The Home and the World (Ghare-Baire)

It’s easier than it ever has been to find films. Cinemas, television channels, retailers (including specialists like Moviemail), film rental and streaming companies (e.g. Mubi), magazines (like Sight and Sound and Little White Lies), film festivals, degrees and other courses—these are all ways to discover new films. It’s so much simpler than it was forty years ago, when you’d have to wait and hope that a film would come out sometime in the movie theatre.

I’m still waiting for the new Béla Tarr film, The Turin Horse, to come to the big screen in England though. I don’t do pirate movies in principle, and I’d be even less likely to settle for a poor-quality or small-screen version of this movie. I was lucky to watch my first Tarr movie, the sublime Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), on a large screen a couple of years ago. See his short Prologue (to Visions of Europe) to get some sense of his work’s strength: I’ve probably watched it ten times, and it still socks me hard in the gut.

Tarr’s marginalization is one example of how screen culture is choked by commercial pressures, even though there are many new avenues to discover film, and independent cinema is apparently thriving again. Andrei Tarkovsky’s unwavering belief that film should aspire to fine art is not much closer to becoming orthodoxy. There’s much to be said for receiving an education in film and screen culture, as in literature.

The Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray would make it high on my list of master directors who don’t appear often on British TV. See Pather Panchali (1955) first, a film about how a boy called Apu struggles to maturies in a poor household in rural Bengal. Recently I watched The Home and the World (1984), based on Rabindranath Tagore‘s novel of the same name. Bimala is a wife who’s encouraged by her husband Nikhil to move outside of the rooms she’s enclosed in, and receive a Western education, learn to sing and read, and become more aware about the world. Nikhil invites his wife to meet Sandip, a hard-liner for Swadeshi, a movement to boycott foreign goods. Nikhil won’t stop the poor traders at the market he runs from selling cheap foreign imports because he knows that they can’t afford to buy local goods. Bimala has to get her bearings rapidly in this political environment, as she is forced to choose between Nikhil’s and Sandip’s values and personalities.

The film is a meditation on practical ethics that recalls my surface-scratching reading of the Bhagavad Gita, and Gandian politics: is it better to pursue principles at all costs, or compromise as situations demand? It’s also informative about Hindu-Muslim tensions, colonialism and female independence, but isn’t in the least bit abstract or beard-stroking.

Ray is a master of producing films that depict people’s relationships and thoughts from their glances, their postures, and how their bodies fill the screen, and in doing so reveal wider implications with absolute clarity. The film is immensely compassionate, humane—and watchable. The Home and the World is available in a box set that also contains Ray’s great adaptation of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People (1989). I’m optimistic his films will still be known, will be better known even, in a hundred years’ time, and studied more widely in academic programmes too.


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