Image: A screenshot from the film by AG. The film ‘Ramkinkar Baij: A Personality Study’, 1975. The film shows Baij in different locations as he talks about his philosophy of life and his understanding of art.
The great Lensing Philosopher Ritwk Ghatak asks the equally great Sculpting Philosopher Ramkinkar Baij to stay steady without moving his head too much. What a fascinating meeting of the two wonderful ‘mavericks’ on the lands of Tagore’s Santiniketan! This ‘close-up’ stays on the screen for a while capturing the sculptor’s smile in its innocence purity, his face shining like the sheesham wood, getting which was not his privilege, leave alone marble. He used ‘khoai’, the unique soil, cement and iron rods instead to create some of the world’s most significant sculptures. Through his ‘lens’, Ghatak has left behind such remarkably poetic ‘close-ups’ for us, which, in their proximity make us feel the ‘skin’ of his art. Like a sculptor, Ghatak chiselled his ‘close-ups’ of the faces of humans, skies, rivers and hills to deliver them to cinematography and to its children, us. He knew the optical materiality of the lens both viscerally and visionarilly. Ramkinkar looking straight into the camera lens is a ‘close-up’ of the universe of his Buddha, Sujata, Santhal Family and of the Mill Call.
IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO BE AN ARTIST. BUT MORE SO, TO UNDERSTAND AN ARTIST
Ramkinkar looks at the camera and utters this sentence. Somewhere else he said, “See, I have never been concerned about name, fame and wealth. One cannot create under such concerns. Money certainly came at later stages but it disappeared too. I could not hold it. Whatever I would have done with it anyway? A flat high in a Calcutta sky-scraper? Would it have emancipated me? I can become well-to-do if I wish even today. I do not hanker after much. The sculptures I erected in nooks and corners of Santiniketan were all funded by the authority. I have neither taken fees, nor sold any. I trust that art is not a saleable commodity. There is also no question at all of any concern if any of my contemporary or junior artists get more publicity or popularity.” (from ‘Ramkinkar Baij: Sel-Portrait, writings & interviews 1962-1979’, Monfakira, 2006)
“Ritwik Ghatak used to visit me frequently. His elder brother, Manish, also did so. They stayed with me for long stretches. I liked their company. Ritwik was internally ablaze with a stubbornness, a pride and a lot of disturbance out of discontent. He knew a lot and could explain well. Once he arrived with a big retinue to film me. Much shooting followed. He captured the night, the moon-beams and my statues. A session of discussion between Ritiwik and I was filmed. The film was completed. Must have been completed, I mean. But it has not seen the light of the day. Why, is beyond me. I am told, his wife is trying to release it. I learn he has many such unreleased episodes to his credit. If those other ones could be freed, this one might also get unearthed. Ritwik had a regret that I have not seen any of his films. (Ibid. Translated from original Bengali by Sudipto Chakraborty)
The film was shot on 16mm. Ghatak’s own ‘treatment’ script survives. This is how he described the film’s last scene (11):
‘Ramkinkar is lying on his cot.
Water drips from the roof.
To protect himself from the leaking water he takes up one of his invaluable paintings and puts it below the roof.
He looks at the camera, smiles and says:
It is very difficult to be an artist.
But more so, to understand an artist.
The film ends.’
AND NOW –
‘Look directly into the camera’s lens.’ Even if it is a 14mm wide, the lensing philosopher can take the close-up of your face without it losing its poetry…
Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based film scholar, historian & writer.