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Komal Gandhar & the‘close-up’ kathā: Ritwik Ravivār – 10 by Amrit Gangar.

Image: Towards the end of ‘Komal Gandhar’, Ritwik Ghatak ignites the flame of hope through a child, Anasuya returns to her lover Bhrigu, a close-up creates its own poetic punctuation; screenshot by AG.

Close-ups of Anasuya and the evocation of images from Sandro Botticelli and unity: Ritwik’s rigour and vision.

Contextualizing Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi better known as Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – 17 May 1510) is a rigorous vision that one of the world’s greatest lensing philosophers, Ritwik Ghatak could achieve in his exploration of the close-ups, particularly in his film ‘Komal Gandhar’ (1961). What Ghatak says about it is of extreme significance for our present Sunday close-ups serial study. He said, “At places in my ‘Komal Gandhar’, in a few close-ups of Anasuya, I try to evoke images from Botticelli. When we decide to change a particular set-up, we are often directed by considerations of the sequence of shots envisaged. For example, as a young woman goes through a tempestuous experience, we may begin with a very big close-up from a low set-up, but may rush in a flash to an extreme top long shot. Any worthwhile film will have such instances throughout.” (‘Two Aspects of Cinema,’ Ritwik Ghatak, translated by Samik Bandyopadhyay from the original Bengali, ‘Rows and Rows of Fences’, Seagull, Calcutta, 2000)

Like a great teacher, Ritwik Ghatak explains, the use of lenses. “One should know a lot about this. There are constraints of space. But what needs to be mentioned here is that the 50mm lens is the common constant. Lenses of 75, 100 or even more move gradually towards the short focus or the telephoto, i.e. tend to bring distant objects closer. When the depth of focus is low, the object has a battered look. They have other uses too. The telephoto lens flattens the image and somehow lifts the background upwards to a point of distortion. You will notice this distortion when watching the newsreel of a cricket match or some other game. Several films have put this effect to dramatic use.” (Ibid)

To my mind, Botticelli evokes yet another association with Ghatak, and that is through ‘mythology’ and ‘religion’. Also through a resonance of ‘unity’. In his work, Botticelli elaborated a philosophy which united art, thought and poetry. Many critics felt it was the source of the real difficulty in interpreting some of his works, including ‘The Allegory of Spring’. Ghatak’s allegorical unities through the sonic environments and lensing philosophy perhaps evoked the Botticelliesque mother figure, e.g. the goddess Flora. (‘Botticelli: Allegory of Spring’, Ed. Federico Zeri)

In addition to the mythological subjects for which he is best known today, Botticelli painted a wide range of religious subjects (including dozens of renditions of the Madonna and Child, many in the round tondo shape) and also some portraits. Towards the end of his painting practice, he moved in a direction opposite to that of his contemporaries Lenoardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, who ‘considered art to be a means of investigation and knowledge of nature and history.’ (Ibid)

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

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