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[Image: A screen-shot by AG]



For him(Ritwik Ghatak), it was an impulse, a pulsating punctuation, it was a lucent dew hanging on the string of Time. Ritwik Ghatak knew the temporal malleability and hence his film ‘Subarnarekha’ (1962) envelopes us within its heart-wrenching ellipses, echoing a hope in Chaireveti. For Ghatak, the close-up was not just technical or proximate opticality, it was a part of an overall Poetics (काव्यशास्त्र) of his visionary cinema, which owed nothing to Hollywood. His sense of the ‘epic’ was different from that of Bertolt Brecht and yet there was a resonance in ‘dialectical materialism’ at its core. His trauma was not just Partition but also to find a new artistic idiom to articulate his sorrow. Emergence of a ‘close-up’ either of a human face, or an object (e.g., wreckage of a WWII Dakota airplane on an abandoned airstrip we see in ‘Subarnarekha’), or the wide-open sky, had its own musicality. He had no predeterminate structural design; intuitively, close-up glowed up, as it were, on an octave.

In the films of Ritwik Ghatak, you cannot isolate a close-up from the rest of the narrative stream, e.g., the Behrupiya close-up from ‘Subarnarekha’. Little Sita is playing, singing, the Tagore song ‘Aaj dhaner khete…’ and there is a presence of a dry leaf (पर्ण) and its momentary movement. It precedes the Kali-Behrupiya ‘close-up’. To my mind, the पर्ण suggests the mythical अपर्णा, i.e., Parvati who, while observing penance, had given up consuming even a leaf and therefore came to be known as अपर्णा. I am sure in his drunken (with the chhanda / छंद, metrical poetry), Ritwikda must have all these thoughts glowing in the recesses of his subconsciousness, which the 18.5mm lens chosen by him had recorded for us on camera. At the time of posting this first instalment of Ritwik Ravivar, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of ‘Subarnarekha’ (though it was released three years later in 1965).

I think, comprehending Ghatak’s thoughts on ‘motion’ might help us understand the poetics of his close-ups. According to him, there are four categories of motion: (1) the motion of visible objects and creatures in mobility, (2) the motion of the camera itself, (3) the suspension of motion, and (4) mental motion. In other words, Ritwik Ghatak chose to use fixed lenses and not the zoom (‘Two Aspects of Cinema,’ in ‘Rows and Rows of Fences, Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema,’ Seagull, Calcutta, 2000)

Note: Ritwik Ghatak wrote (short stories) for the well-known literary Bengali journal ‘Shanibarer Chithi’ (Saturday Letter). Ref. Kalpana Biswas’ interview with Ritwik Ghatak in ‘Film Miscellany’, 1976, reprinted in ‘Cinema and I’, Ritwik Memorial Trust, 1987.

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based author, curator and historian. On behalf of Screen Unit, the film club he had headed, he had curated and organized the most comprehensive Retrospective of Ghatak films (1987), in which Ghatak’s music composer Bahadur Khan (Subarnarekha, Titas Ekti Nadir Naam) and the cinematographer Dilip Ranjan Mukherjee (Subarnarekha, Komal Ganghar) were invited to share their experiences while working with Ritwik Ghatak.

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