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Catching Some Ray

Dilip Basu works to preserve Satyajit Ray's legacy

By Richard von Busack

One of the world's great experts on the films of Satyajit Ray lives in Santa Cruz. Professor Dilip Basu administers the Ray Film and Study Collection at UC-Santa Cruz. With the help of center employees Richard Wohlfieler and Mark Davendorf, Basu works to preserve the director's films, art and writings. Basu's intention is to have his current small corner of the McHenry Library evolve into a center where students can see the entire Ray ouevre on tapes from the best copies and study the director's writings, notes, storyboards and sketches.

Basu had known Ray over the years. Commenting on the deathbed footage of Ray seen on the Oscar broadcast, Basu says, "You never have a sense of the tallness of the man; he was 6-foot-5, [with] a huge head, huge eyes, a boom-boom voice." As a humanities professor at UC-Santa Cruz, Basu often used Ray's films in his classes to give a sense of India to students. He thus began corresponding with the director.

Confined by doctor's orders to his small Calcutta apartment, Ray passed his final years writing the young-adult novels that were his real and most reliable source of income. During Ray's declining years, Basu brought the ailing director everything from bags of Santa Cruz's famous granola to film-theory books. Basu gave Ray a VCR, on which the director could watch his older work and his favorite Fred Astaire movies. Later, Basu was instrumental in helping the Motion Picture Academy carry out its plans to award Ray an Oscar. Basu schooled Audrey Hepburn ("a great lady") to pronounce the director's name correctly as "Rye" instead of "Rae"; the professor even carried the Oscar from Hollywood to Ray's bedside.

Ray died shortly after the presentation, but now Basu's cause is to raise money for the preservation of Ray's work and writings. His suggestion to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to look into the state of Ray's films ended with a report by academy film preservationist David H. Shepherd that the physical survival of Ray's films was "hanging by a thread." Since this report, which began the work of saving Ray's films, Basu has raised $750,00 for preservation efforts in India and America. Basu is still seeking funds. The July 4, 1993, London fire that destroyed the original prints of The Apu Trilogy, Devi and Two Daughters demonstrates the urgency of making sure that Ray's legacy is made safe to be witnessed by the world to come. Meanwhile, in May, Basu will host an annual symposium on the master; this year, the theme is "Ray in America." The center also hosts, perhaps inevitably (as Ray's characters often learn, you can't fight technology), a Web site (also check out this unaffiliated web site that is also devoted to Ray's work).

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