Image: Screenshot by AG from the film ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (The Cloud-capped Star, 1960), Direction: Ritwik Ghatak, Sound: Mrinal Guha Thakurta and Satyen Chatterjee, Music: Jyotirindra Moitra, Playback: A.T. Kanan, Debabrata Biswas, Geeta Ghatak, Ramen Roy Choudhary, BAUL: Ramen Roy Choudhary.
To me, Ritwik Ghatak, also creates volumes of sounds, in proximities, which could both be spatial and temporal In his films, Ghatak created fascinating volumes of sound to which he was extremely sensitive. His SOUND IMAGEs keep lingering in our memory, in close-ups, despite human figures receding into a completely blurred realm. The singing-wandering Baul singer in ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ remains in our memory as a sonic image resonating on his ektara string and the little dubki, the percussion. We may or may not remember the words of his song, but this Sound Image emerges on our memory-scape in its illuminating glow that Ritwik da created so poetically. It is through our ‘ears’ that we essentially ‘see’ a work of visual art, it is ‘dhwani’ that emerges as an image, it is the little ‘damru’ that brings Siva to us, his ‘darsana’. Perhaps the ‘sound image’ is Tantric in its inner core as it is Temporal. It keeps resonating in the single-stringed ektara of the Baul singer who often visits Ghatak’s cinema, the unique sound that his ‘dubki’ produces are part of the narrative that we often miss nowadays. Foregrounded, ektara in a close-up is a part of cinematographic history.
IT IS THE INHERENT QUALITY OF SOUND TO BE TEMPORAL, SO TO USE SOUND ONLY TO DEFINE SPACE PROBABLY IS NOT SO EVOCATIVE
It is Time that moves in Space. Madhu Apsara, the veteran dhwani-master inaugurated his essay ‘Sound Image’ with this sentence: “If on hearing a sound an impression exists which eventually transpires to an emotion, then maybe we can call it a Sound Image. This can happen with a sound in isolation or when a series of sounds are produced resulting in a formation.” (Sound Image, Madhu Apsara, LENSiGHT, Quarterly Journal of Screen Arts, July-September 2021, published as a special Diamond Jubilee number by the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune)
Sound-sensitive Ritwik Ghatak thinks of Silence, which, to him, is the ‘most evocative element’ in the art of cinematography. “There is no end to the ways in which we can play with silence. Silence can be usually used before introducing a suggestive piece of sound. Silence can evoke any emotion, determine the scale of any scene, evoke a stage of absolute absence of emotion. All this is effected by he positioning f sounds before and after.” (Sound in Cinema, Ritwik Ghatak, reproduced in Cinema & I, first edition 1987, new revised edition< November 2015, Ritwik Memorial Trust, Calcutta; originally published in Bengali in ‘Parichay’, vol. 35, no. 6, January 1966, Tr. Samik Bandyopadhyay).
While exploring music in cinema, Ghatak takes an epic approach. In his essay, ‘Music in Indian Cinema and the Epic Approach’ he elucidates many aspects. Sixty years ago, in 1963, he wrote, “We, the younger generation of Indian filmmakers, have developed a tendency of fighting shy of the operatic forms of cinema.” He warns us of the monstrous ways in which Bombay filmmakers practice the ‘tradition of musical film.’ I don’t know whether Netflix generation of the Subterranean Cinema has the privilege of retaining the subtleness of what Ghatak is reflecting upon. Whether the Silence of Sound can be heard while watching a film on a mobile phone while travelling – ear phones have their own limitations intimidated by the roving ‘eye’. Who is watching ‘cinema’ – ‘eye’ or the ‘ear’ or the ‘mind’? the Baul asks as he sings his song in ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ – his Ektara in a close-up, Ritwik Ghatak’s drunken, reflexive eye-ear-mind coordinate has captured –
I wasted all my good days
Now, in bad times
I’ve come to the river’s edge
Boatman, I don’t know your name
Who shall I call out to?
Oh my heart, who will take you across?
There is a boat but no boatman
There is no one on the river bank…
(English translation of the Bengali Baul song from the film’s subtitles – AG)
With this episode of my Ritwik Robibarer Close-up Katha our boat is about to reach the river’s edge. Why there is no one on the river bank?
Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based film scholar, writer & historian.