Our nation, their nation: Premchand, Satyajit Ray and the Indian state

Ghosh, S (2024) 'Our nation, their nation: Premchand, Satyajit Ray and the Indian state.' In: Dattaray, D, Halder, E and Das, S, eds. Literature and the other arts. Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. (Forthcoming)


In the 1950s and the 1960s, Satyajit Ray made a series of feature films about life in rural and urban Bengal in eastern India. Made in Ray’s native language Bengali, these films were nuanced and mostly realist narratives imbued with social consciousness but without political rhetoric. These films were also marked by Ray’s steady refusal to include direct political statements in his films in the manner of contemporary directors in Indian arthouse film. In the 1970s, in a significant departure from his own practice, Ray directed two films outside his familiar linguistic and cultural trope. Shatranj ke Khiladi (The Chess Players, 1977) a trilingual film in Hindi-Urdu-English was a costume drama about the early years of Britain’s Indian empire set in the northern Indian city of Lucknow. Four years later, Ray directed his second film in Hindi, for India’s state run television broadcaster Doordarshan. Sadgati (The Deliverance, 1981), a narrative about casteism and social exploitation, was set in central India. Both films were adaptations of Hindi short stories by Premchand. This essay argues that Ray’s choice of Premchand’s work was political, and a vehicle for creating a new, direct cinematic idiom that was unlike his previous body of work which was marked by its nuanced treatment of subject matter. This new cinematic idiom signalled a change in both style and content, and resulted in films that were characterised by an unambiguous anti-establishment polemic. It also argues that Ray’s choice of Premchand’s work not only resulted in a material transformation of his own film language, but redefined his leadership of India’s ‘parallel cinema’ movement.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section

Part of an edited collection of invited essays from the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.

Keywords: Satyajit Ray, Munshi Premchand, caste system, Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah, British empire, 1857
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2017 16:09
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2024 21:26
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/10358
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