By Tirthankar Mitra
Unlikely to be remembered widely on his birth anniversary on November4 is a strange paradox for a man who is part of the immortal triumvirate of Bengali filmdom. But then Ritwik Ghatak whose name is taken on the same breath as Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen couldn’t care less.
All his life, this attitude was his signature tune. It continued to be his mindset, his life breath so to speak whether film lovers including Ray and Sen showered praise on a work in celluloid of their great but underrated contemporary or Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had asked him to make a film on herself (a project he took up but left incomplete) or resting his spare frame against a lamp post in a state of inebriation, Ghatak never deviated from it.
A man in the street after seeing one of his films would be most unlikely to leave the theatre satisfied. For he had not been able to relax after a long and hard day at his place of work. Ghatak, an unrepentant Communist wanted to remind his audience of their chains and imbue them with a desire to break them. But it was not a panacea for the post -Partition populace.
A filmmaker like none other, Ritwik Ghatak’s films made his audience feel uncomfortable. For none of the films and documentaries in his slim body of works were the stuff for whose tickets couples and those seeking a good time in a dark air conditioned theatre would make a beeline for.
But Ghatak could have made films as his brief brush with Bombay film industry was a pointer. Yet choosing to walk down a path less travelled, his films adhered to themes on partition of Bengal which he was obsessed with and never accepted and also displayed his obsession with metaphors.
But Ghatak sought more than bucks and bouquets from his audience. He wanted them to rise and look back in anger and act. Cinema was a vehicle for him to change the society and polity for the better. It made prizes and platitudes appear meaningless to him.
The pain of the partition of India which made him seek a new life in unfamiliar surroundings remained a open wound till his last breath. Neither alcohol nor adulation could turn this wound into scar. Ghatak’s trauma found expression in his films. There were many who leaving their hearth and home had fought pain and loss trudged across the border into India and made new lives for themselves.
Instead of Ghatak’s films they felt seeing a Suchitra-Uttam starrer would fetch better value for their money. After the trial and tribulation of the day, they needed no reminder of the troubles of their lives. If his views cost Ghatak a sure shot audience, he had no intention to change or makeover. He stuck to his guns.
For all the failure of his films to turn into hits, never did Ghatak cease to portray in celluloid the stories that mirrored the injustices by society and government. And he was never chary of the brickbats aimed at his films and person. An anti establishment director, if ever there was one his films were explorations of complex human emotions to political goings on. “I do not believe in entertainment or slogan mongering. Rather, I believe in thinking deeply of the universe, the world at large, the international situation, my country and finally my own people.” he wrote in his essay, My Coming Into Films.
Ghatak made only eight feature films. But even Satyajit Ray in his introduction to the Ghatak book, Cinema and I, says “Ritwik was one of the few truly original talents in the cinema this country has produced. As a creator of powerful images in an epic style he was virtually unsurpassed in Indian cinema.”
Nagarik was made in 1952 but released in 1977, a year after Ghatak’s death. It is based on the search of a job by a graduate. His second film Ajantrik was the story of the relationship between a man and his taxi, an old Chevrolet, in which music and sound effects were used to being the vehicle to life. .The extraordinary dealing of the relationship between man and machine was shown in this film which got rave reviews in international film festivals.
Bari Theke Paliye is Ghatak’s take on a boy’s journey from a village to the big city demands serious viewers. Here was a director changing tack yet sure of his footing in which there are no false cinematic steps.
Supriya Choudhury gives more than a glimpse of her histrionic talent as Neeta than she ever had an opportunity co-starring in hit films with Uttam Kumar. Directed by Ghatak, she was the central character of Meghe Dhaka Tara as the earning member of a refugee family whose aspirations were dashed by her near and dear ones.
It is indeed the story of many a family displaced by partition. Alternately beautiful and jarring, Ghatak shows off beathumour and off kilter framing in a display of the stuff he and his films were made of.
In Komal Gandhar Ghatak deals with the factional rivalries that tear a theatre group in 1950s, arguably his take on Indian People’s, Theatre Association of which he was a member. His wounds of partition were made fresh by intra-group squabbles.
In Subarnarekha, Ghatak is out with a vengeance to deal with the fallout of partition. In its wake, the joint family implosion making members fend for their bread and pleasures sucks a girl into flesh trade where her first client happens to be her brother.
Family and it’s breakup continued to be in Ghatak’s focus as in Titas Ekti Nadir Naam. One of the first films to be shot in Bangladesh, it brings out the director’s poetic feeling for landscapes and the villagers lives against natural, cyclical rhythms.
His swan song, Jukti, Takko Aar Gappo bore his trademark of rebellion. Ghatak essays the principal character of an alcoholic, disillusioned intellectual who comes across the first group of Naxalites in Bengal; he denied basing the thing on political ideology. In his short life of fifty years, Ghatak made a number of documentaries also including ‘Amar Lenin’ made during the centenary of the Soviet Communist leader V I Lenin. He was also the Director of the Pune based Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) and mentored a large number of students who became leading film directors in later days.
Born in one of the most talented families of Bengal, Ghatak inherited elders big interests in literature, music and politics. His eldest brother Manish Ghatak was a pioneer in introducing new idiom in Bengali literature. The famous writer Mahasweta Devi was his niece. Ghatak wrote short stories and large number of plays during his IPTA days. He wrote the script of Bimal Roy’s blockbuster film ‘Madhumati’. He wrote many other scripts also for both Hindi and Bengali films. A maverick, Ghatak was restless from his early days. His creative spirit led him to leave his comfortable life in Bombay film world in early 1950s to uncertain future in Calcutta. He chose the path of struggle as he was feeling in Bombay that his creativity was being stifled. That was a gain for the Bengali film world in the following years. Ghatak died on February 6, 1976 disappointing the film lovers of Bengal who looked for more inspiring films from him. (IPA Service)