Remembering Ritwik Ghatak

This November 4 would have been Bengali auteur Ritwik Ghatak’s 94th birthday. Showtime remembers him through one of his most rebellious films

Ritwik Ghatak, who would have turned 94 this November 4, is best remembered for his 1960 film ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’.

It was one of the early films in his oeuvre that entirely focuses on the life and tribulations of the refugees of partition.

While Ghatak reputation is cemented among the intelligentsia of the country, a work that does not get spoken about much is the 1973 film ‘A River Called Titash’.

Perhaps it’s very existence was an anomaly. After a series of films that would give profit-seeking producers nightmares and a stint at a mental hospital where he was even given the shock treatment, a Bangladeshi producer approached him to make a film.

The result was one of Ghatak’s most challenging works.

Incidentally, ‘Titash’ is the only film by Ghatak that the Criterion Collection has restored.

Even with respect to films that preceded ‘Titash’, Ghatak’s aesthetic is not easily digestible.

This is in stark contrast with the films of Satyajit Ray, where social issues were dealt with, although scarcely, as easily digestible pills.

‘Titash’ tells the story of a fisherman community that lives on the banks of the river Titash.

Ghatak dedicates the film to the community.

Watching the film in 2019, it may strike you as jarring. The aesthetic for realism in Indian cinema owes itself almost entirely to Satyajit Ray. There may be others who have tweaked it, but Ray’s original is default that even today’s filmmakers fall back on.

But Ghatak’s characters talk aloud with melodramatic undertones, they speak in riddles that standard realism does not have patience for.

However, Ghatak is making you face facts that your realists don’t.

An interesting contrast with ‘Titash’ would be Satyajit Ray’s ‘Devi’. Both look at the goddess figure and how people connect to it.

Ray is an anthropologist. He will look at how faith works as a social phenomenon. 

In ‘Titash’, on the other hand, a boy who has lost his mother sees her appearing to her as a goddess, a trope that has been well established by the film already in conversations.

You indulge in this local practice as though you are part of the community.

The characters look into the camera to utter the most profound observations about motherhood without being the least bit self-conscious.

It is interesting to look at how an audience in 2019 would read this film. 

One imagines a lot of people being put off, and going back to the comforts of Satyajit Ray.

But then again Ritwik Ghatak was not supposed to be comfortable.

He wanted to jerk you into watching what you conveniently ignored.

He wanted to turn your attention to things that are hard to digest, which is probably why Ghatak will never be watched as much as  Ray.

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