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Amrit Gangar's The Close-up katha: Ritwik Ravivar 23

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

In today’s world when the monster of ‘market’ has taken over cinematography with the overriding behemoth of the so-called ‘content’, the lensing philosopher Ritwik Ghatak’s presence becomes significantly relevant. In his cinematographic narratives, he integrated ‘form’(how) through his uncommon sense of temporality and aurality. Intuitively sparkled close-ups he captured by his favourite lens – 18mm, created their own poesy in ‘Subarnarekha’ (1965). Uprooted from East Bengal and flung as refugees on the other side (caused by the brutal Partition), Ishwar, coincidentally meets his college-mate Rambilas, who has a factory in Lachhimpur. He is blessed by a ‘guru’ through whose लोलुप eye we see this close-up of a face flanked by the fingers / hands playing the sarod and the tanpura. It is the musical concert Rambilas has invited Ishwar to have the ‘darshan’ of his patron ‘guru’ who has his lusty eye fixed on the woman (who could be Rambilas’s wife!) The human degeneration has seeped deep into the ‘existential’ eruptions. Ghatak’s close-ups are the eloquent faces of this heinous ‘history. They splash up human blood. Drunken Ishwar has gone to his own sister Seeta to satiate his lust. Ghatak’s visual close-ups superimpose the sonic screams of history…


In the world of ‘cinematography’ (in Bressonian sense of the term), Ritwik Ghatak stands apart as a director who was an extraordinary, what i call, the lensing philosopher. According to him, the film director should know a lot about the use of lenses. “(…) the 50mm lens is the common constant. Lenses of 75, 100 or even more move gradually towards the short focus or the telephoto, i.e. tend to bring distant objects closer. When the depth of focus is low, the object has a buttered look. They have other uses too. The telephoto lens flattens the image and somehow lifts the background upwards to a point of distortion. You will notice this distortion when watching the newsreel of a cricket match or some other game. Several films have put this effect to dramatic use.

“It can offer you yet another kind of fun. Used at a particular angle, such a shot can give a moving object the look of what Sukumar Ray described:

The king sat upon

A pile of bricks, burning red in the sun,

with his packet of fried nuts,

Munching them, but not swallowing a thing.

In other words, you see, say, the wheels of a tramcar turning round and round on the track- obviously the tramcar is running fast along the track – but you have the impression that the tramcar is stationary, with its wheels whirling round and round. I have made several uses of this effect in my ‘Bari Thekey Paliye’” [‘Two Aspects of Cinema’, Ritwik Ghatak, ‘Rows and Ros of Fences’, Seagull Booka, Calcutta, 2000; originally published in Bengali in ‘Chalachitra’, Ashwin, 1376 B.S. (1969), translated by Samik Bandyopadhyay] The English title given to the 1959 film ‘Bari Thekey Paliye’ is ‘Running away from Home’. – AG

SUBARNAREKHA (The Golden Line, 1962), Bengali, 35mm, b&w, 15 reels, 139 minutes

Direction & Screenplay (based on a story by Radheshyam Jhunjhunwala): Ritwik Ghatak; Cinematography: Dilipranjan Mukherjee; Editing: Ramesh Joshi; Sound: Satyen Chatterjee, Shyamsundar Ghosh, Jyoti Chatterjee; Music: Ustad Bahadur Khan; Playback: Arati Mukherjee, Ranen Roy Choudhury; Art Direction: Rabi Chatterjee; Production: J.J. Films Corporation.

Premiered: 1 October 1965 at Basusree, Bina, Lotus.

[Note: The film opens with the hoisting of the Indian national flag and it has the image of ‘charkha’ in the middle. Also the Independence Day in the film is recognized differently. In the Jalianwallah Bagh (Punjab) massacre on 13 April 1919, had served to mobilize and strengthen the Indian non-cooperation movement against British rule. This is the date that is observed as Independence Day in ‘Subarnarekha’

As the film begins, we are informed: 26 January 1948. Uprooted people, seeking a place to hide their heads, were forcibly occupying land in the suburbs of Calcutta, the landlords were determined to evict them. In the fact of this, people were building colonies.

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

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