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Exploring Marginalities: Representations of Male Domestic Workers in Two Films on Colonial and Postcolonial Bengal, India


· Swapna Banerjee City University of New York, Brooklyn College (Brooklyn, New York, United States of America)


07/26 | 16:30-16:50 UTC+2/CEST


Domestic workers, an integral component of the demographic map in precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial India, inhabit the margin in multiple ways. Marginal in societal hierarchy, in economic standing, in political belonging yet ubiquitous in the socio-cultural landscape of South Asia, domestic workers offer a rich scope for interrogating questions of marginalities. Underscoring the connection between domesticity and manhood, a connection marginal in current historical literature, my paper will explore representations of male domestic workers in two films on colonial and postcolonial Bengal, Jalshaghar (The Music Room, directed by Satyajit Ray, 1958) and Golpo Holeo Sotyi (Its True, Although it seems like Fiction, directed by Tapan Sinha, 1966). Ananta, a side character in Jalshaghar, from the beginning to the end serves as the caregiver and the confidante to the main protagonist of the film, an old, lonely, impoverished aristocrat. In the popular comedic film Golpo Holeo Sotyi, the servant Dhananjoy is featured as the magical “rescuer” and “problem-solver” in a “crisis-ridden” multigenerational, extended Bengali household. The paper will address the affective care work performed by each and pay close attention to the marginal yet crucial location of these servants in two very distinct situations, one extremely somber and the other critical yet comedic. Arguing that male servants’ loyalty, labor, and intimate work were constitutive of their subaltern masculinity and that of the reified hyper-masculinity of their bourgeois employers as well, the paper will attempt to shed light on the contingent notion of marginalities in the context of domestic culture of India.