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KOMAL GĀNDHĀR & the ‘Close-up’ Katha: Ritwik Ravivar – 3 by Amrit Gangar

Image: Anasuya (Supriya Devi) holding Bhrigu (Abanish Bannerjee)’s wrist in Ritwik Ghatak’s film ‘Komal Gāndhār’ (1961), a defining close-up.

In Hindustani music, ‘pakad’ is a generally accepted musical phrase thought to encapsulate the essence of a particular raga. I have been drawing upon this musical analogy for cinema studies. In ‘Komal Gāndhār’ (1961) Anasuya holding Bhrigu’s wrist in a scene, which Ghatak, emphasizes through a block lens close-up is, to my mind, the most crucial ‘moment’ not in this particular film but for his entire oeuvre. As if it is the ‘pakad’ to understand the Ritwik bhāva in its most comprehensive sense. Unlike Robert Bresson’s ‘hands’, Ghatak’s hands are not driven by a belief in ‘automatism’ (Jansenism), they are in search of their own dialectical destiny. Anasuya’s hand in this close-up has a certain feminine grit, grip, and grace! Ghatak’s sense of ‘grace’ has a different scale of the ‘rigour of austerity’, it has its epical elan.

Flung by the brutal hurricanes of history, Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘hands’ are in search of their own ‘destiny’ navigating through the vicissitudes of life, but on their own terms... Anasuya’s hand holds her ‘history’ with a firm resolution. She is history…

Komal Gāndhār, which Mani Kaul considered one of the accomplished masterpieces of world cinema, explores multiple themes juxtaposed in the narrative, including the dilemma of Anasuya, the divided leadership of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and the tragedy brought about by the Partition of Bengal / India. In the film, often referring to Kalidasa’s Sanskrit play ‘Abhijnanashakuntalam’ (generally known as ‘Shakuntala’) in its Tagore version, Anasuya decides not to go to abroad with the man she was arranged to marry but stay back with Bhrigu who she loved. They were both refugees separated from their country (East Bengal) because of the Partition. Anasuya’s hand holding Bhrigu’s wrist has a determination that Ghatak brings to our notice through this historic ‘pakad-close-up’.

Many years ago, during a discussion about Kabir Mohanty’s unique video / installation show at Mumbai’s Chatterjee & Lal art gallery, I had first used the term ‘pakad’ to comprehend the works of art / cinematography. Mani Kaul, who was present then, told me that ‘pakad’ could be a beautiful way to understand the so-called ‘durboth’ (not easily comprehensible) works of cinematography, its abstraction. The film’s title ‘Komal Gāndhār’ was taken from the line of a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, meaning the note ‘E Flat’.

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based films scholar, curator, writer.

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