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Meghe Dhākā Tārā and the Close-up Kathā: Ritwik Ravivār-6 by Amrit Gangar

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

A close-up of an ominous flirt would change neeta’s fate, whiplashed Jagaddhatri (bearer of the world) would weep in जिजीविषा (eternal desire to live).

Jeejivisha is a strong eternal wish to live that the sacrificing Neeta’s heart-wrenching scream echoed the hills Neeta longed to visit for rejuvenation, the very hills now become the abode of her last cry of जिजीविषा. She has lost even Sanat, the man she had loved, who had once in a letter described her as ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (The Cloud-Capped Star). The letter is now consigned to the wailing valley. In the entire ‘chhand’ (metrical poem) of the film, this close-up becomes so crucial. With no compunction, Sanat had kept Neeta in the dark about his shifting to a private apartment (name plate: S. Mookerjee). When Neeta reaches there, Ghatak creates a sort of cinematographic oxymoron, mixing two extreme ‘rasa’, ‘Shringara’ (erotic) and Karuna (sorrow), through gestures (seen in the close-up of Geeta’s hand) and Dinen Gupta’s camera panning on the desk pen-holder with painting of a voluptuous woman. Sanat feeling so guilty and nervous. Numbed and shocked, Neeta leaves him, heart-broken, whiplashed on sound-track. Ghatak was a great choreographer of emotions…

One of the meanings of the Sanskrit word ‘dṛṣṭā’ is ‘of material vision’. Ghatak’s disciple Kumar Shahani is most perceptive in his comprehension of the film, “The feminine principle borrowed from our earlier lower level of materialist culture, also suffers the split into three principal women characters – the cruel mother, the sensual daughter and the preserving and nurturing heroine. The triangular compositions and multiple allusions to Durga on the rich soundtrack reinforce the pattern. The ‘melodrama’ is clearly identified as a form by the expressionist use of the wide-angle lens in close-ups at important points of transition or through the clearly obvious division of dramatic and visual planes. (‘Violence and Responsibility’, Kumar Shahani, 1975, first published in ‘Dossier on Kumar Shahani’, Framework, Nos.30-31, London, 1986, by Ashish Rajadhyaksha).

The respective roles of cruel mother, the sensual and sacrificing daughters were essayed by Geeta Dey, Geeta Ghatak and Supriya Choudhury; brother Shankar by Anil Chatterjee and lover Sanat by Niranjan Roy. The entire acting milieu in the ‘refugee camp’, that Ghatak choreographs, examines the tragedy clamped down by the Partition of Bengal. Ghatak grafts an emotional close-up within our consciousness, a close-up that enduringly disturbs you.

Ghatak based his film ‘Meghe Dhākā Tārā’ (1960) on Shaktipad Rajguru’s story ‘Chena Mukh’ (Familiar Face) first published in the Pooja number (1959) of the Bengali journal ‘Ulto Rath’. After the film was released the author Rajguru made some changes in his story and published it as a novel in the name borrowing from Ghatak’s film. [‘Rupantar’, Amrit Gangar, Arunodaya Prakashan, Ahmdabad, 2014, a book in Gujarati on literature-cinema relationships.] In the 126-minute-long film, this close-up occurs at about 70th minute. The ‘chhand’ of the film is intensified and enhanced by the music composed by Jyotirindra Moitra, with theme music by Bahadur Hussain Khan, Lakshmi Thyagarajan and Mahapurush Mishra and playback by A.T.Kanan, Debabrata Biswas, Geeta Ghatak (who plays Geeta in the film) and Ranen Roy. The film was released on 14 April 1960 at Sree, Prachi and Indira, in Calcutta.

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

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