When Satyajit Ray called Indian audience 'backward, unsophisticated' for backlash on Sharmila Tagore-starrer Devi
On his birth anniversary, we revisit the interview in which Satyajit Ray called the Indian audience ‘unsophisticated’, and talked about their limited exposure.
May 2 marks the 102nd birth anniversary of legendary filmmaker-writer-sketch artist Satyajit Ray. He is renowned for classic films such as Pather Panchali (1955), Charulata (1964), and Ghare Baire (1984) among many others. The filmmaker is also known to speak his mind. On his birth anniversary, we take a look at his statements regarding the audience. This was at a time when he recalled facing backlash for the Sharmila Tagore-starrer Devi. (Also read: Hollywood actor Alden Ehrenreich calls himself a big fan of Satyajit Ray)
Satyajit talked about the film in his 1960 film to French journalist Pierre Andre Boutang in 1989. Sharmila played the role of a young woman who is seen as an avatar of goddess Kali in the film that also featured Soumitra Chatterjee and Chhabi Biswas.
Satyajit said in the old interview, “I once made a film called the goddess Devi, it dealt with religious dogmatism, it didn’t attack religion as such, it attacked dogmatism, the extreme form of religion...But people (are) writing in the papers that ‘Oh! Mr Ray is not a Hindu, he is making such films against Hinduism’. But they are stupid people you can’t take them into account. This happens in India all the time. We have a fairly backward audience here, in spite of the film society movement and all that, if you consider the audience at large, it is a backward audience.”
He added, "An unsophisticated audience, exposed to the commercial Hindi cinema more than anything else. And so you face this problem, but you make the kind of films (you want to) and I make the kind of films that I want to make. I make the kind of films that I enjoy making... that engages my attention, my creativity, that is all I can do."
He also said that many ideas in his story Alien "are in ET" (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the 1989 film). He also said that he worked in Hollywood for five weeks and there were many copies of his screenplay (at Colombia Pictures) on the story, making it accessible for many people to read it. A middle-man's "peculiar behaviour" made Satyajit "drop the idea" of working with Hollywood. Someone then alleged that Steven Spielberg stole the story of ET from Satyajit Ray's Alien, but "Spielberg, of course, denied it", the filmmaker said.
- Satyajit Ray