An auteur whose works signify the melancholy and disorder associated with the partition, especially in Bengal, and still finds relevance for his surreal realism – Ritwik Ghatak is a genre unto himself.
Ritwik Ghatak happened to Indian cinema during a time when Hollywood was engulfing the global cinema with its sheer magnitude and prolific productions. Bollywood was finding a parallel inspiration from the west to discuss box-office collection and the film industry in India was slowly stooping towards commercial dividends. India’s theatre-going audience immersed in the newfound independence overlooked reality and indulged in hyper-romanticism.
Ghatak’s maverick films either flopped or never got to see the light of the day. However, his conviction towards a socio-political responsibility that he mentioned in his numerous writings and interviews pushed him to diverse horizons.
While his films are now discussed, used as a text for film schools and showcased in various retrospective sessions of national and international film festivals, the man in his short-lived life of 50 years hardly received any accolade for his integrity towards the art of cinema.
On his 92nd birth anniversary, we tried to probe into some of the lesser known contribution of Ritwik Ghatak towards Indian cinema. Here’s a list of five:
Script of Musafir
Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Musafir (1957) won the National Film Award and was also the recipient of the Certificate of Merit for the Third Best Feature Film in Hindi. The screenplay was written by Ritwik Ghatak along with Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Musafir was the directorial debut of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and stars Dilip Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Keshto Mukherjee, Suchitra Sen and Nirupa Roy while the music was composed by Salil Choudhury.
Ghatak had already made his first film Nagarik (1952) by then but could not release it for funds. Musafir allowed him to gather enough resources to direct his second film Ajantrik (1958).
Actor in Chinnamul
Perhaps the seed of partition centric movies was reaped during those days when Ghatak acted in Nemai Ghosh’s* neorealist film Chinnamul or The Uprooted (1950). The film was praised by Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin who later bought the film to release it in Russia.
Ghatak later acted in three of his own films Subarnarekha (1962), Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (1973) and Jukti Takko aar Gappo (1974).
Documentary on Ustad Alauddin Khan (1963)
The Sangeet Natak Akademi sponsored this documentary where Ustad Ali Akbar Khan contributed as the music advisor. However, when the film was released Ghatak’s name vanished from the credits section and was later added to the online database.
In an interview published in a film journal in September 1976, Ghatak mentioned how he chanced upon this project and his association with Ustad Alauddin Khan. “That person, my Guru, was crazy. On behalf of the Sangeet Natak Academy, I went (to Maihar) to make a documentary film on him. I came to know a lot of things about him then. Alauddin Saheb told these things to me. He used to love me!”
Short film Fear (1965)
Ritwik Ghatak during his tenure at the Pune Film Institute made this 35 mm short film in Hindi. Subhash Ghai, the famous director of Bollywood and actor Asrani were seen as actors in this short film. They were students of the Pune Film Institute at that time. Ghatak later said that he can make a short film every day and this was more of an exercise for the students of the acting department.
5 incomplete works
The National Film Archive of India restored three unfinished works of Ghatak in December 2016. The film reels are now preserved for research and educational purposes; however, the reasons that stopped Ghatak from finishing the likes of Kato Ajanare (1959), Bagalar Banga Darshan (1963) and Ronger Golam (1968) could only be found in his maverick disposition and an indomitable attitude that never compromised.
* The ace photographer Nemai Ghosh who worked with Satyajit Ray is not the same Nemai Ghosh who directed Chinnamul.