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Introduction: Satyajit Ray’s Films, his Men and the Inscription of the Nation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2023

Devapriya Sanyal
Affiliation:
Mount Carmel College, Bangalore
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Summary

Satyajit Ray: Bengali, Indian or International?

This book is about Satyajit Ray's cinema with a focus on his male characters, but the first issue to be resolved – before all others are taken up – is where he belongs as a filmmaker. The question concerns whether he was Bengali, and primarily attached to local Bengal culture since he often described himself as ‘Bengali’ rather than Indian; ‘Indian’ since he was one of independent India's most prestigious cultural exports; or ‘international’ because of his acceptance as auteur at the international level, unmatched by any other Indian filmmaker. This is an issue of importance not only because it has been debated, but because his cultural location as a director would also influence our reading of his films. At the international level, films from unfamiliar cultures bear the burden of representing more than the story elements, including character and the immediate milieu, while representations of dominant groups are seen as indicative of diversity. It has been suggested that Ray unconsciously ‘represented’ a unique place – Nishchindipur – when he used the music associated with the village in Pather Panchali to accompany a different village in its sequel, Aparajito. It is, of course, simplistic to read the use of the same music in this way, as implying congruity between the two spaces, but we may still say that whenever a space is photographed, it can in a sense ‘represent’ an abstraction as well – a village dwelling representing the village dwelling. In India itself early photographic portraits, it has been noted, were painted over to reintroduce decorative elements that preceded photography, to turn the individual into an archetype like a landowner or a matriarch rather than merely an ordinary individual, and even spaces in this sense could become abstractions. Since the village Nishchindipur is not of great interest in the film, perhaps even Indians are justified in regarding it as an ‘Indian village’ despite characteristics specific to Bengal, even though cultural theorists may frown upon this. Popular cinema in India has consistently represented villages as national abstractions, for instance Ramgarh in Sholay.

Type
Chapter
Information
Failed Masculinities
The Men in Satyajit Ray's Films
, pp. 1 - 22
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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