HT Picks; New Reads
The Biography of a master film-maker
Akira Kurosawa said of the great director: ‘Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.’ Martin Scorsese remarked on Ray’s birth centenary in 2021: ‘The films of Satyajit Ray are truly treasures of cinema, and everyone with an interest in film needs to see them.’
Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye is the definitive biography, based on extensive interviews with Ray himself, his actors and collaborators, and a deep knowledge of Bengali cuture. Andrew Robinson provides an in-depth critical account of each film in an astonishingly versatile career, from Ray’s directorial debut Pather Panchali (1955) to his final feature Agantuk (1991). The third (centenary) edition includes new material: an epilogue, ‘A Centuryof Ray’, about the nature of his genius; a wide ranging conversation with Ray drawn from the author’s interviews; and an updated comprehensive bibliography of Ray’s writings.*
Exploring the plurality of the epic in Wayanad and the world
There is no single Ramayana, just as there is not just one kind of people. The epic that Valmiki first wrote has changed across space and time to reflect the cultural consciousness of a diverse cross section of humanity. These widely different social contexts – in India, in South East Asia and the world at large and in different faiths and castes and tribes – have produced an immense variety of Ramayanas in the oral, textual and visual mediums.
Azees Tharuvana was powerfully drawn to the oral tribal Ramayana tradition in Wayanad, Kerala. He tells us that the locals believe Wayanad to be the site of all the action that took place in the Ramayana. So, in their version the hermitage at Ashramkolly near Pulpally is Valmiki’s ashram, and the Jadayattakavu is the place where Rama held Sita by the hair to keep her from falling into the earth. Tharuvana’s research into this tradition led to a deeper immersion in the many forms and shapes that the epic poem has taken. It illustrates how human societies reshape narratives as a way of expressing and asserting their unique identities and their moral and social codes.
In this light, the Ramayana is not only a religious text but the very symbol of plurality, replete with interesting divergences. It is an ever changing work that will never be a thing of the past. The many profound, often entertaining versions of the epic discussed in this sharp illuminating work bear testimony to the fact that the Ramayana must not be talked about as a mythological text of yore but as something that is alive, polyphonic and pluralistic. Through the story of Rama, Azees Tharuvana’s Living Ramayanas shines a light on a text inclusive like no other.*
Hindu Nationalism and the rise of ethnic democracy
Modi’s India is a detailed, theoretically sophisticated and comprehensive analysis of the rise of Modi’s BJP as a dominant electoral force. This is a comprehensive account of Narandra Modi’s capture and consolidation of power as India’s supreme national populist leader. Jaffrelot shows how Modi has successfully mobilized the resentment of a younger generation unable to enter the glittering world of consumption while linking the promise of capitalist growth to the cultural agenda of Hindu nationalism. The book is divided into three sections - The Hindu Nationalist Power Quest: Hindutva and Populism, The World’s Largest De Facto Ethnic Democracy, and The Indian Version of Competitive Authoritarianism. These sections touch on such wide ranging subjects as the Sangh parivar and politics, the crusade against “Liberals”, digital vigilantism, caste politics and its paradoxes, and judicial majoritarianism. This is essential reading for understanding the trajectory and significance of India’s twenty-first century politics from, in Sunil Khilnani’s words, “the leading international scholar of Hindu nationalism.”**Text from book flap.