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‘Home’ and ‘World’ in Ghare-Baire

The Home and the World is the English translation of Satyajit Ray’s 1984 film Ghare-Baire. Ray adapted the film, which is in Bengali, from Rabindranath Tagore’s novel. Tagore is of course a fantastic writer, and Ray an incredible filmmaker. So it’s little surprise that this film has achieved classic status in Indian cinema. The movie is full of remarkable things to talk about; here I’m just exploring the depth of the title.

The title, The Home and the World points in a variety of directions, mapping onto different thematic and topical matters dealt with by the film. In one direction, it points toward the role of Bimala, the voluntarily sequestered wife who, by her husband’s urging, journeys forth from the confines of purdah. Leaving her ‘home’ for the ‘world’ outside her seclusion, she is met by a barrage of complex emotions, obligations, and expectations. She forgets her feelings for her husband, Nikhil, and falls in love with a guest from elsewhere: Nikhil’s friend Sandip, a charismatic but morally questionable political leader who is staying as a guest in Nikhil’s estate. Torn between her long-held love for the ‘home,’ which is associated with Nikhil, and her newly discovered passion for Sandip, who represents the outside world, Bimala makes a series of choices that ultimately end in tragedy. Sandip flees Nikhil’s estate under the threat of violence, and Nikhil is killed attempting to quell the furor of a mob, whose frenzy has been inflamed by Sandip’s political actions. At the end of the film, we see the mourning Bimala retreat back into the ‘home’ for good.

In another direction, the title of the film maps to the central political subject of the film: Swadeshi, the boycott of foreign goods in order to encourage domestic production. Immediately, one sees the connection to the title: Swadeshi is a denouncement of the ‘world’ in an attempt to uplift the ‘home.’ Sandip is the most vocal proponent of Swadeshi, and he often takes rather drastic means to accomplish his political ends. But elsewhere, in more private contexts, his actions contravene his public political statements. There are repeated references to his penchant for high living and luxurious tastes, the most evident of which is his passion for English cigarettes. Over and over in the film, Ray juxtaposes Sandip’s stirring calls for the boycott of foreign goods with images of his contented puffs on these contraband cigarettes. Through this juxtaposition, Ray shows the disconnect between Sandip’s words and his actions.

The most compelling illustration of this disconnect appears in a transition between two scenes. The first scene depicts a bonfire fueled by foreign goods. Urged on by the Swadeshi rhetoric of Sandip and the threats of his political minions, the local traders and businessmen are burning their foreign goods as a symbolic act of their boycott. Ray ends this scene by quickly cutting from the frenzied image of flame and smoke to a related but sharply dissimilar image: the burning end of a fine English cigarette, held by the unflappable Sandip who sits comfortably on a couch in Nikhil’s estate.

The dishonesty of Sandip, and the contrast between his avowed political beliefs and his behavior provide a perfect instance of yet another interpretation of the ‘home’ and the ‘world’ alluded to by the film’s title. On this third interpretation, the ‘world’ is the setting for those behaviors and pronouncements that one displays in public, while the ‘home’ is the setting, literally and psychologically, for those desires and appetites and behaviors that must not, for a variety of reasons, be brought out into the light of the public world. Sandip turns one face to the world—the image of himself as the courageous and committed leader of a noble political movement, intensely concerned with the good of the nation. When in private—in the ‘home’—Sandip shows another face, one associated with avarice, infidelity, and hypocrisy.

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