Satyajit Ray Richard Schickel - Essay

Richard Schickel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is always a trifle embarrassing to set down in unadorned outline the story of one of Satyajit Ray's films, for in that form they generally seem too small, too simple to support the critical enthusiasm they generate. (p. 126)

[In The Big City], it all seems rather banal. But it is perfectly wonderful when you see it unfold at Mr. Ray's customary unforced pace in his customary unfancy style. The real substance of his films lies between their plot lines, in the interaction of his almost Chekhovian characters. (p. 127)

I imagine that Mr. Ray sees the emergence of [the young wife] under trial as symbolic of India itself, emerging into the modern world after the long personality-crushing ordeal of colonialism, and I imagine, too, that he is urging upon his nation a course similar to that which his heroine pursues—neither clinging blindly to the past (like her unseeing father-in-law) nor clutching unthinkingly at the future as the other characters around her do. Rather, he seems to say, try to blend the forces of tradition with the forces of change thoughtfully, testingly, without panic or excessive passion. In such a way might a wholly new character—strong, supple, subtle—emerge in a wholly new world.

I have no wish, however, to imply that Mr. Ray is heavy or particularly dogged in pursuit of messages, symbolic or otherwise. He is, instead, a careful, ironic and always very specific observer of human character, patiently building his films out of the small gestures, inflections and silences of ordinary life, finding in its pains, problems and victories the stuff of an extraordinary art. (p. 128)

Richard Schickel, "'The Big City'" (originally published in Life, August 18, 1967), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–70 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon & Schuster, 1972, pp. 126-28.