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Amrit Gangar's The Close-up katha: Ritwik Ravivar-16

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Image: Nargis as Mother Bangla / Bengal in Ritwik Ghatak’s short film ‘Durbar Gati Padma’, 1971, screenshot by AG.

One of the greatest lensing philosophers of the world cinema, Ritwik Ghatak, through his profound close-ups, enables us to see ourselves, our history, into them, deep into their gazes starkly looking at us as the ‘Mother India’ of 1957 did and does now as ‘Mother Bangla’ of 1971 in the short film ‘Durbar Gati Padma’ (The Turbulent Padma aka There Flows Padma, the Mother). Nargis, who had a special appearance in the film, once again becomes the Mother incarnate consigned to history’s joys and sorrows; vivacious yet vivisection-ed, boisterous yet bloodied as the voice-over in the beginning of the film informs us, ‘within 48 hours more than 300, 000 people were butchered’ by the orders of the General Yahya Khan, whose face we see in its extreme close-up, too. But history keeps rebutting that cruel face with the face of the Mother, whom Ghatak repeatedly brings in closer proximities as the necessary reminder to us. Try and look straight into the eyes of ‘Mother Bangla’ (Nargis) to find the universal ‘Mother Earth’ in her moist eyes, if your eyes turn moist with anguish and anger, in response, rest assured, there is some hope around.


‘Durbar Gati Padma’ keeps reminding us of Bangabala of Ghatak’s last feature film ‘Jukti Takko Ar Gappo’ (Arguments and a Story, 1974) which is set during 1971, an extremely turbulent time in Bengal’s history, India and Pakistan were at war, which resulted in the formation of Bengladesh, and in the Bengal countryside, a violent peasant struggle had emerged to fight against inhuman social-economic injustices. ‘Durbar Gati Padma’ echoes the sighs and songs of all his previous agonies enchanted in ‘Titas Ekti Nadir Naam; (1973), ‘Subarnarekha’ (1962), ‘Komal Gandhar (1961), and ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (1960) along with the close-ups poeticized by the extraordinary lensing sense of their creator – Ritwik Ghatak. The River Padma flows but now ‘epar’ and ‘opar’, she doesn’t divide, she unites, like the uncloven ‘space’ of the close-up of Nargis, the Mother Bangla. Akasa is undivided, अभेद आकाश, beckons Prakriti.

Produced and acted by the well-known Bengali-Hindi cinema actor Biswajit Chatterjee and directed by Ritwik Ghatak, under the banner of the Films Division, the two-reel (22 mins) short film, gathers into its frames all the leading actors of Indian filmdom to support the cause of newly liberated Bangladesh, struggling to build herself anew. On her own feet. Across her beautiful rivers and the plentiful earth. Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (as he is credited in the film) also wrote the story of ‘Durbar Gati Padma’ and composed its music. As we hear these heart wrenching words on the soundtrack, ‘within 48 hours more than 300, 000 people were butchered’ we hear (and see), ‘and soon afterwards, the demons began their dance, the dance of death,’ These demons are still dancing all around us.

Surprisingly and shockingly, we seem to have imbibed and internalized ‘violence’ so much within us that we don’t care for our children or else why should our politicians keep repeating the words, ‘the next general elections will be violent’? Don’t these ominous words frighten our children? Who has numbed our human sensitivity? Why is the Bibhatsa Rasa (the state of disgust) on the rise and becoming all pervading? The most used word today is ‘viral’ and it has become part of our conscience so easily, why?

During the Bangladesh Liberation War that lasted for nine months in 1971, the ‘gonohotta’ or ‘genocide’ perpetrated by the Pakistan Armed Forces and supporting pro-Pakistani militias killed between 300, 000 and 3, 000, 000 people and raped between 200, 000 and 400, 000 Bengali women, in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. Millions of babies and children were butchered. 1971 is not very remote on the route of history. Ghatak’s close-ups awaken us to the sense of ‘proximity’, he had his insights to evoke and invoke close-ups that stare straight into our eyes.

And now -

Look straight into the eyes of Mother India / Mother Bangla, of Nargis, part of my Ritwik Ravivar’s Close-up Katha and let us feel the questions within our own being. If our collective vision gets moist, along with hers – there is still some hope, in the tears. These Close-up Katha of faces, eyes and limbs are not ordinary, they are the gazes and grins of history lived, being lived and to be lived.

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

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