1. This article is part of a chapter in my forthcoming dissertation on the films of Ritwik Ghatak for the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. I would like to thank the editors at Jump Cut for their invaluable comments that have enhanced this article and my work in general. I would like to particularly thank Jyotiki Virdi for her assistance and persistence.
2. To avoid reader confusion, I must note here the West Bengal Government’s passage of a constitutional amendment declaring from January 1, 2001, the beginning of the new millennium, that Calcutta was officially renamed Kolkata. A variety of reasons for the name change were given, ranging from the argument that “the new name would reflect the pronunciation of the city’s name in Bengali and would protect the state’s linguistic identity,” to the contention that the new name “suggests a compromise between acknowledging the city’s colonial past and the need to restore its threatened identity as a Bengali city.” For more on the history of the city’s name, see Krishna Dutta, Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2003), pp. 1-4. Given the historical context I am discussing, I will use “Calcutta” throughout this paper.
3. For more on IPTA, see Rustom Bharucha, Rehearsals of Revolution: The Political Theater of Bengal (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1983); Eugene Van Erven, The Playful Revolution: Theatre and Liberation in Asia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); and particularly, Sudhi Pradhan, Marxist Cultural Movement in India: Chronicles and Documents, Vols. I-III (Calcutta: Santi Pradhan, 1979-1985), and IPTA, 50th Anniversary Volume of IPTA (Calcutta: 1993). For more on this period of Ghatak’s artistic life see: Atnu Pal, ed. Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (Calcutta: Ritwik Memorial Trust 1988), specifically Ghatak’s lengthy interview in Bengali with Probir Sen, 14-48. This interview has been recently translated into English in Sandipan Bhattacharya and Sibaditya Dasgupta, eds., Ritwik Ghatak: Face to Face (Calcutta: Cinecentral, 2003). In addition to his engagement with theater in the late 1940s, Ghatak began writing short stories, which are collected inBengali in Ritwik Ghataker Golpo (Calcutta: Ritwik Memorial Trust, 1987), and translated into English by Rani Ray in a collection entitled Ritwik Ghatak: Stories (New Delhi: Srishti Publishers, 2001).
4. Bijan Bhattacharya’s Nabanna is about the millions of peasants who died during the Bengal famine of 1943-1944. The inflationary market for rice, heavily demanded by India’s army during World War II, led grain merchants and moneylenders in Calcutta to buy up peasant stocks that should have been kept in villages for food and seed. Bijan Bhattacharya was an actor, writer and founding member of IPTA, who starred in many of Ghatak’s films and was a lifelong friend. Dinabandhu Mitra’s Neeldarpan is about the plight of a Bengali landlord’s family and its tenants at the hands of the British indigo planters in the late 19th century. Both plays were social-political landmarks in both Bengali and Indian theater.
5. On The Cultural Front: A Thesis Submitted by Ritwik Ghatak to the Communist Party of India in 1954 (Calcutta: Ritwik Memorial Trust, 2000.
6. See “Crisis in Bengal IPTA,” in Sudhi Pradhan, ed., Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: Santi Pradhan, 1979), pp. 324-332. The history of the CPI is also fractious, with a split of the party in 1964 into the CPI and the CPI (Marxist), and the splintering in 1969 of the CPI(M) into the CPI(M) and CPI(Marxist-Leninist). See “The Communist Party,” in Sumanta Banerjee, India’s Simmering Revolution: The Naxalite Uprising (London: Zed Books, 1984), pp. 58-81.
7. See “Paradise Café” in Mrinal Sen, Montage: Life. Politics. Cinema. (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2002), pp. 105-109. In 1947, Chidananda Das Gupta (the noted Indian film critic) and Satyajit Ray (India’s first internationally recognized filmmaker) formed the Calcutta Film Society, which for the first time introduced many novice Bengali filmmakers, such as Ghatak and Sen, to European and Soviet films.
8. See Sen, Montage, pp. 106-108 and Ritwik Ghatak, Cinema and I (Calcutta; Ritwik Memorial Trust, 1987), p. 110 for details of Ghatak’s union activities.
9. For more details of Ghatak’s life and work in English, including a comprehensive filmography, see Rows and Rows of Fences: Ghatak on Cinema (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2000). Some of the essays and interviews included in this collection were originally in English, and some have been translated into English from Bengali. Much of the material from Cinema and I has been reprinted in Rows and Rows of Fences.
10. The Partition of India in 1947 is commonly referred to as simply “Partition". It should be noted that in addition to the 1947 Partition and the Bangladeshi War of Independence’s 1971 partition of East Pakistan and West Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan, Bengal suffered another wrenching “partition” in the twentieth century —Lord Curzon’s 1905 partition of Bengal (then a British province) into East Bengal and West Bengal. Britain reunified Bengal in 1911, but the provinces of Bihar and Orissa were created out of Bengali land and the central government’s capital was moved from Calcutta to Delhi, to be renamed New Delhi.
