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Subarnarekha & the ‘close-up’ kathā: Ritwik Ravivār – 8 by Amrit Gangar.

Cosmicity of Ghatak’s close-up of Subarnarekha’s Sita alluding to the myth of Siva and the river Ganga.(Madhabi Mukherjee in Subarnarekha)

In one of his essays, Kumar Shahani had so poignantly alluded this close up to the legend of the River Ganges, a celestial river; the moment she landed on the planet Earth, her force would have deluged the world but sensing this rage, Siva took her on his head and let her flow through his matted hair gently down the Himalayas. Metaphorically, Ritwik Ghatak contains a giant mythical tale in this enduring close-up of Sita (Madhabi Mukherjee) doing her hair after bath. In his most inspiring moments, Ghatak weaves such elegiac poesy within the fabric of a chronicle play becoming an epic. In his statement on ‘Subarnarekha’, he had very much clarified that he was not restricting the word ‘refugees’ to only the evacuees of Bangladesh. “I have tried to imply something else through these words. In these times all of us have lost our roots and are displaced: that’s my statement. To elevate the term ‘displaced’ from merely the geographic to the more generic sense has been my intention." Within this internationalist context, the close-ups woven on the loom of Ghatak’s consciousness exude the epical energy.

Shahani wrote, “Siva had left loose his long tresses and the waters of the Ganga had rushed out to flood the world. He had to tie them together again to contain her flow. Is this a reversal of an earlier myth or an anticipation of Leonardo da Vinci’s metaphor of water for hair? In a great access to daring, Ritwik creates his grand pause of silence in ‘Titash’ by a shot of hair and water that unites the two terms of the container and the contained. A repose of such bursting energy that it makes real the imagined creation of the universe.” (‘Kumar Shahani: the shock of desire and other essays’, edited & introduced by Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Tulika Books in association with the Raza Foundation, New Delhi, 2015)

Ghatak sounds prophetic in his words as much as in the images and sounds of his films: “I don’t understand this business of decadence. I don’t have the audacity to be an artist of the degenerate. I have no ill-intention of propagating any doctrine of despair. What I have tried to say through the film is what I have felt strongly about the imminent peril that threatens present-day Bengal, economically, politically and socially. I have tried to capture that danger which between 1948 and 1962, slowly rose to the proportions of a giant. The first sacrifice to the danger was our sensitivity. This faculty is gradually dying in us and I wanted to strike at that.” [Subarnarekha – Director’s Statement’, Ritwik Ghatak (1966), translated from the Bengali by Mitra Parikh. Sourced from Chitrabhikshan special number on Ritwik Ghatak]

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

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