Image: A close-up of Neeta’s mother (Geeta Dey) from Ritwik Ghatak’s film ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’, screenshot by AG
In a profound tribute to his guru Ritwik Ghatak, Kumar Shahani, presents before us the film ‘Meghe Dhatak Tara’ and its ‘feminine principle’ and the way Ritwik Ghatak creates a trishula-structure, which, to my mind, often articulates through close-ups of human faces. He writes so poetically, “The middle-class seen at the unsteady apex of the inverted triangle, brought about by the three-way division central to the structure of ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’. The feminine principle, borrowed from our earlier lower level of materialist culture, also suffers the split into three principal women characters – the cruel mother, the sensual daughter, and the preserving and nurturing heroine. The triangular compositions and multiple allusions to Durga on the rich soundtrack reinforce the pattern.” (Violence and Responsibility) A singing minstrel, Baul, has entered the refugee colony house of the nurturing heroine’s family. The cruel mother wants to drive the ‘bhikshu’ away. This is one of the three facets of the feminine principle brought to us recurringly in the film, in such a profound cinematographic proximity by the great lensing philosopher of the world – Ritwik Ghatak.
TO THOSE CRITICS WHO ARE INDIFFERENT TO THIS METHOD OF STRUCTURING, RITWIKDA’s WORK MAY APPEAR MELODRAMTIC
This is what Shahani wrote in his paper presented at Ritwik Ghatak Retrospective, New Delhi in 1975. (Reproduced from the book ‘Kumar Shahani: the shock of desire and other essays’, edited & introduced by Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Tulika Books in association with Raza Foundation, New Delhi, 2015)
Wrote 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.
“For the last seven or eight hundred years, a very typically Bengali phenomenon had emerged. Influenced by the holy laws, the ‘Smritis’, Bengali society had enthusiastically adopted the tradition of ‘Gauri Daan’ or child marriage. The eight-year-old child would leave her familiar playground and go away to an unknown village, an unknown home, where the frowning faces around her would frighten her, and she would hanker for her own home.
“It is this pain expresses itself in our folklore. It is for this reason that the tears flow when our Goddess Durga comes and goes away again – Durga, our daughter. It is that which makes autumn so sad for us.
“It is a strange outward manifestation of the Great Mothher image\. This was the fundamental thought behind ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’.” (Ritwik Ghatak: Cinema & I, Dhyanbindu, Ritwik Memorial Trust, Calcutta, new & revised edition, 2015)
Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-capped Star), 35mm, B&W, 13 reels, 126 minutes
Premiere: 14 April 1960 at Shrree, Prachi, Indira in Calcutta.
Direction & Screenplay (based on a story by Shaktipada Rajguru): Ritwik Ghatak. Cinematography: Dinen Gupta, Editing: Ramesh Joshi, Sound: Mrinal Guha Thakurta and Satyen Chatterjee, Music: Jyotirindra Maitra, Theme Music: Bahadur Hussain Khan, Lakshmi Thyagarajan, Mahapurush Mishra, Playback: A.T. Kanan, Debabrata Biswas, Geeta Ghatak, Ranen Roy Choudhury, Art Direction: Rabi Chatterjee, Production: Chitrakalpa.
Cast: Supriya Choudhury (Neeta), Anil Chatterjee (Shankar, her brother), Bijan Bhattacharya (Taran, her father), Geeta Dey (her mother), Geeta Ghatak (Geeta, her sister), Dwaju Bhawal (Mantu, her brother), Niranjan Roy (Sanat), Jnanesh Mukherjee (Banshi Dutta), Ranen Roy Choudhury (Baul), Narayan Dhar (Goswamiji) and others.
Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based film scholar, writer and historian.