Satyajit Ray Peter Cowie - Essay

Peter Cowie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The handful of Ray's films that one has been able to see reveal his major theme as being the conflict between the generations in India, between the older generation who lived under the British Raj, and the younger generation who have grown up in a modern, independent land. (pp. 28-9)

On paper [the plot of The Goddess] seems preposterous in this day and age. But Ray's handling of the characters is so discreet, and the acting of the father, son and his wife is so convincing that never once does the conception of Doya's being a goddess strike one as being altogether ridiculous. Instead it signifies the last stand of the older generations' beliefs in India, like the old man's house in The Music Room. The view of the new generation is expressed by Umaprasad's Professor in Calcutta. The question of belief, he says, is irrelevant; the tragedy is that a husband has been denied certain basic rights. When, in the final anguished scene, the feeble landowner collapses in the face of his son's accusations, his fall seems to symbolise the fall of an entire way of life.

Ray's style is impeccable. He weaves the timeless melancholy of the music, the serene life of the village on the river, and the elaborate ritual of the priests, into a study in depth of the essential India, the India that is absorbing up-to-date methods and dress without ever quite relinquishing the ceremonial modus vivendi of its forefathers….

More successful dramatically than some of Ray's work, The Goddess is a minor masterpiece by virtue of the warmth of its director's vision, and the exquisite atmosphere evoked with apparent ease. A richly absorbing film. (p. 29)

Peter Cowie, "'The Goddess'" (© copyright Peter Cowie 1964; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 11, No. 1, October, 1964, pp. 28-9.