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 was also a prolific writer in Bengali. Arguably his most famous written works were the exploits of Feluda, a bengali detective.