26 July, 2021

Greatest? Or The Only?

The portrayal of Ray as Indian cinema's greatest iconic genius has its problems

Greatest? Or The Only?
There is only a slight shift between Satyajit Ray, influential member of a generation of artists that transformed the post-independence modernist landscape, and Ray the genius, lonely in his solitary greatness. Put one way, the impact of 30 years of experimenting with realism has been enormously generative: that impact is still being discussed. Put in another, Ray has been a millstone round the neck of Indian cinema.

When did things change? I believe it happened with the reception of his first film in the US: when a major transformation occurred in how Ray was viewed. I think the dominant nativist and Oriental poet was reimported into India, and transformed into an official state aesthetic during Indira Gandhi’s reign—the sort of cinema the Film Finance Corporation would hold up as exemplary. Ray himself was not too happy about this use of his cinema but I also do suspect that he eventually capitulated to this perception, and was reconciled to a profoundly unhelpful iconic greatness.

It was the "magic horse of poetry", as one European reviewer (Arturo Lanocito,...

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