From February 15, the Austrian Filmmuseum in Vienna shows all eight completed feature films by the Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, produced between 1952 and 1974.
“A committed Marxist, lay Jungian, sometime novelist, and wildly self-destructive alcoholic, Ghatak (1925-76) spent his career in the shadow of Satyajit Ray. While Ray, a contemporary and a fellow Bengali, fairly cornered the international market in Indian cinema (his was a genius that never shrank from self-promotion), Ghatak struggled to finance and complete his few films, continually wrestling with a variety of personal and political demons.
Although Ajantrik(Pathetic Fallacy, 1957) was a modest success with Bengali audiences, he never managed to produce a hit. He declined to massage international distributors or work the festival circuit. He alienated friends, political comrades, and business connections. He left major projects unfinished, bartered film rights for bottles of booze, and generally made a shambles of his life and career.
Ghatak’s relative obscurity, however, isn’t solely due to his personal shortcomings. With a couple of exceptions, his films are discomfiting – intentionally so – to the complacent upper-middlebrow types who constitute the key tastemakers, and much of the traditional audience, for international art cinema. To them, Satyajit Ray is the suitable boy of Indian film, presentable, career-oriented, and reliably tasteful. Ghatak, by contrast, is an undesirable guest: he lacks respect, has “views,” makes a mess, disdains decorum.
.... There is a kind of impudence, too, in Ghatak’s ceaseless tinkering with film language. Where Ray’s films are seamless, well-made, conventional narratives that aim for the kind of psychological insights prized by 19th-century novelists, Ghatak’s are ragged, provisional, intensely personal, yet epic in shape, scope, and aspirations. With Ray, you feel safe in the hands of an omniscient, authoritative master. Viewing Ghatak is an edgy, intimate experience, an engagement with a brilliantly erratic intelligence in an atmosphere of inquiry, experimentation, and disconcerting honesty. The feeling can be invigorating, but it’s never comfortable. “
Jacob Levich on Ritwik Ghatak.
- Nagarik (1952-53)
- Ajantrik (1957-58)
- Bari Theke Paliye (1959)
- Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960)
- Komol Gandhar (1961)
- Subarnarekha (1962)
- Titas Ekti Narid Naam (1970)
- Jukti Takko Ar Gappo
“I have done many things in my life. I ran away from home a few times. I took a job in the billing department of a textile mill in Kanpur. I hadn’t thought of films then. They dragged me back home from Kanpur. That was in 1942. Meanwhile, I had missed two years of my studies. I was fourteen when I ran away from home. My father pointed out that if I sat for my school-leaving examination, I had a chance of becoming an engineer, or something like that. Otherwise, I would have to spend my life as a mechanic. Suddenly I wanted to concentrate on my studies. And then something happened that is a common occurrence among Bengalis and, I hear, among the French as well. I had a creative urge, and began my artistic career with a few useless pieces of verse. I realized later that I wasn’t made for that sort of thing. I couldn’t get wit hin a thousand miles of true poetry . It was after this that I got involved with politics. This was 1943 to 1945. Those who remember these years will know of the quick transitions in the political scene of the day…. The anti-fascist movement, the Japanese attack, the British retreat, a great deal happened in quick succession. Life was placid in 1940 and ‘41. Suddenly, during ‘44 and ‘45, a series of events took place the price of foodstuffs soared, then came famine things changed so fast that it gave a great jolt to people’s attitudes and thinking….
By that time I was an active Marxist; not a cardholder, but a close sympathizer, a fellow traveller. I started writing short stories then. This was not like my earlier nebulous and false attempts to be a poet. The urge to write stories arose out of a desire to protest against the oppression and exploitation I saw around me. I wasn’t too bad at writing stories…. But later, I came to feel that short stories are inadequate. They take a long time to reach the people, and then few are deeply strirred by them. I was a hot-blooded youngster then, impatient for immediate reaction. ...
We were born in a deceived age. The days of our childhood and adolescence saw the full flowering of Bengal. Tagore, with his overpowering genius, at the peak of his literary career; the renewed vigour of Bengali literature in the works of the “Kallol” group of young writers; the widespread national movement in schools and colleges, among the youth of Bengal; the villages of Bengal, with their folktales, folk songs and festivals, brimming over with the hope of a new life. Just then came the war, came famine. The Muslim League and the Congress Party brought the country to ruin by tearing it apart and accepting a destructive independence. Communal riots flooded the country. The waters of the Ganga and Padma were red with the blood of brothers. These are our own experiences. Our dreams faded. We stumbled and fell, desperately clutching at a wretched, impoverished Bengal. Which Bengal is this, where poverty and immorality are our constant companions, where the blackmarketeers and dishonest politicians rule, where terrible fear and sorrow are the inevitable fate of every man!
The partition of Bengal had caused many upheavals in our economic and political life. If you talk to anyone who remembers those times, you’ll understand that the basic factor behind the economic collapse was the partition. I have never been able to accept the partition, not even today. And in three of my films I have tried to say just that. Quite unintentionally, they formed a trilogy, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar, and Subarnarekha. “
Ritwik Ghatak on Ritwik Ghatak.
Interviews with Ritwik Ghatak, Biographical sketch, A tribute to Ritwik Ghatak.