An online film journal for Indian Cinema
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.’
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.