Updated: Apr 2
SEETA’s HAND HAS HARNESSED SAGAR (OCEAN) FOR 70 YEARS SINCE ‘NAGARIK’ (1953), IT KEEPS MANIFESTING IN CLOSE-UPS!
Image: Screenshot by AG
In the films, unlike Robert Bresson’s ‘hands’, Ritwik Ghatak’s don’t move towards their pre-determined destinations, towards Grace and what Bresson calls the ‘hidden engine’ - the Grail. Ghatak’s ‘hands’ move to grab and grip an epical energy. – Mother, Mā. Seventy years ago, in ‘Nagarik’, the lensing philosopher embarked upon his unique wide-angle lens (e.g., 18mm) journey that continued till his swan song ‘Jukti’ in 1974, chanting Charaiveti! Charaiveti! even when the violin had lost one of its strings (toward the end of ‘Nagarik’) and unemployed refugee youth’s utopian idyllic house on a wall calendar torn apart. Uprooted by the Partition (of Bengal, of India), Seeta (Shova Sen) instills her timid lover Sagar (Ajit Banerjee) courage and hope to come out of the sludges of history, the terrible state of being a refugee. Ramu (Satindra Bhattacharya), the Nagarik, a refugee youth (and his family) from East Bengal has found a new urja in Uma, the woman he loves. Seeta’s hand in a Ghatakian close-up had already found its base note in ‘Nagarik’ seven decades ago…
Seeta’s hand on Sagar’s shoulder reaffirms the feminine power that makes our world stronger and more graceful. In his despondency, Sagar once told Seeta, “We are all being torn down like the banks of the river Padma.” Ghatak’s ‘hands’ have seen the hinges of history loosening up with cracking sounds which he valiantly intervened with the rāgas Hamsadhvani and Kalavati, while crystals of sand shifted through Seeta’s fingers.
Though the film ‘Nagarik’ was made in 1953, it could only be released in 1977. As eminent author, scholar, translator, playwright and activist, Malini Bhattacharya writes, “The story of salvaging ‘Nagarik’ (The City Dweller), the first film made by Ritwik Ghatak, is a story of the triumph of a group of technicians dedicated to the medium. The film had never been released in Ghatak’s lifetime and was given up for lost. Following the discovery (after his death) of a weather-worn ‘positive’ print, this group of technicians pieced together from it a new negative and the film was finally released for the first time in Calcutta in August 1977” * (‘Nagarik: Ritwik Ghatak’s First Film’, Malini Bhattacharya, Social Scientist, reproduced in ‘Arguments / Stories’, Eds. Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Amrit Gangar, Screen Unit, Bombay, 1987)
Ramu in the film is not just one person, but represents the entire Bengali lower middle class which dreams of prosperity, but is moving slowly but surely towards either annihilation or proletarianization. “What is important is that the first step in the painful process of proletarianization has been taken as Ramu and family are forced to move to the slum.” (Ibid)
Ghatak punctuates the film with many close-ups of faces, eyes and hands that carry their determination to shape the destiny, Seeta’s hand-in-close-up is yet another defining moment comprehending the entire Ghatak oeuvre launched with ‘Nagarik’. (It was premiered on 20 September 1977 at New Empire, Calcutta as mentioned in the book ‘Rows and Rows of Fences: Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema,’ Seagull, Calcutta 2000 – A)
Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based film scholar, curator & writer.