Subjects : Satyajit Ray's world

Madhabi Mukherjee as Charulata (Charu)

One of biggest contribution of Ray to the world of cinema was his choice of subjects. He explored a range of characters and situations. Many of these were alien to popular Indian cinema, as they were not considered suitable film subjects in India. He brought real concerns of real people to the screen – villagers, city middle-class, intellectuals, rich and famous, detectives, kings…Ray himself summed up a very important aspect of his films: “Villains bore me.” Good Vs evil, white vs. black, the hero and the villain. It was an age-old formula for evading the real truth. He explored the complex shades of grey in stead.

His films show a diversity of moods, techniques, and genres – comedy, satire, fantasy, and tragedy… Usually he made realistic films but he also experimented with surrealist devices and fantasy – Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970), Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, 1968) and Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds, 1980) to name a few.

In Devi (The Goddess, 1960), he produced an Ibsen-like parable on the power of superstition, and later in Ganashatru (Enemy of the People, 1989).

Ray was deeply concerned with the social identity of his characters. He believed that behaviour of people emerges from their existence in a particular place and time in a particular social context. This was and is, largely ignored in most popular Indian song-and-dance films. In an effort to appeal to different linguistic states of India, the makers of Bollywood (Bombay / Mumbai film industry) films consciously avoid any references to a particular place. Even the names of characters and places are made as “universal” as possible.

On the other hand, the extraordinary believability of Ray’s characters comes from their being firmly rooted in a well defined society- usually Bengali life in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Curiously, the feeling of “universality” stems form this authentic localism and specifics. He generally suggests the context by meaningful details, gradually forming an enveloping world.

Satyajit Ray sketching costumes possibly for home and the world 1984 ©Nemai Ghosh
Satyajit Ray sketching costumes possibly for home and the world 1984 ©Nemai Ghosh