25 June 2014

Politics and Femininity in 'The Chess Players'

Like most great Indian myth-makers of the last two hundred years, Satyajit Ray is at his most creative when dealing with problems of women and femininity. There can be no better way of acknowledging his 'presence' in the contemporary Indian consciousness than by recognising the social criticisms his construction of womanhood offers. I shall try to give some flavour of this presence by partly re-reviewing a film of his which is apparently concerned only with men and with a 'manly' pursuit, politics. This film, 'Shatranj Ke Khilari' ('The Chess Players'), is based on a famous short story by Munshi Premchand and is Ray's only full-length Hindi film, directed at what may be called a pan-Indian audience. That it failed to reach its intended audience is of course well known. We do no know how far the failure was due to the film itself and how far to the structure of the Indian film industry, but that is not a specially relevant question in this context. For my concern in this re-review is to show that there is not only a politics of statecraft but also a politics of culture, and that all great artists have to deal with the second kind of politics, even when overtly refusing to challenge its basic axioms.

09 June 2014

A Celebratory Event in Muslim Culture

The mawlid is a celebratory event and genre to be found in Muslim lands from the Atlantic coast of Africa all the way to Indonesia and the southern islands of the Philippines. Many spellings and pronunciations have been given to the title of this religious literary form and its various embellishments--mevlit, mevlut, maulud, malid, milad, molid, mulid and moulid being but a partial listing. These terms and the varying phenomena to which they are applied have been utilized in non-Arabic-speaking as well as Arabic-speaking regions of the Muslim world. All variants are colloquializations of the Arabic word, mawlid, which for purposes of consistency will be used throughout this article. The term mawlid has carried many different meanings. Derived from the Arabic root verb wulida ('to be born'), mawlid means 'the event of birth' or 'the place of birth.' In these literal senses, it applies to any birth. More specifically, however, it has denoted the birth, the birthday or the birthplace of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, and with this meaning it is also rendered as mawlid al-nabi, i.e., 'Birthday of the Prophet.'