Cinematographer. Nationality: Indian. Born: Calcutta, 12 October 1930. Education: Trained in science. Career: 1950—assisted Jean Renoir on film The River ; 1955—first film as cinematographer, Pather Panchali , first of several films for Satyajit Ray; 1963—first of several films for James Ivory, The Householder ; visiting professor, Film and Television Institute. Awards: Padma Shri (awarded by the President of India), 1985.
Pather Panchali ( Father Panchali ) (Ray)
Aparajito ( The Unvanquished ) (Ray)
Parash Pather (Ray)
Jalsaghar ( The Music Room ) (Ray)
Apur Sansar ( The World of Apu ) (Ray)
Devi ( The Goddess ) (Ray)
Mahangar ( The Big City ) (Ray); The Householder (Ivory)
Charulata ( The Lonely Wife ) (Ray)
Akash Kusum ( Up in the Clouds ) (M. Sen); Shakespeare Wallah (Ivory)
Nayak ( The Hero ) (Ray)
The Guru (Ivory)
Bombay Talkie (Ivory)
New Delhi Times (Sharma)
Montage , July 1966.
Owen, Derek, "1159 Subrata Mitra," in Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1990.
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Subrata Mitra is usually associated with Satyajit Ray's films, of which he worked as cinematographer on as many as ten from Pather Panchali to Nayak , spanning about 14 years. They parted ways in 1967, probably due to Ray's desire to control all aspects of filmmaking. Mitra has since directed photography on four outstanding Indo-American films, James Ivory's The Householder , Shakespeare Wallah , Bombay Talkie , and The Guru . But it was Ray who elevated him from an amateur still photographer to an ace director of photography in Pather Panchali , which remains the most lyrical of his works. To help create an illusion of reality by naturalistic illumination, he introduced "bounced" lighting in Ray's Aparajito by such a simple and inexpensive device as a white outstretched cloth, which achieved a soft shadowless diffusion. In the early 1960s, while shooting Ray's Devi and Kanchanganga he dispensed with bounced lighting and developed instead a soft light system in Charulata to achieve the same quality. In Ray's films of the 1950s, he developed the Arriflex-Nagra combination, for image and sound, respectively, which later became the standard film equipment in India. He also pioneered the use of halogen lights for shooting The Guru .
Mitra does not believe, however, that the excellence of a film is "terribly dependent" on its technical quality, because "it is not the lens in the camera that really matters but the eye at the other side of it." This faith in the supremacy of the artist over his artefact has been borne out amply in many of his films. His use of dolly shots, e.g., in the sequence of Durga's death in a stormy night ( Pather Panchali ), of varying cinema angles with limited number of cameras, e.g., in photographing the ghats of Varanasi in Aparajito , and the jerky camera movement in New Delhi Times , will remain examples of excellent cinematography by any standard. Official recognition came very late to this self-schooled wizard of Indian cinematography. Additionally, his competence in playing the sitar was used by Renoir in a solo piece for the title music of The River , and by Ray for composing additional sitar pieces in Pather Panchali .