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Fear & the close-up katha: Ritwik Ravivar-13 by Amrit Gangar


Image: Sudha Rani and Subhash Ghai in ‘Fear’ scripted by Ritwik Ghatak based on his own story, he directed it and composed its music; screenshot by AG.


The 16-minute short fiction film ‘Fear’, an exercise Ritwik Ghatak conducted for the acting students of 1964-65 batch at the Film Institute of India (later it became the Film & Television Institute of India) remains an extremely crucial work for studying close-ups, their poetic choreography and the silent soliloquy, its musicality played on an octave, as if! It is a study of the ‘faces’ and ‘gazes’, their physiognomy and plasticity; only Ghatak could make the actors aware through cinematography that possesses a unique ability to abstract a close-up from a scene or a sequence. The series of close-ups that Ghatak composes are like a stanza of a poem, a metrical ‘chhand’, evoked and invoked through lensing, lighting, placing, sonic atmospherics, temporalizing space and ensconcing ‘abhinaya’ within a locational cellar physically peopled with a dozen characters, affected by existential anxiety and fear of an impending air raid. In the process, we begin to ‘see’ the Face of Fear itself. Individual. Collective. Palpitating. In black & white. On celluloid.


THE CLOSE-UP, THE LYRICAL ESSENCE OF THE DRAMA CREATING A NON-LINEAR TEMPORALITY IN SPATIAL SILENCE AND SOUND.


In his book ‘Theory of Film’, the Hungarian film theorist Bela Balazs (pseudonym for Herbert Bauer) devotes an entire chapter on the ‘Close-up’ and it was he who had coined this phrase ‘the lyrical essence of the drama’. This ‘drama’ is played not only by the actors in cinema (like Robert Bresson, who treated actors as models, in several interviews we find Ghatak calling them ‘robots’ and ‘puppets’, not in a derogatory way but in the manner, they are seen in a work of cinematography. Ghatak himself had directed plays and acted in them, also in a few films. ‘Fear’ is not an ordinary short fiction film made as an exercise for the acting students at Pune-based Film Institute of India (later Film & Television Institute of India) as it doesn’t get into the usual dialogue delivery or body language, instead it reads the actors’ faces, their physiognomy and geography, through the camera lens, lighting and proximities that would show the actors their faces their emotional intensities and frequencies through close-ups that only cinema could achieve, not theatre.


By the time, Ritwik Ghatak joined the Film Institute of India to teach there, he had already made his Partition Trilogy: ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (1960), ‘Komal Gandhar’ (1961) and ‘Subarnarekha’ (1962), in its deeper conscience ‘Fear’ contains them all. Produced by the then Principal Jagat Murari, ‘Fear’ was shot by Lall Jaswaney, audiographed by J.C. Sinha and edited by Vishram Revankar. The 1964-65 batch acting students included: Sudha Rani, Subhash Ghai, Urvashi Dutta, Govardhan Sharma, Pratima Naik, G. Asrani, S. Shah, S. Desai, V.K. Malhotra, Umakant A., Rajni Kant and Nooruddin. Like a great conductor, Ghatak, under his baton, apportions acting opportunities to all lead cast almost equally.


In its visuality, he seems to be paying tribute to his guru Sergei Eisenstein, that’s an embedded note we can hear in its play of the close-ups, calling back to our memory, particularly the Odessa Steps sequence from the ‘Battleship Potemkin’, or from Pudovkin’s ‘Mother’, both films Ghatak revered. That is what I feel whenever I watch ‘Fear’.

















Amrit Gangar is a well-known film scholar, historian and critic based in Mumbai.

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