Hindi, a language common to northern India but that varies by region, has had a complex relationship with cinema and national politics. Declared a national language after independence, Hindi has met powerful resistance in southern states. Yet the popularity of Hindi cinema has allowed it to cut across regional and linguistic divisions, giving Bombay cinema a national or "all-India" status distinct from regional language cinemas that usually remain limited to audiences within the states in which they are produced. Emerging as a language of trade in colonial and multilingual Bombay, Hindi was popularized through cinema as Hindustani, a hybrid of Persian-based Urdu and northern Indian dialects, arguably more native to cinema than any distinct region. After independence strains of Urdu associated with Muslim influence were slowly diluted and replaced by Sanskrit vocabulary, identified with the majority's Hindu culture. Hindi film songs especially drew heavily on Urdu, which lends itself to poetry and drama; although this reliance has been reduced in the postindependence period at the cost of some poetic flair, many of the key terms in cinema, especially for discussing the varieties of love, retain Urdu influences. At the same time, some Hindi films have successfully employed the regional Bhojpuri dialect (popularly associated with rustics), and the street slang of contemporary Mumbai has also cropped up in film, commonly mixed with English words and phrases; these trends continue to undermine the easy identification of "Hindi" cinema strictly in terms of its language.
Although Hindi cinema emerged as India's most prominent and broadly popular form, its dominant status as a national commodity has often been challenged by or threatens to obscure the steady production of films in India's regional cinemas, often in annual numbers rivaling or exceeding Bombay's figures. (The claim that India leads the world in film production depends on collapsing these differences into a total national figure.) Although the arrival of sound in Indian cinema eventually isolated the production and distribution of films by linguistic regions, early sound studios often produced films in multiple languages before dubbing became a common practice. Films produced in the major South Indian languages of Tamil and Telegu have generated some crossover artists, exemplified by Mani Ratnam (b. 1956), maker of the controversial Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995), and the prolific composer A.R. Rahman (b. 1966), both active in the Bombay industry. Ratnam is also among the leading filmmakers who bridged the divergent popular and art cinema by melding their aesthetics in superbly crafted films.
In addition to the Bengali art cinema associated internationally with Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak (1925–1976), and Mrinal Sen (b. 1923), the regular production of popular Bengali cinema has challenged Hindi cinema in a major urban market like Calcutta. Films produced in the southwestern state of Kerala in the Malayalam language also reflect that state's distinct leftist political history, with the work of directors G. Aravindan (1935–1991) and Adoor Gopalakrishnan (b. 1941) receiving international acclaim. Although relatively small in number, films produced in languages such as Kannada (from Karnataka), Marathi (from Maharastra, which includes Mumbai), Assamese (from Assam), or Oryia (from Orissa) round out an unusually diverse linguistic map, rendering the typical association of a national cinema with a single national language entirely untenable for India. In a few cases, prominent figures such as the actor-director-writer Kamal Hassan (b. 1954) have traversed regional cinemas and worked in Hindi cinema, whereas others find immense success only within a particular context. Moreover, art cinemas produced within any region often share stylistic and thematic affiliations that override the linguistic distinctions that otherwise distinguish popular films by region.
The American premiere of Satyajit Ray's first film, Pather Panchali ( Song of the Little Road ), at New York City's Museum of Modern Art in 1955 elevated the director into the pantheon of the world's great humanist filmmakers, and he remains India's most internationally known director. Although the West viewed Ray's first films as essentially Indian, within India Ray's films clearly demonstrated his inheritance of the modernist values of the cosmopolitan Bengali renaissance. Ray was nurtured within a notably artistic family with close connections to the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (whose work Ray would later frequently adapt to film), and as a young man Ray's taste in movies was fully international.
As a co-founder in 1947 of the Calcutta Film Society, he was a keen student of Soviet and European cinema, especially the Italian neorealist films that directly inspired his first film and their sequels, Aparajito ( The Unvanquished , 1956) and Apur Sansar ( The World of Apu , 1959).Together eventually known as the Apu Trilogy, the three films trace the development of the eponymous central figure from childhood to maturity and fatherhood as he moves from his remote village in Bengal to the holy city of Benares and finally to modern Calcutta, replicating the urbanization of many modern Indians. The Apu Trilogy featured music composed and performed by Ravi Shankar, who would become internationally famous soon thereafter. In the final film of the trilogy, Ray introduced the actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore, who would become regular members of Ray's troupe of collaborators, with Chatterjee eventually appearing in fifteen of Ray's films.
The remarkable achievement of the Apu trilogy has sometimes obscured Ray's other works, many of which, including Jalsaghar ( The Music Room , 1958) and Devi ( The Goddess , 1960), function more as psychological explorations than realist dramas. Another group, including Charulata ( The Lonely Wife , 1964), Shatranj Ke Khilari ( The Chess Players , 1977), and Ghare-Baire ( The Home and the World , 1984), explore the social complexities of the recent colonial past with meticulous attention to detail. The full range of Ray's achievement, which his international reputation elides, includes documentaries as well as a series of remarkable and immensely popular children's films featuring the comic duo Goopy and Bagha, characters created by Ray's grandfather decades earlier. Ray was also a writer, publisher, and painter.
Pather Panchali ( Song of the Little Road , 1955), Aparajito ( The Unvanquished , 1956), Jalsaghar ( The Music Room , 1958), Apur Sansar ( The World of Apu , 1959), Devi ( The Goddess , 1960), Charulata ( The Lonely Wife , 1964), Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne ( The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha , 1968), Ashani Sanket ( Distant Thunder , 1973), Shatranj Ke Khilari ( The Chess Players , 1977), Ghare-Baire ( The Home and the World , 1984)
Cooper, Darius. The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity . Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Ganguly, Suranjan. Satyajit Ray: In Search of the Modern . Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000.
Ray, Satyajit. Our Films, Their Films: Essays . Bombay: Orient Longman, 1976; New York: Hyperion Books, 1994.
Robinson, Andrew. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye—The Biography of a Master Film-Maker . New ed. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.
Wood, Robin. The Apu Trilogy . New York: Praeger, 1971.
Corey K. Creekmur