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ĀMĀR LENIN & the ‘Close-up’ Katha: Ritwik Ravivar – 5 by Amrit Gangar



In a sequence, close-ups of this face appear looking at Lenin’s statue being unveiled in Calcutta, they are not Eisenstein’s rising lions but they have a resonance.

Image: Screen shots, collage by AG.


“He” (this is how the film’s voice-over addresses him, by a pronoun) has specially come to Calcutta from his village to witness the unveiling of Lenin’s statue in the ‘middle of the city’ (in the district of Dharmatala, renamed Lenin Sarani - A). To my mind, through his ‘block’ lens close-ups, Ghatak dialectically examines the very face of ‘Itihās’, history, in a state of constant flux. The way Ghatak juxtaposes images, songs and words, he seems to be paying a tribute to Sergei Eisenstein. The ‘rural he’ looking at the ‘real he’; the statue of Lenin (‘His calm gaze meets the millions of people…’) hatches dreams; “he” has inspired the poor Adivasis to read Lenin’s books and hope for better days. History is a hen hatching ‘utopian eggs’ we need to live by, yolk or no yolk! My curatorially collaged close-ups are historically and poignantly potent. ‘Āmār Lenin’ (My Lenin, 1970), the film, provides us with a special retinality to look at our past, present and future through the gaze of “he”, it is perhaps Ghatak’s “Dialectical Mythologism”, amplified through his close-ups!


What is, however, interesting is the incorporation of the footages which Ghatak had shot much earlier while making of ‘Life of the Adivasis’ (1955) and ‘Oraon’ (1957). He re-employs these footages / scenes in ‘Āmār Lenin’ and then in ‘Jukti Takko Ar Gappo’ by juxtaposing with other central scenes, and by doing it, he exposes us to the power of juxtaposition (montage) of images, propelled by his characteristic close-ups, their rejuvenation.



A close look at the documentary film ‘Āmār Lenin’ would also show us its critical constructional approach, through making apparent the hierarchy of ‘power’. Strangely the film was banned in India, when Screen Unit, the film society I had the privilege to head, organized the most comprehensive Ritwik Retrospective in Mumbai between 18th and 24th December 1987, we had received a 35mm print of the film directly from Moscow via the erstwhile House of Soviet Culture. Dharmatala still lives on, so does the Lenin Sarani, but the city of Calcutta / Kolkata has seen many transformations over the years, in both her mind and body. Perhaps, the non-anonymous “he” of Ghatak’s ‘Āmār Lenin’, is still looking at Lenin’s statue – in a Close-up! In the beginning of the film, we also see “he” watching Lenin, singing the ‘International’ in a Jatra play. “Our own right hand the chains must shiver / Chains of hatred, greed and fear…”
















Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based writer, film scholar and historian.


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