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Amrit Gangar's The Close-up katha: Ritwik Ravivar 25

Image: extreme close-up of Ustad Bahadur Khan in a sarod recital scene from ‘Subarnarekha’ (1965)

Béla Balázs, the writer of the book ‘The Film Theory’ also wrote a book on the Chinese Fairy Tales, one of which narrates the story of a fisherman Sia; adverse circumstances forced him to live in a narrow, dark cave. A young woman wanted to help the poor Sia. To brighten Sia’s cave, she cut a small piece of her white silver gown. Soon it began to glisten as if it were the moon itself. Its light filled up the dark cave with a silvery mist. To my mind, Ghatak’s close-ups have the ability to fill up the frames (and beyond) with feelings. The Lensing Philosopher, captured close-ups even through his favourite wide-angle 18mm lens and created a cinematographic magic. The extreme close-up of the legendary sarod exponent Ustad Bahadur Khan (Subarnarekha) here is extraordinary as it seems to defy many text-book rules. These close-ups create their own sonic environment enveloping the overall mood of the film. They would expand and illuminate the narrow dark cave of the fisherman along with the young woman’s small piece of silver gown. Connect this Close-up Katha with the previous one and a great screen will bloom in your mind’s screen.


Close-ups in Ritwik Ghatak’s films are not to boost the actor’s ego but a yearning to reach the ‘sam’ in a musical composition. A close-up, for Ghatak, perhaps, was like a ‘sam’, the first matra (beat) of a taal and its cycle. Along with ‘khali’, they evoked a sense of ‘kaal’ (Time).

Ghatak himself had a deep understanding of music – he learnt to play the sarod for sometime under Ustad Bahadur Khan, who, in fact, composed music for several of Ghatak’s films, including ‘Subarnarekha’. Ritwik Ghatak (though uncredited) made a documentary on Ustad Allauddin Khan, the legendary sarod player, a guru to several acclaimed musicians including his daughter Annapurna Devi and Pandit Ravi Shankar among others. Close-ups in Ghatak’s films possess a certain musicality. Music formed an important backbone of each of Ghatak’s films.

Inside Ritwik Ghatak, also lived Rabindranath Tagore. “That man has culled all my feelings long before my birth. He has understood what I am and put in all the words. I read him and I find that all has been said and I have nothing new to say,” Ghatak said in an interview. Tagore’s songs dot most of Ghatak’s films and so with Sahaja Paath. Remember the song Aaj dhaner khete… little Sita sings on a deserted airstrip in Subarnarekha before she encounters the bahurupee (see my Ritwik Ravivar - 1). This song has been living (in a close-up) inside every Bengali child’s mind. Ghatak amplified it.

Ghatak must have imbibed and internalized Nature in its splendorous close-up in his growing years in East Bengal – large, open rice fields, flowing prescient rivers, the clear, blue sky, the boats and boatmen’s songs, but sadly what remained with him was he piercing pathos of the Partition and that became his perennial plaintive. Ustad Bahadur Khan’s deep sensitivity deepened this plaintive on his sarod strings. Ghatak articulated that sensitivity in his close-ups, in their subtlety and extremity, as well.

Between 18th and 24th December 1987, Screen Unit (a Bombay-based film society that I had the privilege and the honour of heading), had organized a comprehensive retrospective of Ritwik Ghatak films. Ustad Bahadur Khan had graced our retrospective. “Through our friend and music critic Amarendra Nandu Dhaneshwar, we came to know that Ustad Bahadur Khan was in town. A prominent sarodist Bahadur Khan who had given music for Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Subarnarekha’ and under whom Ritwikda had learnt music was on the dais before the audience. The next day, Bahadur Khan, in his totally unassuming and affable style evoked Ritwikda’s presence. He really enlived him with his remembrance of Ritwik days. We all painfully laughed at certain funny anecdotes, so sweetly associated with Ritwik Ghatak. Memory of that evening with Bahadur Khan would keep cropping up in the minds of all those who attended it . Ritwik Ghatak’s cameraman Dilip Ranjan Mukherjee was also present during one of our sessions during this unique retrospective.” (SCREEN UNIT: Ruminations, Amrit Gangar, ‘Celebrating Poesy of Cinematography’: Alexander Dovzheno retrospective accompanying booklet edited by AG, 11-16 September 1989, Bombay)

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

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