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Summer Viewing - The Brilliance Of Ritwik Ghatak

Compiled by Chitra Parayath

Today his films enjoy much critical acclaim but in their time they ran to mainly empty houses in Bengal. Ghatak's films project a unique sensibility. They are often brilliant, but almost always flawed.

By and large Ghatak's films revolve around two central themes: the experience of being uprooted from the idyllic rural milieu of East Bengal and the cultural trauma of the partition of 1947.

Ghatak's first film was Nagrik (1952) about a young man's search for a job and the erosion of his optimism and idealism as his family sinks into abject poverty. The film was ultimately to be released in the late seventies.
He did wrote the scripts of Musafir (1957) and Madhumati (1958) for Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Bimal Roy respectively, the latter became an all time evergreen hit.

Ajantrik in 1957 - Ajantrik's story revolves around a small time Bihari taxi-driver's unusual relationship with his battered Chevrolet. Said Ritwik about the film: "You can call my protagonist, Bimal, a lunatic, a child, or a tribal. At one level they are all the same. They react to lifeless things almost passionately. This is an ancient, archetypal reaction....The tribal songs and dances in Ajantrik describe the whole cycle of life - birth, hunting, marriage, death, ancestor worship, and rebirth. This is the main theme of Ajantrik, this law of life."

Bari thheke paliye was made in 1959, is based on a children's story about a little boy who runs away from home in search of adventure.

The beginning of 1960's saw the full development of his style of film-making with three of his most well-known films - Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komol Gandhar, and Subarnarekha.Meghe Dhaka Tara tells the story of Nita, a woman who sacrifices her life to rebuild her family shattered by the effects of Partition and subsequent exodus. Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) was the first film in a trilogy examining the socio-economic implications of partition.

In Komol Gandhar Ritwik experimented more with the medium and tried to do away with storytelling. `Komol Gandhar brought with it an overwhelming nostalgia for the IPTA days. The film failed to attract any viewers and it shattered Ritwik.

Along with the failure of Komol Gandhar came the failure of Subarnarekha. One of the most complex films of Ritwik, it moves `beyond the immediate problems thrown up by the partition of Bengal - unemployment, urban distribution, collapsing family ties.

In 1971 Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan after a bloody war and genocide in which more than a million were killed. On an invitation to do a film on an epic novel based on the fishermen around the river Titash, Ritwik went to Bangladesh to film Titas Ekti Nadir Naam. Perhaps no other film bears the stamp of his whole approach to film-making more than this film.

He was to make one last film before his death. Jukti, Takko Aar Gaapo, based largely on himself and his views was filmed in 1974.
Notable among his students at the Film and Television Training Institute in Pune are Kumar Shahani, Mani Kaul, Sayeed Mirza and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

Feature Films:
1953 Nagarik
1958 Ajantrik
1959 Bari Theke Paliye
1959 Kato Ajanare (edited for theatrical release posthumously)
1960 Meghe Dhaka Tara
1961 Komal Gandhar
1965 Subarnarekha
1973 Titash Ekti Nadir Naam
1974 Jukti Takko Ar Gappo
Documentary and Short Films:
1955 Oraon
1962 Scissors
1963 Alauddin Khan
1965 Fear
1965 Rendezvous
1968 Scientists of Tomorrow
1970 Chhou Dance of Purulia
1970 Amar Lenin
1970 The Question
1971 Durbargati Padma
1975 Ramkinkar

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