In defiance of the State: the Nehru era and Satyajit Ray’s films

Ghosh, S (2016) 'In defiance of the State: the Nehru era and Satyajit Ray’s films.' South Asian Studies, 32 (2). pp. 144-154. ISSN 2153-2699

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In his first decade (1955-64) as a filmmaker, Satyajit Ray directed ten feature films, one ‘feature-length anthology’ film ('Three Daughters', 1961), and a documentary on the poet Rabindranath Tagore. This prolific phase includes many of his better remembered films, including the 'Apu Trilogy', 'The Music Room' and 'The Lonely Wife'. This is also the final decade of the premiership of Jawaharlal Nehru, post-Independence India’s first prime minister, whose support for Ray’s films was both personal and institutional. This essay challenges the predominant scholarship on Ray’s early films as the cinema of the Nehruvian establishment whose lyrical quality avoided the harshness of Indian rural and urban reality. It argues that these films, while being clearly influenced by Nehru’s vision, reveal an increasing uneasiness with the Nehruvian ideology of nation-building led by an industrial economy. This uneasiness spreads to other consequences of Nehruvian policy, including the high investments in nuclear technology amidst the increasing unemployment of the late 1950s, followed by the economic depression of the 1960s. Far from being a cinema of the establishment, it is possible to read these films as critiques of the Nehruvian state, and of the social inequities it fostered that threatened to polarise Indian society.

Item Type: Article

Article published on 20 June 2016 ahead of its inclusion in a specific issue.

Keywords: Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, rural development, nuclear energy
Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
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Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2016 10:40
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 19:48
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