Ritwik Ghatak And Post Partition Trauma: A Look At His Films' Visual Grammar

In his cinema, he provides no respite, no rescue. He does not provide a solution for the chaos
Ritwik Ghatak And Post Partition Trauma: A Look At His Films' Visual Grammar

Ghatak’s films delved into the rocky terrain of the partition trauma that haunted the residents of West Bengal and East Pakistan(Bangladesh). His cinema was resplendent with stark imagery on displacement and the stress that systematic execution and exile caused on both sides of the Bengal border. Ghatak’s films did not uphold or glorify any power establishment. He repairs back to the memories of partition almost psychosomatically in his triology films, Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), Subarnarekha ( 1965) and Komal Gandhahar (1961). Ghatak’s own escapade to West Bengal from East Bengal following the 1947 partition of the state acted as a recurring ghost in his thematic preference for his body of work. Ghatak, in my opinion, takes a distant position of an empathiser in his films. He does not toy around with the formalistic content of his storyline. He does not act as a saviour bridging gaps of reality and film form in the tone of his films either. The only juxtaposition made is in conceiving of the epic image that bears the conflict at hands while making unerring sense on the whole. He does not show a healed image of the then contemporary Bengal. Ghatak’s cinema never embraced the deliverance from colonial rule because the cost of freedom birthed orgiastic violence and claustrophobic isolation out of newly demarcated boundaries.

Ghatak crafts his visual image with conflicting images that can not stand alone but only in relation to other aspects of the montage. One example is the overarching tree and the river where Ghatak comes back consistently in important scenes. The naturalistic and neo – realist backdrop is ephemereal while the situationships that it conveys changes depending on the narrative. Nita is an embodiment of the self sacrifical mythical mother Goddess, ‘Jagatdhattri’ . Alongwith Jaggatdhari, the virgin Goddess, Uma and the benign Goddess, Durga form important myth figues Ghatak refers to in his work. If at all. Ghatak undertakes an egalitarian approach to humanise the Goddess and not elevate Nita’s character to replicate the abstraction of the Goddesses magnificence.

Ritwik Ghatak And Post Partition Trauma: A Look At His Films' Visual Grammar
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In Meghe Dhaka Tara, Ghatak does not epitomise Nita as the mother Goddess instead crafts the imagery such that the audience sympathises with her fate and roots for a different trajectory. He does not celebrate her suicidal self sabotage rather practicalizes her family’s selfishness by concluding in the end that each one who prioritised their interests had settled well and had a future to expect about. Nita, develops tuberculosis and coughs blood when Shankar return home after becoming a famous Hindustani vocalist. The scene parallels to another sequence from the initial part of the film where Shankar enters a joyous Nita’s room blushing red reading her suitor, Shankar’s letter. The choice of colour in both the scenes is depicting of Nita’s colour of mind. In contrast to the light entering from the windows in the first sequence the last one is met with utter darkness until Shankar opens the door to meet his sister after years. Alongwith him he brings some light into the scene indicating he might have been the sole member of her kin who cared for her.

The first few frames in Meghe Dhaka Tara only introduces the brother, Shankar and sister, signifying their value in the film. For a film vocalising the perils of displacement Ghatak persistently uses potential static shots. The introductory scene that shows Nita advancing towards her home, her positioning is in the bottom of the frame that is reframed to the right, with Shankar singing to the left of the frame. The cinematography survives on diequilibrium of shots. The leaps from wide angle to close up, the spaces in the edge of the composition which are crowded with strong objects unveil discord, substitution in the compromisation of meaning making that we as an audience deduct. The rhythm of the movements exhibited by Nita and Shankar are sporadic to their concept serving a homogenous contrariety. Nita trudges her steps away from the camera’s gaze slowly while walking at a slow pace, in the same coulisse Shankar sings passionately. He makes exaggerated, erratic hand gestures that diffuses into an absurd gesture where he places his hand on his face in perplex and stands up.

Meghe Dhaka Tara adopts a protofeminist approach in critiquing the post partition society while also eliciting some empathy by deliverance of dialogues by the Nita’s family. The scenography entails an element of grief for the family having to be uprooted to refugee colonies in East Pakistan. Nita’s mother is portrayed to be consistently bitter and bearing no guilt for being solely dependent on her eldest daughter without any repentance for not giving her a breathing space to channel her own individual choices. Nita’s mother consciously accepts her evident bitterness and blames the trauma she has faced in the past few years. Throughout the duration of the film, there are indirect references made to the partition of Bengal. On discovering Nita’s life threatening disease, her father breaks into an impulsive but incoherent speech but failing to decide who he should blame. The words, ‘I blame no one’, is cunningly blaming everyone in ironic. Nita is symbolic of the motherland who faced the consequences of the violence born out of rash delivery of freedom by the nation builders.

