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Ritwik Ghatak: One of the most underrated filmmakers of our times

  • Published at 10:38 pm November 4th, 2017
  • Last updated at 11:21 pm November 4th, 2017
Ritwik Ghatak: One of the most underrated filmmakers of our times
Film-making is not an esoteric thing to me. I consider film-making – to start with – a personal thing. If a person does not have a vision of his own, he cannot create.” This quote, said by Ritwik Ghatak, directly resonates with the person who has loved and created cinema and left a landmark for the future. A legendary filmmaker who changed the course of history for Bangla films with his meticulous depiction of social realism, Ghatak, along with two of his prominent contemporaries; Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, need the modern recognition it deserves in contemporary Bangladesh. Born in Dhaka on November 4, 1925 in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) of then British India, Ritwik played a key role in charting the independent trajectory of parallel cinema, as a counterpoint to the mainstream fare of Hindi cinema in India, and eventually, ushering the New Wave of Indian Cinema. The bohemian filmmaker, who prioritised his political outlook over his artistic aesthetics, had barely received the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime, due to the standout contents and nature of his films. This is why Ghatak is also dubbed as the most underrated filmmakers of all time. On the occasion of the versatile helmer's birthday, which was on Saturday, Dhaka Tribune's Showtime takes a look at eight of Ghatak's full-length films as a director.

‘Ajantrik’

“Ajantrik,” internationally known as “The Unmechanical,” “The Mechanical Man” or “The Pathetic Fallacy,” is a 1958 film written and directed by the filmmaker. Adapted from a Bengali short story of the same name, authored by Subodh Ghosh, “Ajantrik” is one of India’s first sci-fi films that dealt with things coming to life. The film narrates the story of Bimal, a taxi-driver in a small town. Although very battered and out of shape, the taxi is his only companion, it is the apple of Bimal's eye. The film highlights on the emotions of a taxi driver and his relationship with a machine, which in this case is his pathetic vehicle, Jagaddal. “Ajantrik” received a special screening at the prestigious Venice Film Festival at the time and managed to win much accolades and appraisal, despite having any subtitles. ‘Nagarik’ “Nagarik,” translated as “The Citizen,” was Ghatak’s first feature-length work in 1952, preceding Satyajit Ray's “Pather Panchali.” However unfortunately, the release of “Nagarik” was postponed by as long as 24 years, only to be released after the filmmaker’s death. Otherwise, the film could've been marked as the first instance of a Bangla art-house film. The plot of “Nagarik” revolves around the life of Ramu, the eldest son of a family of migrants who moved to Calcutta. He is a fresh graduate looking for a job like many others in post-partition Calcutta. In an interview, Satyajit Ray stated that “Nagarik” would have even surpassed his own film in terms of cinematic brilliance.

‘Bari Theke Paliye’

Translated as “Runaway,” “Bari Theke Paliye” was released in 1958, which tells the story of a misbehaving boy who runs away from his village and goes to Calcutta. “Bari Theke Paliye” also speaks for Ghatak’s own perception of Calcutta, which he hated a lot. Ghatak illustrated his perception through the life of the runaway kid, whose dreams was ruthlessly shattered by the city, in a quite exceptional and brilliant way.

‘Titash Ekti Nadir Naam’

Based on a novel by the same name, written by Adwaita Mallabarman, “Titash Ekti Nadir Naam” or “A River Called Titash” explores the life of the fishermen on the bank of the Titas River in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh. The film was shot at a time when Ghatak was repeatedly being rebuffed by the West Bengal producers and suffering from tuberculosis. Yet, with a stellar cast from Bangladesh including Rosy Samad, Golam Mostafa, Kabori, Prabir Mitra, and Roushan Jamil in the main roles, “Titash Ekti Nadir Naam” turned out to be one of the earliest manifestations of hyperlink cinema. In 2007, the film topped the list of 10 best Bangladeshi films, as chosen in the audience and critics' polls, conducted by the British Film Institute.

‘Subarnarekha’

“Subarnarekha” is one of another Ghatak's films to get a delayed release. Despite being produced in 1962, “Subarnarekha” was not released until 1965. The film was the last of his partition trilogy, “Meghe Dhaka Tara” (1960) and “Komal Gandhar” (1961).  All of these films deal with the aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947 and the refugees coping with it. “Subarnarekha” charts the story of a refugee from the erstwhile East Bengal (Abhi Bhattacharya), who opposes the love between his sister and the orphan (Satindra Bhattacharya) they adopted years earlier. In a critics' poll of all-time greatest films conducted by Asian film magazine, Cinemaya, in 1998, the film was ranked at no 11 on the list.

‘Komal Gandhar’

Also known as “E-flat, A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale,” the film provides a highly critical look at the role of "progressive" art and artists in a changing society. The second film in the Partition Trilogy is also a partly auto-biographical film as the filmmaker explores three themes juxtaposed in the narrative: the dilemma of Anusuya, the lead character, the divided leadership of IPTA, that Ghatak was once an active member of, and the fallout from the partition of India. The title was taken from the line of a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, which means a “sur” or note, E-flat. Just like his other films, music plays a pivotal role in “Komal Gandhar.”

‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’

The first part in the Partition trilogy, which is also dubbed as “The Cloud-Capped Star,” is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. Based on a social novel by Shaktipada Rajguru with the same title, “Meghe Dhaka Tara” chronicles the heart-rending story of Nita, a selfless young woman (Supriya Choudhury), who sacrifices her own happiness for her unappreciating family. The film is perhaps the most widely viewed and appreciated work of Ghatak. The film followed a great commercial success at home, and coincided with an international film movement towards personal stories and innovative techniques, which is often nodded as the New Wave of Indian cinema.

‘Jukti, Takko Aar Gappo’

Translated as “Reason, Debate and a Story,” the film is an auto-biography of himself; casting himself as the protagonist in the film. In this quest narrative, Ghatak plays Nilkantha Bagchi, an alcoholic, disillusioned intellectual. In the character's own words, "a humbug," who along with three peculiar persons, embark on a quest to reason with the estranged wife of the lead. The film is considered technically superior to other films of that era due to its camera work. For its cinematic excellence, the last Ghatak film is placed in the league of Jean Cocteau's Testament of Orpheus and Nicholas Ray and Wim Wenders's noted documentary film, “Lightning Over Water.”