul compared a scene in Shatranj Ki Khiladi (The Chess Players) to a Shakespearean play; he wrote, "only three hundred words are spoken but goodness! – terrific things happen." Even critics who did not like the aesthetics of Ray's films generally acknowledged his ability to encompass a whole culture with all its nuances. Ray's obituary in The Independent included the question, "Who else can compete?" His work was promoted in France by The Studio des Ursuline cinema.
Praising his contribution to the world of cinema, Martin Scorsese mentions: "His work is in the company of that of living contemporaries like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini."
Political ideologues took issue with Ray's work. In a public debate during the 1960s, Ray and the Marxist filmmaker Mrinal Sen engaged in an argument. Sen criticised him for casting a matinée idol such as Uttam Kumar, whom he considered a compromise. Ray said that Sen only attacked "easy targets", i.e. the Bengali middle-classes. However Ray himself has made movies on Bengali middle class in films like Pratidwandi and Jana Aranya set during the period of the naxalite movement in Bengal. Advocates of socialism said that Ray was not "committed" to the cause of the nation's downtrodden classes; some critics accused him of glorifying poverty in Pather Panchali and Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) through lyricism and aesthetics. They said he provided no solution to conflicts in the stories, and was unable to overcome his bourgeois background. During the naxalite movements in the 1970s, agitators once came close to causing physical harm to his son, Sandip. Early in 1980, Ray was criticised by an Indian M.P. and former actress Nargis Dutt, who accused Ray of "exporting poverty." She wanted him to make films to represent "Modern India."
Satyajit Ray is a cultural icon in India and in Bengali communities worldwide. Following his death, the city of Calcutta came to a virtual standstill, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered around his house to pay their last respects. Satyajit Ray's influence has been widespread and deep in Bengali cinema; a number of Bengali directors, including Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Gautam Ghose as well as Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee, Shyam Benegal and Sujoy Ghosh from Hindi cinema in India, Tareq Masud and Tanvir Mokammel in Bangladesh, and Aneel Ahmad in England, have been influenced by his film craft. Across the spectrum, filmmakers such as Budhdhadeb Dasgupta, Mrinal Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan have acknowledged his seminal contribution to Indian cinema. Beyond India, filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Isao Takahata, Wes Anderson, Danny Boyle and many other noted filmmakers from all over the world have been influenced by his cinematic style, with many others such as Akira Kurosawa praising his work. Gregory Nava's 1995 film My Family had a final scene that repeated that of Apur Sansar. Ira Sachs's 2005 work Forty Shades of Blue was a loose remake of Charulata. Other references to Ray films are found, for example, in recent works such as Sacred Evil, the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta. According to Michael Sragow of The Atlantic Monthly, the "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". The trilogy also introduced the bounce lighting technique. Kanchenjungha (1962) introduced a narrative structure that resembles later hyperlink cinema. Pratidwandi (1972) helped pioneer photo-negative flashback and X-ray digression techniques. Together with Madhabi Mukherjee, Ray was the first Indian film figure to be featured on a foreign stamp (Dominica).
Many literary works include references to Ray or his work, including Saul Bellow's Herzog and J. M. Coetzee's Youth. Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories contains fish characters named Goopy and Bagha, a tribute to Ray's fantasy film. In 1993, UC Santa Cruz established the Satyajit Ray Film and Study collection, and in 1995, the Government of India set up Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute for studies related to film. In 2007, the BBC declared that two Feluda stories would be made into radio programs. During the London Film Festival, a regular "Satyajit Ray Award" is given to a first-time feature director whose film best captures "the artistry, compassion and humanity of Ray's vision". Wes Anderson has claimed Ray as an influence on his work; his 2007 film, The Darjeeling Limited, set in India, is dedicated to Ray. Ray also a graphic designer, designed most of his film posters, combining folk-art and calligraphy to create themes ranging from mysterious, surreal to comical; an exhibition his posters was held at British Film Institute in 2013.
In 2016, during the shooting of the film Double Feluda,Satyajit's only son, Sandip Ray, filmed his father's famous library.
The Academy Film Archive preserved a number of Satyajit Ray's films, including the Apu trilogy. Other Satyajit Ray films preserved by the Academy include Nayak, Sikkim, and the short film Two.
Ray received many awards, including 32 National Film Awards by the Government of India, and awards at international film festivals. At the 11th Moscow International Film Festival in 1979, he was awarded with the Honorable Prize for the contribution to cinema. At the Berlin International Film Festival, he was one of only three filmmakers to win the Silver Bear for Best Director more than once and holds the record for the most number of Golden Bear nominations, with seven. At the Venice Film Festival, where he had previously won a Golden Lion for Aparajito (1956), he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award in 1982. That same year, he received an honorary "Hommage à Satyajit Ray" award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
Ray is the second film personality after Chaplin to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 1965 and the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, shortly before his death. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray an Honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. It was one of his favourite actresses, Audrey Hepburn, who represented the Academy on that day in Calcutta. Ray, unable to attend the ceremony due to his illness, gave his acceptance speech to the Academy via live video feed from the hospital bed. In 1992 he was posthumously awarded the Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing at the San Francisco International Film Festival; it was accepted on his behalf by actress Sharmila Tagore.
In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll ranked Ray at No. 7 in its list of "Top 10 Directors" of all time, making him the highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll. In 2002, the Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll ranked Ray at No. 22 in its list of all-time greatest directors, thus making him the fourth highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll. In 1996, Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Ray at No. 25 in its "50 Greatest Directors" list. In 2007, Total Film magazine included Ray in its "100 Greatest Film Directors Ever" list.