This is the first film I have seen from what is deemed the final phase (1983 – 1992) of Satyajit Ray’s career and undoubtedly Ghare-Baire is one of his most ideologically complex works. A lot of this complexity extends from the historical context of Bengal at the turn of the century. Admittedly, researching the likes of Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and many other great Bengali film makers underlines the cultural impact of the Bengal renaissance on cinema. Ghare-Baire was another skillful adaptation of a novel by Tagore, exploring the decisive nationalist movement ‘Swadeshi’ in which foreign goods, mostly British, were boycotted as a response to Lord Curzon’s politically motivated decision to partition Bengal along religious grounds and effectively put an end to the united front. The active political resistance as symbolised in the Swadeshi movement becomes entangled in a ideologically inflammatory debate between Nikhil Choudhury (Victor Banerjee), a wealthy landlord, his naive wife Bimala (Swatilekha Chatterjee) and Sandip Mukherjee (Soumitra Chatterjee), a revolutionary leader propagating the national boycott of British goods.
In many ways, Ghare-Baire finds strong parallels with Charulata, another Tagore novel, in that the actions of the male characters are largely determined by a bold feminist causality. Sandip’s attempt to convince Nikhil to endorse the boycott of foreign goods is met with disapproval. He argues that those involved in the movement, namely the Bengali middle classes, have at their means the status to become political whereas those who depend on the trading of foreign goods as their only source of income cannot afford such a compromise as it would mean self destruction of a livelihood. In a 1982 interview with Derek Malcolm, when questioned about the contemporary political relevance of Tagore’s book today, Ray had this to say:
‘It is important in our present confused situation to make films of classics, just to inform people of what happened. And what happened was really quite simple. These were Hindu landlords in a predominately Muslim area, and the political leader, unlike the zamindar, does not think Muslims are part of India. He is fomenting trouble between the two communities. But more than that, he is calling for a nationalist movement that would react against the British. It was primarily a movement based on the middle classes and calling for such things as the wearing of specifically Indian clothes, which was absurd because there was often no substitute in the shops. It was bound first to cause trouble and then to peter out.’
Taken from Satyajit Ray Interviews, Edited by Bert Cardullo, 2007
In many ways Sandip is a classic demagogue, appealing to the emotional sentiments of his followers whilst using the idea of political resistance as a pretext for religious persecution. This plea for communal tolerance came out of Tagore’s own reiteration of non violence during India’s struggle for independence. Interestingly, when Ray was criticised for neglecting to give a sustained voice to the lower classes that we encounter in the film, he tellingly pointed them into the direction of Sadgati (Deliverance), a blistering critique on the caste system which he made in 1981 for television. Ray was around sixty when he made Ghare-Baire and it was whilst making the film that he suffered his first heart attack. A few of Ray’s films after Sadgati were financed by the NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) including Ghare-Baire which also featured one of his costliest budgets.
2 thoughts on “GHARE-BAIRE / HOME AND THE WORLD (Dir. Satyajit Ray, 1984, India)”
Just finished watching Ghare Baire, one of the last few films of Ray I hadn't yet watched. I too felt, whilst watching the film, the strong allegory that this film had with Charulata. And I concur completely with your marvelous review of a film that is mostly referred to as belonging to “lesser Ray”.
I just went through your critique of GHARE BAIRE. I chanced upon it because I am writing a book on SOME WOMEN IN RAY'S FILMS and GHARE BAIRE is one of the chosen films among others.
Throughout my research, I have discovered a strange thing. The focus of all writing – reviews, analysis, historical readings of the book and the film are Tagore, Nikhil and Sandip and of course Ray himself. It piques me no end to find that very little importance in paid to character of Bimala though Tagore did not marginalise her in his novel even once. Ray shifted the focus on Bimala and yet, every reading of the film reveals a marginalising and even, if I may say so, a negativising of the character of Bimala. Do you have any comments? I would love to include them in my chapter on BIMALA