Sandeep Ray is a writer, visual artist and historian. He currently teaches Southeast Asian history at SUTD, a new university in Singapore established in 2009 in collaboration with MIT where he also heads the Non-fiction Film Lab.
A latecomer to fiction, Sandeep’s debut novel, A Flutter in the Colony (HarperCollins India, 2019) – set in time and temper between the rubber plantations of 1950s Malaya and the anguish-filled years of pre-Partition Bengal – has won acclaim. The Mekong Review said that the ‘story – one of love, family, humanity, nationhood, friendship, loyalty and tragedy – is as intricate as the rich fabric of Malayan society itself.’ Vogue noted that the story ‘maybe born from history, but is written with one eye on the horizon of fiction’. ‘Meanwhile, The Hindu boldly claimed that the book is ‘destined to be a classic’. Sandeep’s 2021 academic monograph, Celluloid Colony (NUS Press), exploring ethnography in Dutch propagandistic film in colonial Indonesia, is based on exhaustive research in film archives in the Netherlands.
Born off the Straits of Malacca to Bengali-Indian parents, Sandeep grew up in rural Malaysia and then in Kolkata. He received a scholarship to study at Hampshire College and moved to the United States. Mentored by Abraham Ravett and John Marshall in the 1990s, Sandeep started as a filmmaker, cutting his teeth freelancing commercially in Boston. He became series editor and researcher on several longue durée projects – the !Kung ethnographic film archive, the largest at the Smithsonian Institution; the educational outreach of National Geographic; and on a multi-year series for the Science Education Department at Harvard. He went on to produce a diverse body of films in Kolkata, Aceh, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the Timor border, Namibia and Greece. Of these, The Sound of Old Rooms, a 20-year collaborative coming-of-age story about a poet, won the Grand Prize at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival in 2012. In 2014 Thin Arms, a short on his mother’s cancer treatment won Best Director at the Dubai International Film Festival. His documentaries are distributed by DER, a leading resource for ethnographic film. They have have been reviewed in the American Anthropologist, Visual Anthropology and have screened at several festivals including in Busan (BIFF), Taiwan (TIDF), Sydney, Paris (Jean Rouch), Tehran (IIFF), Copenhagen (DOX), and have curated at the Flaherty Seminar, the Films Division of India, and the Whitney and Getty Museums. A turn to academia led to an MA (Michigan) and a PhD (NUS) in history.
Alongside his academic and creative roles, Sandeep has lectured widely and been invited to serve on film juries.