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The Changing World of Satyajit Ray: Reflections on Anthropology and History

Journal: Media Watch (Vol.3, No. 1)

Publication Date:

Authors : ;

Page : 4-27

Keywords : Indian cinema; Bengali movies; modernity; secularism; cultural identity;

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The visionary Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) is India’s most famous director. His visual style fused the aesthetics of European realism with evocative symbolic realism, which was based on classic Indian iconography, the aesthetic and narrative principles of rasa, the energies of shakti and shakta, the principles of dharma, and the practice of darsha dena/ darsha lena, all of which he incorporated in a self-reflective way as the means of observing and recording the human condition in a rapidly changing world. This unique amalgam of self-expression expanded over four decades that cover three periods of Bengali history, offering a fictional ethnography of a nation in transition from agricultural, feudal societies to a capitalist economy. His films show the emotional impact of the social, economic, and political changes, on the personal lives of his characters. They expand from the Indian declaration of Independence (1947) and the period of industrialization and secularization of the 1950s and 1960s, to the rise of nationalism and Marxism in the 1970s, followed by the rapid transformation of India in the 1980s. Ray’s films reflect upon the changes in the conscious collective of the society and the time they were produced, while offering a historical record of this transformation of his imagined India, the ‘India’ that I got to know while watching his films; an ‘India’ that I can relate to. The paper highlights an affinity between Ray’s method of film-making with ethnography and amateur anthropology. For this, it returns to the notion of the charismatic auteur as a narrator of his time, working within the liminal space in-between fiction and reality, subjectivity and objectivity, culture and history respectively, in order to reflect upon the complementary relationship between the charismatic auteur and the role of the amateur anthropologist in an ever-changing world.

Last modified: 2015-11-03 03:45:41