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Amrit Gangar’s The Close-up Katha: Ritwik Ravivar 26

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

Supriya Devi in Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara(1960)

While talking about his 1928 silent film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928), Carl Theodor Dreyer, called its close-ups, ‘flowing close-ups’ (Gilles Deleuze quotes him in CINEMA 1: The Movement Image, p.107). Deleuze calls the film ‘affective’. Ritwik Ghatak made this ‘affective’, an ‘epical’ in his historical vision, while, like Dreyer, as Deleuze says, producing, ‘the triumph of a properly temporal or even spiritual perspective.’ Ghatak inaugurates his film ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (1960) with an extraordinary extreme close-up of a tree. In the close-up contextualized by me in this Close-up Katha 26, Ghatak fills up our mind with Neeta’s Memory; it is movingly ‘affective’ in both time and space. Sitting on a river bank, both she and Sanat, her father’s student and the man she loves, dream about their future life. Like a Great Giver, the martyring Mother, Neeta promises wavering Sanat with necessary financial support once she becomes a graduate and starts earning. Ghatak seems to be enlarging his own memories with Surama in the hills of Shillong. Through these close-ups of faces and Nature, he, as if, poeticises ‘memory’ into its meta form.

“GET UP, LIGHT OUTSIDE IS LIKE BUTTER, SHOOT’, GHATAK WOULD ASK STUDENTS, ‘ऊठो, बाहर मक्खन जैसा प्रकाश है। शूट करो।‘

Mani Kaul was fond of recalling this experience at the Film Institute of India (later Film & Television Institute of India, Pune), while studying under Ritwik Ghatak who was Vice-Principal there. The close-up today has its own ‘flow’, its own reflexive river.

Neeta and Sanat sitting on a river bank dreaming about their life together Undecided Sanat is unsure about his further research studies, he has lost hope of getting a scholarship. Neeta encourages him and promises him the financial support once she graduates and finds a job. It is the family photograph in her refugee colony room that triggers memories:

Neeta: Remember that picture in my room? The two kids? My big brother and me. We’d gone hiking in the hills that morning. We got up before dawn to see sunrise from the peak. What a sensuous climb. But when the sun came up, I just can’t explain. Shankar would tease me, “Your little girl wants to catch the moon.” He still teases me.

Samat: You don’t deserve any of these?

Neeta: Of what?

Sanat: This hardship, suffering and responsibility.

Neeta: Then make a glass case and place me inside like a wax doll. I’ll be late for tutoring, shall we?

Sanata: Neeta (he holds her hand and she sits back – a train passes by in the background)

And sometime, somewhere in the dark spaces of their refugee colony hutment, we listen to Shankar doing riyaaz, ना जगाओ राजा… (Do not wake me, my love / Or I shall curse you / Do not wake me from my sleep…My beloved). Ghatak even so evocatively make us experience ‘darkness’ in its supreme close-ups. He imbued with extraordinary grace into the soul of a cinematographic close-up.

Ritwik Ghatak: ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ was an ambitious film. I was working with a universal theme, and I was steeped in the traditions of my country. It is a strange outward manifestation of the Great Mother image. This was the fundamental thought behind ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’. I have been experimenting in my films… To me all my films are just completed exercises. I cannot have any opinion about them. (Cinema & I, Ritwik Ghatak, Dhyanbindu, Ritwik Memorial Trust, New, revised edition, November 2015)

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

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