Satyajit Ray and the West

Satyajit Ray was born today, in 1921. Am reproducing an old article. My favourite Ray films are:

Aparajito, Jalsaghar, Devi, Teen Kanya, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha, Sonar Kella, Ghare-Baire; he made two Hindi films: Shantranj Ke Khilari and the telefilm Sadgati.

We have sold Ray to the makers of wanton dreams
Farzana Versey
June 9, 1997, rediff

In the month of May, Satyajit Ray trivia abounds in West Bengal. Born in the sweltering heat, he was feted in the chilly west. Which was good enough. But all his major works, things true-blue Bengalis like to call their own, had to be 'saved' by a grant and technical expertise from abroad.

Calcuttans feel deep gratitude for this. This same attitude imbued our response to Ray being given the honorary Oscar for a lifetime of achievement in cinema. Every intellectual who would have willingly run down American films for their surfeit of fantasy, exploitation and kitsch was now bending backwards to thank the stars in the heavens above for this great conferment. He/she forgot all about the vanity of the west and the distortion of reality because, after all, the Oscars had come home (the only one after a dress designer from these shores had won it).

Ray had himself once commented, "The fact is that the colonised have, willy-nilly, developed considerable interest in the colonisers; it has never been the other way round." Therefore, anything they claim to do for us makes us feel grateful and finds us on bended knees.

What is even more surprising is the Bengali attitude. They will push the point about the son of the soil, every conversation will come back to Satyajit Ray. But the dear Bengalis will not do a thing to preserve the films of their beloved Calcuttan of world stature.

Instead, they will sell him out to the makers of wanton dreams. Which is fine by me. But, tomorrow, they will have no business to deride popular cinema, western colonialism, Hollywood and the politics of NGOs. They are a part of it now. It is as much their heritage as every Indian's.

Ray is being used, it is as simple as that. Will these great bodies do anything to preserve Manmohan Desai's films, even though his cinema is nearer the American dream than anything else? No, because they need the respectability and a certain exotica. For them, Ray is the city of joy, the giant who walked through the slush to create poetry.

Ray had said of India, "For a land where cows are holy and God is a phallus, anything will pass for the truth." The outsiders are not even interested in whether it is the truth or not. For them, commemorating a man from such a "tribal society", a man who could smoke a stylish pipe and speak in their language, only better, is the opportunity not be missed. They are claiming him as their own because they think they have created him. His influences have been western and his films have clearly not been ethnic, in the narrow sense. Which left him free to explore the varied layers of human thinking.

But it is not his thoughts that Hollywood or any foreign agency is interested in. It is his films that represent a slightly quaint, if real, side of India that interest them.

You might say, it is their job to do so. Perhaps it is. But, then, we must agree to forgo our prejudices. We cannot use one standard to judge them when they felicitate our greats and another when they ignore us at international fora.

It is indeed a sad day when, instead of saying they need Satyajit Ray, we have to end up saying that Ray needs them. Specially since he is not around to comment. The least we can grant a creative man after his death is a decent requiem, rather than letting his films become beleaguered works that need a foreign crutch to stand the test of time.

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A list of his films I have not mentioned…

Pather Panchali, , Parash Pathar, Apur Sansar, Rabindranath Tagore, Kanchenjungha, Abhijan, Mahanagar, Two,
Kapurush - O – Mahapurush, Nayak, Chiriyakhana, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Sikkim, The Inner Eye, Asani Sanket, Jana Aranya, Bala, Joi Baba Felunath, Hirak Rajar Deshe, Pikoo, Sukumar Ray, Ganashatru, Shakha Prashakha, Agantuk.


  1. I like your blog....seriously do! keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you...seriously!

    Wonder why people are reticent revealing themselves even to share good wishes :)


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