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Ritwik Ghatak and his ‘Partition Trilogy’

Ritwik Ghatak and his ‘Partition Trilogy’

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Biswadeep Sengupta‘s article discusses the impact of World War II and the situation of Bengal during the 1940s, particularly focusing on how these events influenced the works of filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. It explores Ghatak’s unique approach to cinema as a means of expressing his anger and anguish about post-partition trauma and displacement.

The decade of the 1940’s was the era of two major historical catastrophes, the Second World War with the Holocaust in Europe and the partition in India. The experience shaped the consciousness of several generations both in Europe and in India – Margaret Koves in “Telling Stories of Partition and War” ….

Surprisingly for Bengal, Partition hardly had any immediate particular impact on its film or literature. The first Bengali novel that dealt with this subject was Narayan Sanyal’s Bakultala P.L.Camp (published in 1955). However, it was captured much later in the cinematic medium through the 1950 classic, “Chinnamul” (The Uprooted), by Nemai Ghosh. Ghosh had cast actual refugees as characters in his film along with some experienced theatre actors, one of them was Ritwik Ghatak (who was also his Assistant Director) – who would soon turn director himself and work predominantly on partition-based movies. Ghatak’s films are unarguably the most noteworthy artistic enunciations of the trauma of post-partition displacement, of which he himself was a victim of.

Cinema as Ritwik Ghatak suggested is nothing more than a means of expression. In his youth he had tool, he had joined the CPI and the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1951 to put forth his views. However, he soon comprehended the limitation of the medium and recognized the potential of films to reach out to a much larger audience. Ritwik Ghatak had said in one of his interviews as quoted in his book – Cinema and I: “It (cinema) is a means of expressing my anger at the sorrows and sufferings of my people,”. His films bear testimony to his angst as the director quite unlike his contemporaries like the much more celebrated and hailed Ray, and placed partition and the sense of loss it created on the foreground of all his films. He unyieldingly refused to present a unified picture of Bengal or look at independence with a sense of exultation. Instead, he rivetted his attention on the price one had to pay for it, involving his audience in the process. While this acute sense of loss created by tortuous migration is omnipresent in all his films, it is most discernibly felt in “Meghe Dhaka Tara” / “The Cloud-Capped Star” (1961), “Komal Gandhar”/ “E-flat” (1961) and “Subarnarekha”/” The Golden Line” (1962), better known as “Partition Trilogy”. The Partition scathed him all his life and he identified himself with the pain and anguish of refugees who lost their entity and had to readjust in the foreign environment.

Meghe Dhaka Tara
Meghe Dhaka Tara

Considered by many as Ghatak’s “Tour-de-Force” (his only film which performed well at the box office on its release) “Meghe Dhaka Tara” was set in late-1950s Kolkata, just a few years after the partition. Nita (played brilliantly by Supriya Choudhury) is the eldest daughter in a family of refugees and their primary provider. Yet, even as she suffered by tuberculosis and becomes visibly sick, her parents and siblings keep demanding more, squeezing the last bit of life from this warm, vivacious woman. Her relationships to the other women in her family—her mother and her younger sister, Geeta—are especially complex; together, these three women evoked multiple aspects of the feminine: the sensuous, the nurturing, and the destructive. She finally succumbs to the disease – though not before she cries out her desire to live to her brother (essayed by Anil Chatterjee) in a hill sanatorium and admitting that she should have taken a stance against the injustice. In a particularly poignant frame, when Nita coughs blood, her father screams out loud, “I accuse,” only to retract and add submissively, “Nobody”, as he ruefully reflected upon the fact that he was as guilty as the rest in exploiting her.

Komal Gandhar
Komal Gandhar

“Komal Gandhar”, the second film in the trilogy is perhaps the most hopeful one. It revolved round the progressive theatre movement in Bengal in the early 1950s, set against the recollection of partition. Komal Gandhar effortlessly probed into three interconnected themes – Anusua, the lead character’s dilemma, the infamous divided leadership of IPTA and the tragic separation post partition. Unlike his other much grim and sedate works, this movie interestingly stitches a buoyant mood with the lead pair, being reunited ultimately. It referenced Ghatak’s own experiences with IPTA. Bhrigu and Anasuya (played by Supriya Chaudhuri and Abanish Banerjee), belong to two rival theatre groups; but they come close because of their shared enthusiasm for theatre and their common tragic past linked to the partition. Ghatak succeeded in operating at different level where he drew simultaneously on the divided heart of Anasuya, the reft leadership of the theatre movement, and the of divided Bengal. However, this avant-garde treatment was rejected by the audience.

Subarnarekha
Subarnarekha

“Subarnarekha” forms the third and most emotionally captivating part of the troika. Siblings Ishwar and Seeta were dwelling in a refugee camp after partition, where they see an untouchable lower caste woman being beaten, and take her son, Abhiram, into their modest house. Soon, Ishwar gets a job at a factory, and manages to support the child’s education, arranging for him to continue his engineering studies in Germany. But Abhiram has decided to become a writer, instead, and when he and Seeta confess their love for each other, it triggers a chain of events that culminates toward a heart-wrenching ending. Private lives blend seamlessly into national history in a film where the director featured the river Subarnarekha both as a symbol of separation and a conjuration of the relentless flow of life. Ghatak in this movie endeavoured hard concerned on the questions pertaining to caste and refugee crises and migration.

See Also
KOAFF - Kolktata Open Air Film Festival

Ghatak before his untimely death at fifty (aggravated by his unabated drinking) only completed eight feature films during his lifetime, but it can be inferred without a semblance of doubt, that each of them represents a watershed feat in the history of Indian cinema, robustly reflecting the social realities of a nation trying to combat its demons and redefine its identity in the aftermath of British rule and the resultant tragedy of partition.

 

 

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