For more on the 1905 division of Bengal see, Sumit Sarkar, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal: 1903-1908 (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1973). For more on the 1971 division of East Pakistan and West Pakistan, see Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
11. Ghatak instructed “alternative” directors such as John Abraham, Mani Kaul, and Kumar Shahani during his brief but influential time as an instructor and Vice-Principal at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune from 1964-1965. Beginning in the early 1960s, Ghatak suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. He was hospitalized for the first time in late 1965. For the rest of his life he was in and out of mental hospitals and psychiatric treatment.
12. From 1992-1997, I resided in Calcutta for extended periods of time for language study and dissertation fieldwork. During my various stays, I saw Meghe Dhaka Tara and Subarnarekha, which are in black and white, multiple times in 35 mm. For this paper I worked from excellent, unsubtitled video copies. To assist in translating the films’ dialogue and songs, I have copies of Ghatak’s subtitling spotting sheets (pages that correlate the dialogue with the footage of the film) that are in Bengali and English. The Ritwik Memorial Trust recently reprinted the complete film script of Meghe Dhaka Tara in Bengali, which I am also utilizing. In 2002, the British Film Institute came out with a finely restored Meghe Dhaka Tara on video and DVD.
13. In Bengali, several words exist that have the connotation of “refugee”: chinnamul or “uprooted”; bastuchara or “displaced person”; sharanarthi or “refugee”; and, udvastu or “homeless person.” In the beginning of his article, “Remembered Villages: Representation of Hindu-Bengali Memories in the Aftermath of Partition,” Economic and Political Weekly (August 10, 1996), pp. 2143-2151, Dipesh Chakrabarty does an excellent job of detailing the significance of udvastu as one who has been placed outside of his ancestral, foundational home.
14. To illustrate the intense love and attachment that Bengalis had for pre-Partition Bengal, the subsequent tremendous sense of loss and nostalgia they experienced for their ancestral homes and motherland as a result of Partition, and Ghatak’s ability to tap into those emotions, I offer the following quote:
From Loken Ray’s, “Madhokhane bera” (“A Fence in Between”), in Pratidin, (September 1997). See also, Ranabir Samaddar, ed. Reflections on Partition in the East (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd, 1997) and Chakrabarty, “Remembered Villages: Representation of Hindu-Bengali Memories in the Aftermath of Partition.” It is important to emphasize here that in his films, Ghatak does not often directly address the plight of Bengali Muslims in post-Partition Bengal. The narratives and main characters of his films primarily focus on Bengali Hindus. In his “Remembered Villages,” Chakrabarty succinctly articulates this “fundamental problem in the history of modern Bengali nationality, the fact that the nationalist construction of ‘home’ was a Hindu home.” p. 2150.
15. Ghatak, Rows and Rows of Fences, p. 92.
16. From an interview with Ghatak in Chitrabikshan Annual, (1975), as reprinted and translated in Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Amrit Gangar, eds., Ghatak: Arguments and Stories (Bombay: Screen Unit, 1987), p. 92. Also found in Bhattacharya and Dasgupta, eds., Ritwik Ghatak: Face to Face , p. 67.
17. For a collection of articles on melodrama in Asian cinema, see Wimal Dissanayake, ed. Melodrama and Asian Cinema (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993); for work on melodrama in 1940s and 1950s Hindi/Bombay film, see Ravi Vasudevan, “The Melodramatic Mode and the Commercial Hindi Cinema: Notes on Film History, Narrative and Performance in the 1950s,” Screen, vol. 30, no. 3 (Summer 1989), pp. 29-50; as well as his “Addressing the Spectator of a ‘Third World’ National Cinema: The Bombay ‘Social’ Film of the 1940s and 1950s,” Screen, vol. 36, no.4 (Winter 1995), pp. 305-324. Also see Ravi Vasudevan, ed., Making Meaning in Indian Cinema (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), particularly the section entitled “The 1950s: Melodrama and the Paradigms of Cinematic Modernity,” pp. 99-142. E. Ann Kaplan, in her essay “Melodrama, Cinema and Trauma,” Screen, vol. 42, no. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 201-205, urges film scholars to examine the relationship between melodrama and “cultural” or “historical” trauma, which I explore in my dissertation on Ghatak’s work.
