Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Nandi Bhatia


Engaging in a dialogue with the recent body of scholarship on alternative/multiple modernities, postcolonial studies, Marxism and thing theory, this thesis has two main objectives: first, to examine how the transition of post-colonial India from a primarily feudal to a capitalist form of economy facilitated a historical-materialist relationship with things, objects and commodities; and second, to explore how this relationship challenges and ruptures the singularly hegemonic narrative of modern capital. Spanning a historical and political period from late-colonial India to the urban modernity of 1970s’, Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (1958) and Pratidwandi (1971), Riwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik (1958), Tapan Sinha’s Harmonium (1963), Mrinal Sen’s Interview (1971), and Rajen Tarafder’s Palanka (1975), I argue, represent an audacious retort against the paradigm of Eurocentric, commodity-laden modernity by conceiving of a material imagination that operates outside the purview of capitalism. Circumventing the pitfall of making a temporal binary between modern/colonial and pre-modern/pre-colonial, this thesis further contends that in order to understand modernity in its historicized and spatialized diverseness, it is important to conceptualize the multiplicity of material cultures in post-colonial contexts. Although colonialism has been perceived as the reason for the import of capitalist modernity in India, I show that these films, in conjunction with the emergent leftist politics in India from 1950s to 1970s, deploy an aesthetic modernism and a visual economy, which enable the imagining of a postcolonial material agency that appropriates and subverts concepts like fetishism, labour, and commodity that are associated with the traditional market economy.