Amit Chaudhuri on Satyajit Ray’s very Indian modernity

Amit Chaudhuri in

It seems that there are all kinds of unresolved problems to do with Satyajit Ray – to do with thinking about him, with finding a language to speak about him that does not repeat the indubitable truisms about his humanism and lyricism. How does he fit into history, and into which history – the history of India; the history of filmmaking; some other – do we place him first?

We do not ordinarily talk about Ray “fitting in”, because he is an icon and a figurehead, and figureheads do not generally have to fit in. Traditions, schools, and oeuvres emanate from them. Glancing toward Ray, we see, indeed, the precious oeuvre, but it’s more difficult to trace the tradition – either leading up to Ray or emerging from him.

People closer to home will mention something called the “Bengal Renaissance” and Tagore when thinking of lineage. Even those who are not students of film know who some of the precursors are: Jean Renoir, Vittoria de Sica and John Ford. As to inheritors of the style, you could, with some hesitation and prudence, point to Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and, a bit further away, to Abbas Kiarostami. But what does this constellation of names and categories add up to?

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