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Meghe Dhākā Tārā and the Close-up Kathā: Ritwik Ravivar- 7 by Amrit Gangar

Image: Screenshot by Amrit Gangar

Via close-ups of hands and fingers, Ghatak signalled us in close proximity to histories of despair, guilt & hope.

Neeta, the Jagaddhatri, was getting increasingly emaciated by the three men (two brothers and a lover who ditched her) and two women (evil mother and a selfish sister), she was feeding and supporting through her hard-earned meagre income. The only man who was witnessing her fate was the father, who, in the dingy darkness of their refugee camp shelter saw Neeta coughing out blood. She had caught an incurable disease - TB. He had seen how his daughter Neeta was getting consigned to death against her desire to live and see his refugee family happy. Father, the old school-teacher, knows who were responsible for Neeta’s misery. In a fit of anger, he couldn’t help raising his finger and screams ‘I accuse’. Ghatak played that melancholic ‘chhand’ on the harpsichord of history that had witnessed devastating Partition. Neeta, the generous giver, fell at its altar. She once uttered in despair, “I never protested against any injustice.” She was extremely sensitive and intelligent woman. We have been losing her all the time, who shall we ‘accuse’?

The poetic close-ups composed by Ritwik Ghatak in his films are not cosmetic, they are cosmic; unmasked, they carry the burden of epical melancholia, of human sorrow, sorrows of the rivers, of the ‘chhinnamula’, the uprooted. There exists your own home on the other side you cannot reach. You can hear the strands of the lullaby that your mother had sung once on the other shore, beckoning you. Images of little children and women being thrown into the state of being ‘refugee’, images of the poor migrant workers in our so-called modern times of the 21st century, wrench us all the time. There is not only one ‘accusing’ index finger, there are millions of them, the only ones we see are those of the wily politicians’ or religious gurus’ – always lifting up their ‘index’ fingers, mouthing words we don’t want to listen to, they are treacherous, deceptive.

We need to retain our sensitivity to listen to Neeta’s cry amidst indifferent nature. Ghatak has left for us his analogue, optical epicality, the repertoire of his ‘close-ups’ would form a ‘mahākāvya’, the epos. It is the cosmic Tandava of Siva Ghatak gets into a closer focus through a wide bloc lens to make us feel it, not depriving us of the ‘lasya’, our desire to live.

“‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’, the film, leading inexorably to the death of the heroine is yet a violent assertion of the right to live. It is like her cry, as she collapses in the hills, that she had dreamt of, affirming again and again her life’ desire.” (‘Nature in the End is Grandly Indifferent’, Kumar Shahani, 1976, reproduced in ‘Arguments / Stories’, Eds. Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Amrit Gangar, Screen Unit, Mumbai, 1987)

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

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Apr 23, 2023
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