15 September 2004

Satyajit Ray

I absolutely dig Satyajit Ray. I found an essay written by Amartya Sen on him: Satyajit Ray and the art of Universalism: Our Culture, Their Culture. What better thing could I want? The full essay can be found at http://satyajitray.ucsc.edu/articles/sen.html. Posting excerpts:

... A deep respect for distinctiveness is combined, in Ray's vision, with a recognition of internal diversity and an appreciation of the need for genuine communication. Impetuous cosmopolitans have something to learn from his focus on distinctiveness, but it is the growing army of communitarian and cultural "separatists" — increasingly more fashionable in India and elsewhere, that most needs to take note of the persistence of heterogeneity at the local level.

... We live in a time in which many things are increasingly common, and the possibility that something important is being lost in this process of integration has aroused understandable concern.

... At the broader level of "Asia" rather than India, the separateness of "Asian values," and their distinction from Western norms, has often been asserted, particularly in east Asia, from Singapore and Malaysia to China and Japan. The invoking of Asian values has sometimes occurred in rather dubious political circumstances. It has been used to justify authoritarianism (and harsh penalties for alleged transgressions) in some east Asian countries.

... Even though he (Ray) emphasized the difficulties of intercultural communication, Ray did not take cross-cultural comprehension to be impossible.

... The difficulties of understanding each other across the boundaries of culture are undoubtedly great. This applies to the cinema, but also to other art forms, especially literature. The inability of most foreigners, even of other Indians, to grasp the beauty of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry (a failure that we Bengalis find so exasperating) is a good illustration of this problem. Indeed, the thought that these non-appreciating others are being willfully contrary and obdurate (rather than being thwarted by the barriers of languages and translations) is a frequently aired suspicion.

... This vindication of his belief that he will be understood, barriers notwithstanding, tells us about the possibility of understanding across cultural boundaries. It may be hard, but it can be done.

... The graphic portrayal of extreme wretchedness, and of heartlessness towards the downtrodden, can itself be exploited, especially when supplemented by a goodly supply of vicious villains. At a sophisticated level, such exploitation can be seen even in Salaam Bombay!, the wonderfully successful film by Meera Nair. Nair's film is powerfully constructed and deeply moving; and yet it mercilessly exploits not only the viewer's sympathy and sentimentality, but also her interest in identifying "the villain of the piece" who might be blamed for all this suffering.

... At a more mundane level, City of Joy does the same with Calcutta, with clearly identified villains who have to be confronted. By contrast, even when Ray's films deal with problems that are just as intense (such as the coming of the Bengal famine in Ashani Sanket), the comfort of a ready explanation through the presence of villains is avoided. In Ray's films, villains are remarkably rare, almost absent. When terrible things happen, there may be nobody clearly responsible. And even when someone is clearly responsible, as Dayamoyee's father-in-law most definitely is responsible for her predicament, and ultimately for her suicide, in Devi, he, too, is a victim, and by no means devoid of humane features.

... Ray does not hesitate to indicate how strongly Pather Panchali — the profound film that immediately made him a film maker of international distinction — was influenced by Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief. He saw Bicycle Thief within three days of arriving in London for a brief stay, and noted: "I knew immediately that if I ever made Pather Panchali — and the idea had been at the back of my mind for some time — I would make it in the same way, using natural locations and unknown actors." Despite this influence, Pather Panchali, of course, is a quintessentially Indian film, in subject matter and in style, and yet a major inspiration came from an Italian film. The Italian influence did not make Pather Panchali anything other than an Indian film; it simply helped to make it a great Indian film.

The growing tendency in contemporary India to champion the need for an indigenous culture that has "resisted" external influences and borrowings lacks credibility as well as cogency. It has become quite common to cite the foreign origin of an idea or a tradition as an argument against its use, and this has been linked to an antimodernist priority.

... The characterization of an idea as "purely Western" or "purely Indian" can be very illusory. The origin of ideas is not the kind of thing to which "purity" happens easily.

... It is by no means clear that historically there has been systematically greater importance attached to freedom and tolerance in the West than in Asia. Individual liberty, in its contemporary form, is a relatively new notion both in Asian and in the West; and while the West did get to these ideas earlier (through developments such as the Renaissance, the European Enlightenment the Industrial Revolution and so on), the divergence between the cultures is relatively recent ...


Sham said...

what thou sayeth on ban on release of new non kannaDa films in bangalore?

Vijayalaxmi said...

Oh man, that's one of the stupidest things you could do to revive Kannada cinema. If you want people to watch kannada movies, why dont you make quality ones? Just last year, I went with a friend to a couple of Kannada movies. And we both swore that we'd think a hundred times before we did that again. Not that Hindi or English ones are great. But the deterioration in Kannada movies is very marked. And the usual reaction to such a statement would be that "This is what people alike." So, if this is what people like, there's should be lots of moolah coming in, right?

There has always been a very heavy tax on non-Kannada movies. So, that in a way is protection, right? Will this ban get people to watch Kannada movies? According to this line of thought, people going to non-Kannada movies may well be stoned.

Sham said...

I agree it is not the best way of reviving Kannada films. It is an embarrasing situation too. But, as far as newspapers go, they report that the problem is not with non-kannada films but with theater owners who for some reason thrust non kannada movies on to moviegoers by running them in their theaters.
Now why would they do that if kannada movies are good enough to attract crowds.. i fail to understand.

this is digressing from the topic!!!

But I think the big banner kannada movies that push other small budget kannada movies back are the real rogues. These movies aren't good enough, not a real indication of quality of kannada movies but these are the only movies we have to watch in theaters.