Neo-Colonialism in Company Limited

Satyajit Ray’s film Company Limited is filled with subtle potrayals of a post-independence India subservient to neo-colonial structure. Ray’s background as a member of the bhadralok helped him to fuse Bengali with the literary forms of English. His skill with applying this hybrid language and hybrid culture makes his Indian characters seem more adept with combating the lingering structure of colonialism. Ray’s very own ability to enter the industry of New Indian Cinema hinged on his own skill with receiving funding for his first film, Panther Panchali, which he applied for with the pretense of it being a road improvement film. His weapon against British imposed marginalization was mainly a sharp sense of humor which demanded respect from the cultural elite, intellectual audience he aimed his films at. Company Limited, made in 1971, took a humorous look at the realm of business, yet subtly barbed it with comments on British control.

First of all the status of the main character, Mr. Chatterji, represents the aspirations of Indians who live in an era of neo-colonial rule. This post 1967 India riddled with the ever-present din of Naxellite bombing in the distance is potrayed as desensitized, not only to the bombing but to the structure of neo-colonialism with its denial of cultural capital and its fading systems of racial separationism. An important example of this is the hotel luncheon that Mr. Chatterji treats his wife and sister-in-law to. He casually references the fact that a few years ago, we wouldn’t have been allowed in a place like this.” The "we" that he refers to are Indians and with this inclusive statement makes himself representational of the Indian population. Ray 's observation of grotesque British domination is not tinged with anger because this understanding of the unfairness of separatism is so obvious to an Indian audience that anger would be superfluous. Furthermore this anger would detract from the subtle approach of the humor that foreign audiences swallow this realization with. By laughing at the events of this entire scene (including the presence of a chairperson who previously had humorously effaced the British) Ray succeeds at making a British audience laugh at its own institution and making a non-British English speaking audience laugh at the British. Ray is turning the tables of marginalism here : whereas the British had long since been belittling the Bengali culture now a semi-English speaking Indian cast turns and chuckles at the shadow of British control.

The very status of the main character as an upwardly mobile buisnessman gives clout to the image of Indians being possesed of a facility for sophistication that rivals that of the British. Mr. Chatterji has a son at a Christian bording school, a dutiful wife, a high rise apartment, a flirtatious set of secretaries, a catty sister-in-law, a chaffeur, a good brand of cigarettes, et al. His mobilty is so easily identified with by the audience of any culture that his status of being an Indian independent comes through with a sugar coating. It seems that Chatterji is subservient to British rule in the expositional first few minutes of the film which point out that the top of the company’s heirarchy are white male college graduates. The audience understands immediately that Chatterji wants a promotion. However only after the film can the audience evaluate the meaning of how badly Chatterji wants that promotion. Chatterji’s position is recognized as exemplifying a new generation of Indians who will stop at nothing to enter and succeed independently in the world market. Respect is the agent of fear. Perhaps Satyajit Ray's subtlety in instilling this fear is his greatest skill. In the final scene when the crane moves up from a medium shot of Chatterji seated, his face buried in his hands and Tutul at the chair opposite him the audience receives a charge of ominous weight. Chatterji will survive and as his power grows so will his heart harden when choices regarding the attainment of more power arise.


Last Updated on 02/02/00
By JR Kerr
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