The Cloud Capped Star

Probably no other auteur in the history of cinema has garnered such a tremendous influence by churning out only eight movies and one script in his entire career span, which Ritwik Ghatak did. Having led a life which had witnessed the wrath of partition, in a state of penury supplemented by the habit of binge drinking; Ghatak remains a controversial, yet a pivotal figure in the history of the New-Wave of Indian cinema. Speaking about the ‘New-Wave’ or ‘Alternate cinema’, one cannot afford to give a miss to the famous trio of Satyajit-Ritwik-Mrinal, who pioneered the movement. Ray, without even a shade of doubt has been the most prolific and colossal figure and received immense accolades both in India and throughout the World. Mrinal Sen’s artistic description of social reality and constant experimentation with parallel cinema made him an award winner in almost all the major film festivals; Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in almost all the major cities of the World. Ray, who has directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts earned numerous awards, which comprised of 32 National Film Awards, a number of awards at International Film festivals and other ceremonies, a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1992. The Government of India honored him with the Bharat Ratna in 1992, which is the highest civilian award granted by the Republic of India in any field of human endeavor.

I often wondered what made people to place Ghatak in the same row of these stalwarts. A man, who did not receive an Oscar, whose films with the lone exception of Meghe Dhaka Tara, failed miserably at the box-office, who was never a Jury in a prestigious film festival, is so much talked about till date. He was a cutthroat speaker, a perceived iconoclast of nihilism, had a profound alcoholic addiction, a conformist to communist ideologies. Did these attributes added feathers to his colorful public image, so much so that he became a topic of discussion, an issue of debate especially among the Bengali intelligentsia. Why has he always been a subject of comparison with his much-revered contemporaries, in particular with Ray?

I have once read in a novel (can’t remember its name), life is a marathon race where each one of us is running with a flamed torch. It is not possible for us to reach the finish line. What we can do at the utmost is to ensure that the BURNING TORCH gets passed on to someone with fresh vigor and unexhausted vitality before we stop permanently. The true success does not lie in the wealth we accumulate, the laurels we procure. It is our capability to inspire generations in future that really counts.

Treading by this line of thought, let us take a glimpse of some of the accomplishments of the Maestro that can serve as BEACON LIGHTS for the ages to come and have already served many.

  1. His first movie Nagarik (The Citizen) was completed in 1952 was released 24 years later, even after the demise of Ghatak. Nagarik was the first instance of an art film in Bengali Cinema. Renowned critics like Derek Malcolm, Safder Hasmi, Someswar Bhowmick and many others regarded it as the maiden attempt to explore the inner-essence of realistic situations in Indian cinema. Satyajit Ray himself opined that had Nagarik been released before Panther Panchali (Song of the Road), it would have been the initiation point or emergence of Indian Alternate Cinema.
  2. Ajantrik (The Unmechanical), a comedy-drama film with science fiction themes, was one of the earliest Indian films to portray a relationship between a cab-driver Bimal and an inanimate object, his old modeled car, Jagaddal. The movie was considered for a special entry in the Venice Film Festival in 1959. Based on a short story by Subodh Ghosh, the movie deals with the themes of artificial civilization and fallacy of the changes rendering the society mechanized thereby yielding to internal inconsistencies within its multifarious strata. Georges Sadoul, the noted film critic remarked, “What does ‘Ajantrik’ mean? I don’t know and I believe no one in the Venice Film Festival knew. I can’t tell the whole story of the film… There was no subtitle for the film. But I saw the film spellbound till the very end”. The protagonist Bimal (played by Kali Banerjee) was clearly an influence for the cynical cab driver Narasingh (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) in Satyajit Ray’s Abhijan (1962), which in turn aided to create the character of Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese’s epic movie Taxi Driver (1976).
  3. Legendary French Director Francois Truffaut’s most successful film in his home country, The 400 Blows, depicting the tale of a runaway kid was clearly inspired from Ghatak’s masterpiece Bari Theke Paliye (The Runaway). The film, based on a short story by Shibram Chakroborty,depicted literary tools of metaphor, abstract symbolism with great elan. Ritwik handled issues of a child’s visualization of Utopia and his ultimate realization, which resulted in a compromise to perfection. The film served as a reference point, which culminated, to the NEW-WAVE in cinematic history, The French-Wave.                                

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