Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Peter Hitchcock

Subject Categories

Other Film and Media Studies




Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), one of the great masters of world cinema has directed five documentary films, other than his 29 feature films, in his long four decades of career as a filmmaker in India. He constructed his cinematic language and style with neorealism and a very distinct humanist approach to celluloid. Ray made his films in Bengali, English, Urdu and Hindi; his films depicted the complexity of human relationship, conflicts and interactions in contemporary Indian societies with great details and different levels of interpretations. Western and international audiences are mostly familiar with Ray’s fiction films, though his documentaries were well-acclaimed in India and abroad.

Ray’s documentaries are mostly personality genre films. He documented the lives of great Indians who shaped and constructed the societies and cultures of colonial and postcolonial India with their creative endeavors and concepts. Ray made his first documentary film on famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1961; and later he made films on Binode Behari Mukherjee (1972), a famous Bengali artist and Bala (1976), a Bharatanatyam dancer from Tamil Nadu. In 1971 Ray directed a film on Sikkim, then an independent state in the Himalayas. Ray’s last documentary was also a biography film on Sukumar Ray, a pioneer of juvenile literature in early twentieth century India. In his documentaries, like his feature films, Ray told stories to his audience. His documentaries depicted history, politics, social changes and crafts of his time; and also elaborated the lives and achievements of the great personalities he documented in his films.

India and also the colonial India has a long history of nonfiction films. In British India, around 1910, newsreels as nonfiction films were produced regularly and after that, throughout WWI and WWII, and after the independence of India many filmmakers documented the different aspects of Indian life and other perspectives. Indian government controlled organization, the Film Division of India (FDI), world’s biggest producer of documentary films has produced 9,000 documentary films in last 75 years. After independence of India, Satyajit Ray and his contemporaries made some nonfiction films which portrayed the postcolonial aspects of India.

This dissertation briefly discussed the history of nonfiction films in India and also introduced and analyzed the documentary films of Satyajit Ray from the perspective of post colonialism, contents and aesthetics. This paper also discussed and examined his documentary film style and philosophy.