Cinema, Emergence, and the Films of Satyajit Ray

Cinema, Emergence, and the Films of Satyajit Ray

Cinema, Emergence, and the Films of Satyajit Ray

Cinema, Emergence, and the Films of Satyajit Ray


Although revered as one of the world's great filmmakers, the Indian director Satyajit Ray is described either in narrowly nationalistic terms or as an artist whose critique of modernity is largely derived from European ideas. Rarely is he seen as an influential modernist in his own right whose contributions to world cinema remain unsurpassed. In this benchmark study, Keya Ganguly situates Ray's work within the internationalist spirit of the twentieth century, arguing that his film experiments revive the category of political or "committed" art. She suggests that in their depictions of Indian life, Ray's films intimate the sense of a radical future and document the capacity of the image to conceptualize a different world glimpsed in the remnants of a disappearing past.


What was “modern,” what was indeed “avant-garde,” is now
relatively old. What its works and language reveal, even at their
most powerful, is an identifiable historical period, from which,
however, we have not fully emerged.

—RAYMOND WILLIAMS, The Politics of Modernism

Avant-gardism is a luxury we cannot yet afford in our country.

—SATYAJIT RAY, Our Films, Their Films


A short scene in Charulata (1964) depicts Bhupati, the heroine Charulata’s husband, discussing the vocation of the writer with his cousin Amal. The latter has given the fanciful title of Amabasyar Aalo (The Light of the New Moon) to one of his impassioned bits of writing. Amal and Charu (Charulata’s abbreviated name) share a love of literary essays, and the intimacy it sparks between them leads to the romantic complication that is at the core of this classic film in Satyajit Ray’s wide-ranging oeuvre. In this scene, as well as throughout the film, the practical and rational Bhupati, a newspaper publisher, is revealed to be more interested in political events in the world than in the issue of creative license; he consequently regards Amal’s effort as florid and, moreover, nonsensical. As he quite reasonably points out, blocked by the earth’s shadow the new moon never casts any light, so there is no earthly reason, so to speak, to expostulate about it. More than a description of geoselenic relations, the light of the new moon designates the oddity, the impracticality, and, indeed, the illogicality of the idea, and Ray uses it to set up a contrast between possibilities, however improbable, and hard-nosed reality. But the phrase also serves as an extended metaphor for the contrary forms of imaginativeness that go under the sign of the improper, the incorrect, and the illogical—that which rhetoricians call “catachresis.” The impossible idea of the light of the new moon helps to situate my goal in this book, which is to examine the utility of a conception of modernism and the avant-garde, conventionally seen as . . .

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