‘Familiar Types, Familiar Gestures’: Revisiting Realism through Satyajit Ray’s The Inner Eye

Anindya Sengupta


This article attempts to rethink the realist mode adapted by Satyajit Ray in his cinematic works by trying to posit its chief features vis-a-vis the history of fine arts in Bengal. While  Ray’s realism has been connected to diverse styles like Classic Hollywood Cinema, Jean Renoir’s realism and Italian Neorealism and has been associated with the literary realisms of Bengal more readily, his aesthetic has been rarely studied in relation to the fine arts practiced at Shantiniketan, where he stayed during his formative years since 1940s. This essay takes his 1972 documentary — The Inner Eye — portraying Benodebehari Mukhopadhay (1904 - 80), his teacher at Shantiniketan, as an exemplary text and claims that this short film collaterally presents the discursive terrain of Ray’s own aesthetics too, the director situating himself in a well-defined trajectory of artistic engagement with proximate reality via his mentor’s art. Looking back from this vantage point, the essay tries too show how Mukhopadhyay’s aesthetic can be located as a conscious shift from the preceding nationalist-spiritual ethos of ‘Bengal School’ of arts which again defined itself as distanced from Raja Ravi Verma’s brand of ‘surrogate realism’. Modes of engaging with or dissociating from the phenomenal real has been the moot point at every point of these departures. The essay also tries to read Benodebehari’s writings on Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose to understand how he elaborates his own aesthetic ground via an appraisal of his predecessors’ practice and pedagogy, the method Satyajit Ray follows in his documentary.


Realism; Satyajit Ray; Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay; Fine Arts; Painting; Bengal School of Arts

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