Ritwik Ghatak: The Stormy Petrel Of Indian Cinema
Great filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Dadasaheb Phalke, V. Shantaram, Pramathesh Chandra Barua and Ritwik Ghatak are remembered only on their birthdays and death anniversaries because it gives the media some respite from reporting on killings and suicides and political infighting all the time.
It is rare these days to be audience to a select bunch of classics directed by the great master of cinema, Ritwik Ghatak projected directly on the wide screen in 35 mm format at a time when the entire audiovisual world of entertainment has almost switched over the digital and more modernised technology. This is happening right now in the city of Kolkata organized jointly by the Ritwik Ghatak Memorial Trust and by Arijit Dutta of Priya Entertainment Pvt. Limited which owns Priya Theatre in Kolkata which is also the venue for the film screenings. This year marks the 40th year of his passing away in 1976 and the 91st year of his birth in 1925.
The festival kicked off on 8th April with the screening of Ghatak’s first full-length feature film Nagarik and will go on till April 13, showcasing the restored versions of his Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar' Subarnarekha, Titas Ekti Nadir Naam and Jukti Takko r Goppo. The festival was inaugurated by Ghatak’s daughter Samhita and filmmaker Goutam Ghose.
However, the eve of the festival was mired in a controversy involving the ownership of the original negatives of Ghatak’s films. Two legendary films of Ghatak, namely Ajantrik (1958) and Bari Theke Paliye (1959) could not become a part of the retro screenings because Ramlal Nandi, managing director of Chhayabani Films sent a letter objecting to the screening of these films to the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) claiming that his company owned the negatives of these films and therefore, without his permission, NFAI could not restore the original film prints nor screen them at any retrospective screenings. But these two films were already restored along with the rest that are being screened.
Ghatak was born a rebel. He questioned the ideas and attitudes towards culture and art prevalent at the time. When he was forced to appear before a one-man commission, so-called progressive thinkers branded him a Trotskyite. He criticized commercial cinema, which he felt left no scope for creativity and research. Ghatak put things on screen that worried him, made him happy or sad. He was basically an aesthetic artist and was personal in his films. Films that failed to highlight Indian culture were meaningless so far as he was concerned.
“My joining film has nothing to do with making money” he explained. “Rather, it is out of volition of expressing my pains and agonies for my suffering people. I do not believe in ‘entertainment’ or in ‘slogan-mongering.’ Rather, I believe in thinking deeply of the Universe, the world at large, of the international situation, my country and finally, my own people. I make films for them. In case of cinema, when the audience starts seeing a film, it (the film) also creates -- a filmmaker throws up certain ideas; it is the audience that fulfils it. Only then it becomes a complete whole. Film watching is a kind of ritual. When the lights go out, the screen takes over and then the audience increasingly becomes one.
It is a community feeling. One can compare it with going to a church, or a mosque, or a temple.” He was convinced about cinema being a medium of entertainment and education, and so, dotted his narratives with coincidences, mythical metaphors and melodrama. "I am not afraid of using any amount of coincidences in my fictional films, and melodrama is a birthright, a form in itself." His strange passion for rivers - Padma, Ganga, Subarnarekha and Titash are metaphorical reflections of his own life, which, like a river, flows on, beyond arguments and stories.
Two years after playing out his own death by police bullets in Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, Ghatak died in Calcutta’s S.S.K.M. Hospital, much like Bengal’s rebellious creative artists Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the poet, Pramathesh Barua, filmmaker and actor, and Manik Bandopadhyay, the classic litterateur. Like the mythical Phoenix, he was consigned to flames, not knowing that he was destined to rise from its ashes.
Till today, he remains the stormy petrel of Indian cinema. He hit cinema in India like a tornado, and disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. His films got international attention only after his death. Things other than cinema he was involved with, at different phases of his life, also began to emerge. Before his entry into films, he was involved with theatre as an actor-activist. He wrote too, short stories, essays, and plays in Bengali and in English. Like all Bengalis of his time, Ritwik could not escape the heritage of a phase of self-indulgence into poetry, into prose and into an ideological stand that was markedly Leftist. "The ideological base of my work is fundamentally Marxism,” he said.