- Important Publication
In its scope and depth, Gaston Roberge’s new book on Satyajit Ray, is one of the most important publications to appear on this great twentieth-century film director since his 1992 death. The book includes twenty-four essays, which were written between 1970 and 2005. The timeline is important to trace the growth and maturity of Ray’s art as well as Roberge’s admiration for and appreciation of his oeuvre. The essays were originally prompted by teaching assignments and requests for articles as [End Page 107] well as by Roberge’s long-standing and growing interest in the work and talent of the Calcutta-born filmmaker. Only Essay 8, the discussion of Jana Aranya (The Middle Man, 1975), was written for this collection to ‘complement’ the book and ‘improve’ Roberge’s ‘perception of the evolution’ (14) he seeks to describe from the Apu trilogy to the Heart trilogy.
Some of the essays have been edited slightly by the author to avoid repetition and, more importantly, to reflect important changes in technology since the time the articles were first published. So, for instance, in Essay 13, which appeared in print initially in 1974, Roberge rightly argues that the editing was warranted by the fact that, in the digital era, the technology of film can no longer be defined solely as the succession of still images.
The articles included in the anthology and their length do not indicate preference for or a classification rating on the part of the author for certain films; rather they reflect the word count preferred by various media outlets that initially commissioned them. The essays are grouped into Six Parts followed by Conclusion. In Part One, Roberge records his personal recollections of his initial interests in and meetings and friendship with Ray since 1961, the year when he first went to India.
Part Two consists of two sections. In the first one the films discussed include the Apu trilogy, Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958), Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1969), Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970), Jana Aranya and Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984). Section two covers the Heart trilogy: Gana Shatru (An Enemy of the People, 1989), Shakha Proshakha (The Tree and the Twigs, 1990), and Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991).
Roberge has been teaching Film Studies in India for more than three decades and in all that time Ray’s films have been at the core of his teaching materials. This explains why he has entitled Part Three ‘Teaching Film with Ray’s Films’. The three essays included in this part of the book will prove useful to film scholars and students alike for the wealth of information on how Ray used the particular language of cinema to share his dreams with the audience (p. 120). Of particular interest in this part of the book is Roberge’s application of Christian Metz’s large syntagmatic category to three of Ray’s films to highlight, among other things, that in these works, especially in Aranyer Din Ratri, Ray ‘totally masters the image he creates’ (143).
The four essays included in Part Four root Ray’s work and art firmly in his rich native Bengali literary, cultural and cinema tradition. Having highlighted the lasting influence that the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore had on Ray, Roberge then draws attention to the extent to which the cinéaste even surpassed his literary master. Films like Ghare Baire and Charulata (1964), based respectively on a novel and novella by Tagore, reveal that Ray chose to remain ‘totally free while handling Tagore’s material’ even transforming it ‘whenever he felt that he could not follow Tagore without betraying his own sensibility’ (152). This ‘liberty’ comes as no surprise from someone who as an artist firmly believed that ‘I too have my way of seeing things’ (ibid.).
Like any great artist, Ray had to pay a price for ‘seeing things’ his way. His conscious departure from Tagore as well as the unflattering Bengali and Indian reality he often depicted, especially in his first film Pather Panchali (The...