As Ray abandons such social visions and turns to have a closer look at the solid middleclass, the art becomes more finicky and conscious, less energised by subliminal social awareness. Probably the absence of a coherent social view creates distortion. As has been pointed out by Sidananda Dasgupta, his Brahmo upbringing stood as a natural barrier against treatment of passion in the raw, But I cannot help noting certain social and ideological dilemmas. The sympathy for a member of the decaying gentry whenever transcends his class character in the film to represent broader masses of humanity, in Jalsaghar and who does not appear in the chiaroscuro of irony, appears to me a distinct let-down. The fatalism of the film, the hero`s old age, his vanishing pelf and power, and the death of his wife and child in shipwreck are all machinations of a malignant fate, is inexorable. The rising merchant in all his vulgarity and cunning is one of the clowns of this fate. The haunting melodies do not wipe out this cramping bias. Charulata exposes the futility of a talkative, doctrinaire and rhetorical politics that seeks to save the nation without casting a lock at the imprisoned women-folk at home. The forlornness of the heroine as a victim is unforgettable, like her short-lived ecstasy. But Ray takes over too much of Tagore`s distaste for politics to give us a deeper picture of the husband’s predicament, (hiding personal inadequacy in fumes of politics/no relation with wife from the beginning) He remains merely an example of personal failure. In film like Jana-Aranya we find Ray grappling with the desperate frustrations and disillusionments of the middle-class now. But he has definitely abandoned the earlier faith in man‘s struggle for a better life. His later work is pervaded by a deep yearning for some lost innocence. True, he does not grow sentimental, but this vision of human destiny is certainly narrower than the one he started out with.
The significance of Ray’s contribution was not immediately understood. Middle-class audiences in towns used to celluloid dreams found themselves forced to gape and yawn through what must have struck them as documentary reproductions of drab everyday life. The impact of that discovery of reality, appreciated abroad almost at once, was minimal on the consciousness of the Indian audiences. Followed a series of films that broke away from the operatic traditions of the old style film without being able to follow Ray’s lead in discovery of reality. Certain technical tricks and a sentimental humanism purged of the pungent elements of Bombay and a conscious attempt to introduce realism in acting were all their stock-in-trade. The ebb-tide in popular life and activity had something to do with it. Ray remained a solitary, made doubly aware of his aesthetic successes by foreign criticism, but insulated from the kind of communication with native audiences that would have helped a natural development
Ritwik Ghatak’s mind had been seared by the agony of partition and consequent rootlessness. He had it in him to understand such human situations better. The human faces and objects almost charge out of their frames upon the spectator. He is insistent where Ray is indirect In Ajantrik which l have seen only once it seems to me that the theme of the intimacy between man and machine and that of mans unavailing struggle against adversity, are cut across by disturbing early overtones of loneliness and alienation The environment may appear familiar, but the hint of impending disintegration is not. The tribal dancers who execute flame-like leaps suggest another way of life, another kind of relation between man and things, but with the further hint that is inaccessible to the hero.
The second phase of the film’s exploration of reality came in India with a fresh wave of social upheavals and struggles. This time the struggle was not with external shackles, but internal enemies, with the exploiting classes The late sixties saw a rise in the tempo of class struggle. The organic unity of Satyajit Rays films, where the detail is subordinate to the ruling idea, gives way to a more broken and discontinuous technique. The story-line is broken, the film is deliberately revealed as an artefact, the camera reflects on itself as means of perceiving and creating versions or reality. The influence of Brecht and Godard on the development of such technical trends is plain. But the attractions of novelty apart these trends certainty reflect a more anguished and disturbed, awareness ct the film-maker’s own position as a subject involved with other subject in confronting a recalcitrant social reality. at the same time lighting and contributing his own subjective bias to the light, focussing on and distorting the reality Mrinal Sen`s rhythm seems closer to the tempo of this new life, his restlessness, often leading to technical gimmickry, seems more genuine than a spirit of serene objectivity He knows more intimately the despair and desperation of the lower middle-classes and probes their revolts and frustrations with greater understanding and objectivity than Ray, who often stops short with their illusion of disillusionment There is a greater play of irreverence, of self-mocking irony, foreshadowed in Bhuban Some, which is part of the new milieu At the same time the immature revolutionism, the Messianism, and the cruder sentiments of the lower middle-classes also worm their way into his films quite often. Ray is saved from tumbling into the absurd by his humanist hope and humanist despair. That, as we have said, is also the invisible barrier he cannot break Sen, time and again, draws humanist attitudes inside out, but he does not reach beyond into a more adequate ideology. His determined striving for ideological consistency has in it an element of fantasy. But his analysis and exposures remain enormously absorbing and powerful. Of late they say he has acquired restraint and learned to remain poised within his limitations which has invested films like Ekdin Pratidin and Kharij with a new beauty. But l have not seen either.
Syed Mirza denounced the conventional story in a seminar where I i participated as a ‘Fascist‘ trick. What he probably meant was that the conventional story helped preserve conventional ideas and attitudes. I am not so sure that in our society ideas that are conventional in the Western sense are always to be scoffed at. A film like The Shop in the High Street, a Czech protest against racial discrimination, presented in straight forward conventional story with a serial continuity, exposes man’s inhumanity to man with a bitter rage that I wish l could see in Indian films with similar themes. Apparently there is only one memorable Indian film on the horror and power of communalism, Garam Hawa. This is strange in a country where communal riots have become annual orgies. However, to return to Mirza, Albert Pinto Ki Gussa tries to come closer to the political process. It convincingly documents the growth in political consciousness of a worker, stripping away one petit-bourgeois illusion after another with brutal frankness But when Albert Pinto joins the masses in the end. It becomes a gesture of propaganda rather than art. For in our society, this joining, whlle a big step forward, is the beginning rather than the end of problems Thus lower-middle class fantasy does intrude after all. Mirza makes hls films in Bombay, where Datta Samant has lured the flocks of workers away from leftist trade unions, Yet there is resolution in the abandonment of lower-middle-class vacillations.
For something that comes out of a real revolutionary milieu one may turn to the classic Potemkin. lt renders both the brutal and massive oppression of the ruling classes and the invincible power of the revolution, symbolised in the close-ups of the powerful, throbbing engine, the blades of the wheel churning through water, the huge naval guns staring into our faces and then tamed, The energies of the masses find expression in a pulsating rhythm and sweeping shots. The faith of the revolution comes across as an inexorable force.
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