The Ray...

Ray looks like a character in one of his films

While trying to find an old piece on Satyajit Ray which was again reproduced from an older piece, I was surprised to find that I had not mentioned Pather Panchali among my favourites. Even though I remember it in more detail than any of his other films. I know exactly why I like Charulata and Jolsaghar. I cannot pin down Pather...

And then I read this by Akira Kurosawa and it all fell into place:

“I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it. I have had several more opportunities to see the film since then and each time I feel more overwhelmed. It is the kind of cinema that flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river... People are born, live out their lives, and then accept their deaths. Without the least effort and without any sudden jerks, Ray paints his picture, but its effect on the audience is to stir up deep passions. How does he achieve this? There is nothing irrelevant or haphazard in his cinematographic technique. In that lies the secret of its excellence.”
From 'Pather Panchali'

There are many moments, but the train scene has become a lesson in cinema. The first word is uttered only well after two minutes, but there is the sound of a splash, the wind, and, if you listen carefully, breathing. When the train appears the smoke rising is almost a mirror to the swaying fields. It is also a metaphor to watch the world from between the wheels. A passage, a transition; the hope of arrival and the ephemeral nature of things. The now grey sky will be a reminder, though.

Watch it here.

The film was dismissed as romanticising poverty. Francois Truffaut had said: “I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands.”

Ray had himself commented: “The fact is that the colonised have, willy-nilly, developed considerable interest in the colonisers; it has never been the other way round.”

From 'Jolsaghar'

Although for an outsider Jolsaghar might appear exotic, it was too layered to be flaunted. The decadence was history moving from one flaw to the next, seamlessly. Painfully beautiful.

Truth was at the core. But again, he had said, “For a land where cows are holy and God is a phallus, anything will pass for the truth.”

Not if you wait patiently, quietly, for the lies to fall off...

© Farzana Versey


The earlier piece is here: Satyajit Ray and the West


  1. “The fact is that the colonised have, willy-nilly, developed considerable interest in the colonisers; it has never been the other way round.”

    Nonsense. This is false. Plenty of counter-examples abound -- colonisers did have an interest in studying the colonized, if only to acquire better control over them.


  2. Perhaps "interest" was the wrong word. Indians have been more obsessive; the colonisers were compelled by the exotic as per their understanding as the 'superior'. In your words "studying" the colonised has often been the level of engagement.


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