Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Home and the World (Ghare Baire)

Satyajit Ray, 141m, 1984, Bengali, based on Tagore's novel

The story is set in the first decade of the previous century. Bengal is to be partitioned into two states, a Hindu Bengal and a Muslim Bengal. Lord Curzon is the current Viceroy.The freedom movement is in it's nascent state and is being spearheaded by the upper class intelligentsia. British goods flood the market. There is a move on the part of the rebels to boycott imported goods.This on the other hand is likely to hit the poor since imported goods are cheaper and of better quality.

The complex social and political situation is narrated by Ray through the medium of a bold and torrid love triangle triangle, bold for the year when the movie was released, bolder for the milieu in which the film is set and even by present standards of Indian cinema. The level of intimacy depicted is perhaps unusual in Indian cinema, since kissing on-screen still is likely to shock sections of the audience. And nor is Ray the kind of guy given to shock tactics.

India is a confluence of civilizations and Ray is an individual who embraces contradictory multiplicities. One of the opening images is of  Bimala (played by Swatilekha Chatterjee), traditionally cloistered wife of the aristocrat Nikhil (Victor Banerjee), as she is tutored in Western vocal music by her teacher (Jennifer Kendall). Nikhil decides to liberate her from the traditional role of housewife and introduces her to ex college mate and firebrand freedom fighter Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee), who is currently campaigning for Swadeshi, or the boycott of foreign manufactured goods. Ray clearly aims to portray the shallownes which underlies much revolutionary fervor. This is particularly evident in the ritualistic greeting of the Swadeshi-ists, which is artificial and comic. Bimala is completely infatuated with Sandip, till events disclose the duplicity and self serving motives which underlie his chest thumping patriotism.

The film is not up to Ray's best. This is perhaps due to it's complexity and scope of ambition. Ray is not one to distort for the sake of simplification. He seeks here to portray some still continuing realities of India's multi religious and multi cultural society through the microcosm of a family living through a turbulent period of nascent nationalism. This is just before the appearance of Gandhi, when the serious business of confronting colonialism really started. Certainly cannot be missed.


Jack L said...

Excellent review,
I really need to see some Indian films and I have to say this Satyajit Ray looks like a very good director, would you say he's the best Indian director and which films would you recommend watching to introduce myself to Indian cinema??

thanks for the great review!

S. M. Rana said...

@Jack L

Thanks for your encouraging comment. I was provoked into seeing a Napoleon movie after visiting your blog though I could not locate the twenties silent film you so highly recommended. I like your straightforward style of writing and adding your name on my home page to keep in touch.

Well, if you haveto see an Indian flick.

There is no question that he has no equal on the cinematic firmament of India. He made around forty movies and I have seen more than half. Pather Panchali (Song of the Road), Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder), Jalsaghar (Music Room), Chess Players, Charulata (which is Ray's own favorite)are perhaps among the best.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, (Flag Hoisting and Rat Trap are reviewed by me)is another outstanding director.

There are some other good ones but most Indian cinema is a waste of time.

Jack L said...

Thanks for the info

I've been kind of hesitant with Indian cinema as Bollywood has got a pretty bad reputation... but I'm sure there are plenty that are worth seeing.

I'll definitely start with exploring Ray's films, I think i'll start with the Apu Trilogy, as it is very highly praised, and then I'll see where I go from there...

S. M. Rana said...

Jack: Even the swan-song movie, Aguntak, which I just reviewed yesterday, is a good place to start, since it is pretty universal and thoroughly modern in outlook, and a very unusual kind of movie. You can choose between his first or his last!

Bollywood's poor reputation is hard earned and well deserved.