Ritwik Ghatak And Post Partition Trauma: A Look At His Films' Visual Grammar
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Nita’s torn slipper is a metaphorical allusion to the decline of moral and social upstanding of her family. It is also a foreshadowing her own macabre fate. Her visible anxiety is accentuated by contrapuntal sounds. When Nita leaves Sanat’s home after discovering his involvement with her sister. The grasping of her neck and chest in grief and agony translates into an actual medical condition. Ghatak weighs in Nita’s pain and does not downplay it as circumstantial. A corresponding image is sown when Shankar returns home after dispersing off Nita’s mortal remains, and notices another young woman on her way to work. Her slipper tears off on the patchy and uneven road, a crisp reference to the gender based exploitation at the hands of benevolent patriarchial family setup.

Similarly structured characters prop up in all his films. In Jukkti Tako aur Gappo, Ghatak plays himself and vulnerably crafts his character as an alcoholic who is estranged from his wife due to his self indulgence. The destruction that Ghatak or Nita’s father introject is a replica of the mass devastation and contesting social evils like necrophilia, poverty and forced displacement prevalent in immediate post independent India. Ghatak’s incorporation of space and his mis en scene rely heavily on the rupture of anthropological unity and a longing to belong that his community must have undergone in the years of partition.

Postmemory of partition showcased in his films predece the intergenerational trauma which follows until the present century. Ghatak’s Nilakantha Bagchi is an allegorical hero who is prototypical of the victimization and exile Ghatak faced at the hands of social and political organisation at the brink of radical political upsurge in the early 1970’s. Use of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the film, equips us with the knowledge of Banergee’s politics , the class consciousness and the Naxalite movement that was going strong in the 1970’s. Ghatak equalizes the Naxalite movement with the ideals of the French Revolution. Ghatak’s biased support for the Naxalite movement, his sensitivity for them can be deduced to the factor that after the Great betrayal of partition only the Naxals acted out of organic need not greed. Ghatak may not have agreed with their methods of demands but his films have been considerate towards the movement’s cause.

Ritwik Ghatak And Post Partition Trauma: A Look At His Films' Visual Grammar
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Ghatak’s films voice class struggles but do not show the class devoid of imperfections. Nilakantha calls himself ‘broken intellectual’ in self defeat. He challenges puritanical nature of individual identities and relationships often reflected in eruption of jealousy, competition and corruption between individuals related by blood. In Subarnarekha, there is an incestuous sexual tension between siblings Ishwar and Sita and takes the radical turn when Sita takes to prostitution, and Ishwar turns up at his first customer.

This film is anti – establishment to its core. Nilkantha says, “everything is burning. The world is burning. I’m burning…” channelizing his existentialism. There is a parched mistrust in Ghatak’s writing breeding of instability that is evidence of his psyche. Ghatak’s characters have a resilience to live despite all odds. Examples would be Nita uttering, ‘Dada ami bonchbo’ ( Dada I want to live) or when Haraprasad expresses his defeatism to Ishwar in Subarnarekha. He mutters, "I am a blasted palm tree. I had protested. What protest? Protest against what? Now, I have knocked against a wall." Ghatak creates a cultural space where he critiques the faux pas nationalism, and the facets of modernity that people belonging to the higher social strata celebrated. For Ghatak the children of partition were the homeless youth like Bongobala, Nachiketa, the unemployed sanskrit school teacher who lost his school in an incident of political massacre and Satyajit Dubey, Nilakantha Bagchi’s contemporary who made it huge unlike him. Dubey is an underhanded reference to filmmaker and rival, Satyajit Ray. Ghatak accepts his own vulnerability in showing his contemporary in a better light. The identical ‘Great Mother’ allusion is repeated in Jukkti Takko aaa Gappo as well. Nilakantha is another name for Hindu God, Shiva, who drank poison lest it destroyed the mankind. Nilakantha like Ghatak, is an devout alcoholic. Nilkantha’s wife name is Durga which also stands for Goddess Durga, often regarded as the consort of Shiva in Indian mythology.

Ghatak places Rabindranath Tagore and Shakespeare together. He did not hold the same view as Marxists did of Tagore belonging to the privileged bourgeoise. Ghatak does not discard him, he based Komal Gandhar and Subarnarekha on Tagore’s writings. In his cinema, he provides no respite, no rescue. He does not provide a solution for the chaos. He does not entirely agree with any political ideology and by showing ill fated characters, projects the cracks within the system. It was this disagreement and the simultaneous production of his unadulterated views of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Ghatak had to subsequently also leave Communist Party of India for his infamous ideological disagreements.

Ghatak’s choice of aligning his films with epics could be signific of the assumption he makes personally about how the Indian audience likes epics and the familiarity of contextual why’s and how’s of the story. The sound image relationship in Ghatak’s cinema, draws heavily on Eisenstein’s aesthetic of montage. In Komal Gandahar, The traditional Bengali folk wedding songs sung throughout the run of the film, evinces hope for future union while also providing discord. The contrast is accentuated due to the non- diagetic nature of the music. Only towards the ending when lovers come together and the theatre group reunites for producing an interesting play, does the folk songs make visual sense. Ghatak’s juxtaposition of Bengali landscapes, the rolling hills, the river banks, and the cityscapes echoes his archaic pining for a cultural unity that was somewhere fragmented and lost in post partition India in Komal Gandahar.

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