Born into a relatively wealthy family in Calcutta, Ray was well-educated and spent many years as a layout artist in a publishing house; inspired by the novel Pather Panchali, he decided to make it into a film and shot it on location using friends as actors, putting up the funding himself. Partway through filming he ran out of funds; the Bengal government loaned him the rest, allowing him to finish the film. The film was successful both artistically and commercially, winning notice at the 1956 Cannes film festival and providing a boon to the Indian film industry.
Ray's work tends to be both realistic and subdued; his early work is compassionate and touching; his later work, while more political, is also at times cynical, but still infused with his typical humor.
Satyajit Ray won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985 for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. He received the Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. He was also awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1992.
In 1967, Ray wrote a script for a movie entitled "The Alien", but failed to get American funding to produce it. 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial bore many similarities to Ray's work, and Ray blieved that Spielberg's movie "would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied this.