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1 - The Colonial and the Premodern: Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Jalsaghar and Devi

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2023

Devapriya Sanyal
Affiliation:
Mount Carmel College, Bangalore
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Summary

A case was made in the Introduction for Satyajit Ray as a national filmmaker, and the epithet ‘national’ would include his portrayal of India before it became a nation, i.e. its time under British colonisation. All three of the films discussed in this chapter are connected by the common thread in their portrayals of the decline of feudalism as a force and decaying tradition. They are all based in nineteenth-century India and as such offer us glimpses of key moments of Indian history that contribute to our sense of a nation with a historical trajectory. These films also document the struggle between tradition and modernity as the advent of the British in the country brought in its wake many new developments, the end of numerous kingdoms, the zamindari system as social organisation and the strengthening of colonialism alongside the burgeoning of the Bengal cultural Renaissance. The three films have been studied chronologically (in historical terms) so as to be able to afford a sense of the changes Ray saw as wrought in Indian society in the nineteenth century under the impact of colonial modernity.

The Incursions of Colonialism: Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977)

Of the three films dealt with in this chapter, Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi is historically placed at the earliest moment and can be used as a template to understand all three as representing, on the one hand, the clash between tradition and colonial modernity and on the other, that between two different civilisations. It presents to us, in effect, with more than the coloniser-versus-colonised theme in which colonisation is simply the betrayal of faith. In Premchand's story the political events happen offstage, as it were, and it can be seen as a critique of the self-absorbed aristocracy doing little when their land is usurped by the colonisers but getting into a murderous rage over a chess game. In Ray's film, General Outram and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah – representing the two opposing sides – are fleshed out and the film emerges as the clash of ideas bred by two different and even opposing civilisations – with neither Outram nor Wajid Ali Shah painted in absolute terms, although the British are the victors. The Nawab is a patron of music and the fine arts, by nature a poet and a connoisseur of beauty.

Type
Chapter
Information
Failed Masculinities
The Men in Satyajit Ray's Films
, pp. 23 - 40
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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