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‘Ghare Baire’ matters in a hyper-nationalist era

Film critics have called Ghare Baire one of Satyajit Ray’s weakest films. Indeed, Ray relies on dialogues rather than visual storytelling. Several scenes, especially those involving crowds, look as if they were from an amateur play.

However, the film remains important nearly four decades after its release as it explores several aspects of patriotism.

The novel Ghare Baire was written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore over a 100 years ago in 1919.

Though the story is set during the Swadeshi movement, it has lessons that the present generation can draw from.

Is nationalism more important than human values? Should an individual accept the popular notions of patriotism? How should an individual act when a ‘patriotic’ action harms their immediate society?

Nikhilesh (Victor Banerjee) is a patriotic and liberal landlord. Apart from getting Bimala (Swatilekha Sengupta), his wife, educated, Nikhilesh urges her to venture out of the purdah.He wants her to talk and socialise with other men in society and not accept her husband as her ideal male companion. So he introduces her to Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee), a friend and a proponent of Swadeshi. Nikhilesh realises that a Swadeshi movement in his estate will affect the poor as Swadeshi products are expensive. He also understands that it will affect the livelihood of poor Muslim merchants trading in foreign goods.

Bimala is charmed by Sandip and his emotional arguments about Swadeshi.She decides to support the Swadeshi movement, even stealing money from her husband.Unknown to her, Sandip even resorts to violence, engineering sabotage, and even riots in Sukhsayar, Nikhilesh’s estate, causing communal riots.

How does Bimala reconcile with her changed circumstances for the rest of the story?

The wife is a wonderful metaphor for India. Tagore urges Indians to explore the world before anchoring themselves to Swadeshi roots.

Intuition and pragmatism

While Sandeep uses his oratorical skills and slogans to emotionally incite people, Nikhil encourages thoughtfulness and pragmatism. Bimala makes a choice that appeals to her intuition and emotions leading to inner conflict.

The film has several instances that urge us to make conscious decisions rather than let emotions control us.

This is in harmony with Tagore’s way of living too. He was a patriot and even denounced the title of ‘Sir’ to protest the Jallianwala Bagh violence.

At the same time, he was critical of several aspects of the Swadeshi movement. Shantiniketan remained open; since he believed that discontinuing education served no purpose.

In a time and age where citizens across the world are asked to loudly announce their patriotic leaning, ‘Ghare Bhaire’ urges thoughtful action. It urges you not to get swayed by emotions that are stirred up through oration and sloganeering.

Freedom movements are considered the most noble cause to espouse. If Tagore and Ray could critically examine the freedom movements and call out hypocrisy and the inherent flaws in the system, there is no reason one cannot be critical of the government, especially in a democratic setup without your patriotism being questioned.

Perhaps, Ray felt the need to create a cinematic version of Ghare Baire to underline these aspects. Truly a film for all times.

The film is available on Youtube.

(Published 14 October 2023, 10:42 IST)

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