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Amrit Gangar’s The Close-up Katha: Ritwik Ravivar-14

Image: Student-actor in acting students’ exercise-film ‘Fear’ (16 mins, 1964-65) directed by Ritwik Ghatak; screenshot by AG.


In the short exercise film ‘Fear’ directed for the 1964-65 batch of acting class at the Film Institute of India (later Film & Television Institute of India), Ritwik Ghatak sculpts ‘faces’ to show the ‘actors’ their facial muscular suppleness, through the poetics of the close-up, through the nuances of the optics and cinematographic vision that India’s lensing philosopher had imbibed deeply intuitively. To my mind, cinematography gets very close to the act of sculpting and the sculptors like to sculpt heads. Ghatak who had made a film on the great Indian sculptor Ramkinkar Baij knew how to sculpt a ‘close-up’ of a face and show it to its owner, the actor, who had to integrate and immerse his body and limbs with sonic-visual-temporal medium of cinematography and not theatre. Alberto Giacometti found only the ‘anxiety of volume’ in the heads he sculpted. Our own Akbar Padamsee who sculpted bronze heads said he wanted to express the invisible. In cinematographic close-ups, Ghatak was in search of the volumes, and he wanted the actor to feel them, in space, epic. He stopped them short of being narcissistic.

The short student-exercise film ‘Fear’, to my mind, is a kind of triveni-sangam, a confluence of Ghatak’s previous three feature films, viz. ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (1960), ‘Komal Gandhar’ (1961) and ‘Subarnarekha’ (1965) in a way. It evokes actors’ faces in poetic proximities (to the camera, to the lens, to the director’s intuitive vision), the inner environment enriched by the soundtrack and lighting. For him, the compositional value of the actors was equal to that of the other objects within the frame. He knew the dramatic possibilities of the human face – the eye, the ear, the gaze, the looks, the pupils, the gesture, the timbre, the tone, the movement, all intensified in a crucible. He worked with scarce resources but produced epics. He captured the elan of the analogue. In monochrome. Immortal.

Ritwik Ghatak said this though his teaching stint at the Film Institute of India (later Film & Television Institute of India) was very short. As he said in an interview, “I worked there for two years as a visiting professor. I used to go to Poone (sic) once in every two months and stayed for ten days each time. As a vice principal, I was there for three months. I feel my work as a teacher there, would far outweigh my work as a filmmaker. I have students all over India, from Kashmir to Kerala, from Madras to Assam, I have contributed at least a little in their luck, which is much more important than my own filmmaking. As I said, my work there was of far greater importance.” (‘Face to Face: Conversations with the Master 1962-1977’, Cine Central, Calcutta and Manchasha, first published January 2003)

At the FII, Poona (the anglicized name was officially changed to Pune in 1978), Ghatak had extremely difficult time for teaching. In his letter dated 11 June 1965 to Principal, he wrote, “Condition of the Direction Department is impossible. If such conditions prevail, it will be extremely difficult for me to conduct classes. If the tentative timetable drawn up by me is pursued (sic), it will be seen that I have taken up myself 36 hours of lecture work load quite apart from other duties that I have to perform. […] I personally think that this need not mean that I should be relieved of guiding other departments under me, because they are also vitally connected with the Direction coaching. In fact, I would like to think more so on the departments of Acting and Music than hitherto giving any work to the Head of the Department of Direction. I think so because I consider these two departments are vitally interconnected with the work of Direction.” – Ritwik Ghatak, Vice Principal. [‘Chitrabhikshan’ special number on Ritwik Ghatak - in Bengali with some parts in English)

‘Fear’ uses no make-up, no costume, décor strictly function. It futuristically comprehends time ‘twenty years hence – springtime in 1985’, placed near a garrison town somewhere in India, an experimental shelter built to protect people during a possible atomic attack.

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

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