It is the birth centenary of Marie Seton, who played a significant role in the Film Society Movement in India. She authored a stunning biography of Satyajit Ray

Marie Seton – Her contribution to FSM in India

Marie Seton, the renowned film critic from UK, who played a very important role in promoting Film Society Movement in India, made her first visit in 1955-56 on an invitation from the Audio Visual Department of the Ministry of Education, Government of India. After her first visit, Marie Seton developed such an attraction for India, she virtually became a citizen of this country having toured the length and breadth of this vast land and befriended almost every one she worked with. This year happens to be her birth centenary and it's only apt we remember her.

Early Background

As a roving journalist — an Arts correspondent with the “Manchester Guardian” — Marie Seton came in contact with the young Socialist workers in her area and developed an interest in the Socialist movement to which she was attached till the end of her life. At 21, she dared to go to Soviet Russia and even ventured to involve in its cultural life. She became a close associate of the noted filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. It was her life ambition to work with him and she succeeded in her mission. Her book on him which she wrote later, sketching his biography is a very delicately scripted work and is an authentic document on his life and work. The experience she gained from her work in Soviet Russia made her a versatile biographer which can be seen in her later works.

After her return to England, she took keen interest in assisting the formation of British Film Institute. She also came to be actively associated with the Film Society Movement. In 1929, when Einstein came on a study tour of Western Europe, Marie was instrumental in organising his lectures on “The Film” in various Film Societies in Britain. In 1937-38, she wrote five seminal essays on the Development of British Cinema in “Sight and Sound”.

During her visit to America, she valiantly fought against racism. There was no Race Protection Act in vogue at that time. Being a staunch socialist, she could not digest this blatant discrimination. When Paul Robeson was victimised by the ruling regime, she garnered public opinion on his behalf to counter the measures initiated against him. She also wrote a book on him, which was her first one.

Visit to India

In 1952, India had its first International Film Festival. This was the beginning of a new awakening that made the Government of India to initiate various proposals for development of cinema, through film production, film education, film preservation and spreading a healthy film culture in the country. It was also for the first time that the Indian audiences were exposed to non-Hollywood cinema.

Seton's invitation to India involved a year long study and tour of the country, which was to finally result in creating a report on adult literacy projects. In 1956, Marie submitted her findings to the Government of India on how to launch the national adult literacy campaign. Of the many recommendations she made, one also related to the creation of film clubs in urban and semi urban centres and universities to quicken the pace of literacy.

She toured the length and breadth the country and screened films that she carried with her to different centres teaching film appreciation. Incidentally, during her visit to Mumbai in 1955, she came to know of Satyajit Ray's extraordinary first feature film, “Pather Panchali”.

During her visit in 1955 Marie met Indira Gandhi, and that meeting established a relationship that remained intact for the next few decades. India became her home. Her visits to India became frequent and her acquaintances grew in large numbers.

She published a booklet “Film as an educational force in India” in which she documented her experience of her first visit to this country. She also left all the films that she brought from Britain to be stored in the Central Film Library for the benefit of film society screenings.

It was in her subsequent visits she became directly involved in the Film Society Movement in India. After the formation of the Federation of Film Societies of India, Satyajit Ray became its founder President, and in the early 1960s Indira Gandhi was one of the vice-presidents and Marie was nominated as its advisor. During this period Film Appreciation was a subject which was yet to find its definite meaning. The Art of Five Directors, Film AppreciationFilm As an Art And Film Appreciation.

Marie was not just content with writings on the theory of film appreciation, she took the initiative of organising film appreciation classes at different institutions in India. In 1960, she taught film appreciation by screening the films “Pather Panchali” and “Bicycle Thieves” in Agra University Film Club.

Indian Film Culture

Marie's classic study of Ray “Portrait of a Director” is a result of thorough research and close association with the Ray family. It was first published in 1971. Sandip Ray, in his Foreword to the second edition (2003) of the book remarks that his father Satyajit Ray rarely spoke of his feelings on several biographies written on him. But Marie's book he felt was both interesting and intimate. It continues to be a landmark in that genre of writing.

Marie remained connected with India for nearly three decades. She came to have a first-hand acquaintance with the people, customs and culture of the country. In 1984, The Government of India conferred the Padma Bhushan on her. She passed away in 1985.

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