Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy : Understanding Patriarchal Modernity and Women’s Role in Colonial Bengal

© Media Watch | 12 (2) 227-238, 2021
ISSN 0976-0911 | E-ISSN 2249-8818
DOI: 10.15655/mw/2021/v12i2/160148

Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy : Understanding Patriarchal Modernity and Women’s Role in Colonial Bengal

Neelam Sharma
Idaho State University, USA

Issues of women’s emancipation dominated the social reform movements in the early nineteenth century colonial Bengal (India). Influenced by the European renaissance, elite Bengali men (Bhadralok) argued that unless the condition of women improves, society cannot attain modernity. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, reforms shifted from women’s issues to nationalism and anti-colonialism discourse. Reformers talked little about modernizing women but redefined the role of women as custodians of Indian traditions that seemed threatened under British rule. Women began to be equated with traditions, and men’s role was to ‘modernize’ and negotiate with the colonial structure. This paper examines women’s role in colonial Bengal by using a feminist approach to interpreting films from a historical perspective. This paper analyzes the portrayal of women in three films directed by Satyajit Ray (known as The Apu Trilogy) from 1955 to 1959. It examines the cinematic depiction of women within the context of anti-colonial discourse prevailing in the late 19th and 20th century Bengal. The focus is also on the auteur’s personal experience and interpretations. Critical analysis of these films reveals that Bengal’s renaissance, spearheaded by upper-class men, was patriarchal, and women lagged in this journey towards modernity.

Keywords: Bengal renaissance, women and modernity, Bhadralok, Satyajit Ray, The Apu Trilogy, women portrayal in films


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Neelam Sharma is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the Department of Communication, Media and Persuasion at Idaho State University, Pocetallo, USA. Her research interests include popular media, media psychology and journalism.  


Correspondence to: Neelam Sharma, Department of Communication, Media and Persuasion, Frazier Hall 216D, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209, USA.