18. The even larger Indian cinematic context includes other regional cinemas, such as Madrasi (now called Chennai) or Tamil film of south India. Stephen Hughes and Sara Dickey have conducted work in this area. For more on Satyajit Ray, see Satyajit Ray, Our Films, Their Films (Calcutta: Orient Longman Limited, 1976), Andrew Robinson, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), and Darius Cooper, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
For more on Mrinal Sen, see John W. Hood, Chasing the Truth: The Films of Mrinal Sen (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1993), Deepankar Mukhopadhayay, The Maverick Maestro: Mrinal Sen (New Delhi: Indus, 1995), Sumita S. Chakravarty, ed., The Enemy Within: The Films of Mrinal Sen (Wiltshire, England: Flicks Books, 2000), and Mrinal Sen, Montage: Life. Politics. Cinema, 2002.
19. Vasudevan, “Shifting Codes, Dissolving Identities: The Hindi Social Film of the 1950s as Popular Culture,” in Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, pp. 99-121. One of the main critiques of popular Indian commercial cinema that Vasudevan is referring to emanates from members of the Calcutta Film Society, particularly the writings of film critic Chidananda Das Gupta.
20. Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, eds., Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 147. Rajadhyaksha’s Ritwik Ghatak: A Return to the Epic (Bombay: Screen Unit, 1982) is one of the first and few books in English to analyze Ghatak’s films.
21. In 1950s and 1960s Bengali commercial cinema, the melodramatic films of the star duo Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen also greatly added to the genre’s popularity. See Moinak Biswas’ “The Couple and Their Spaces: Harano Sur as Melodrama Now,” in Vasudevan, Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, pp. 122-142.
22. See Kapur’s “Articulating the Self into History: Ritwik Ghatak’s Jukti Takko Ar Gappo,” in her insightful and engaging collection, When Was Modernism: Essays in Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2000), pp. 181-200, and Shahani’s various articles on Ghatak collected in Rajadhyaksha and Gangar, eds., Ghatak: Arguments and Stories, 1987. Additional compelling readings of Ghatak's films include Raymond Bellour's meticulous formalist analysis of Meghe Dhaka Tara, entitled "The Film We Accompany," and Moinak Biswas' examination of several of Ghatak's films in "Her Mother's Son: Kinship and History in Ritwik Ghatak". Both of these essays are in Rouge, (2004) at http://www.rouge.com.au/index.html.
23. The Upanishads are philosophical and mystical texts of India, believed to have been composed from around 700 B.C.E. onwards. From Carl Jung, Ghatak derived the idea of the archetype. As Pravina Cooper has observed: “The individual, Ghatak felt, needed “archetypes” or collective frameworks by which his unconscious could project into the conscious.”, p. 99, in “Ritwik Ghatak between the Messianic and the Material,” Asian Cinema, vol. 10, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 1999), pp. 96-106.
24. Ghatak, Rows and Rows of Fences, p. 8.
25. In Bhattacharya and Dasgupta, eds., Ritwik Ghatak, Face to Face, pp. 76-88.
26. The Bengali folk dramatic form known as jatra (literally “going” or “journey”), combines acting, songs, music, and dance, and is characterized by a stylized delivery and exaggerated gestures and oration. Scholars believe jatra to have originated in the 16th century with the Krishna Jatra of Chaitanya and his devotees. After World War I, nationalistic and patriotic themes were incorporated into jatra. Mukanda Das (1878-1934) and his troupe, the Swadeshi Jatra Party, performed jatras about colonial exploitation, the nationalist struggle, and the oppression of the feudal and caste system. See “jatra” at http://banglapedia.com.
27. See Rajadhyaksha, Ritwik Ghatak: A Return to the Epic. For a good review of this book, see Jasodhara Bagchi, “A Statement of Bias,” Journal of Arts and Ideas, no. 3 (April-June 1983), pp. 51-62. For more on myth, archetype and ritual in Ghatak’s films see, Ira Bhaskar, “Myth and Ritual: Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara,” Journal of Arts and Ideas, no. 3 (April-June 1983), pp. 43-50. In “Genres in Indian Cinema,” Sanjeev Prakash describes Ghatak’s use of myth and metaphor as “ultrareal,” Journal of Arts and Ideas, no. 9 (Oct.-Dec. 1984), pp. 23-33.
28. Ghatak, Rows and Rows of Fences, pp. 21-22.
29. Significant to Ghatak’s use of “tradition” or the “traditional” in the context of the “modern” or “modernity” is Geeta Kapur’s contextulization of the terms in “Detours from the Contemporary” (in When Was Modernism: Essays in Contemporary Cultural Practice in India, p. 267):
30. Ghatak references Brecht throughout Rows and Rows of Fences, especially pp. 22 and 34, and Ritwik Ghatak: Face to Face, particularly pp. 13 and 105.
31. Throughout the essays and interviews in Rows and Rows of Fences, Ghatak discusses the impact of these theatrical and cinematic forms and styles on his work. Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Bunuel’s Nazarin were two of Ghatak’s favorite films.
32. See Christine Gledhill’s excellent anthology, Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: British Film Institute, 1987).
33. The worship of Ma, the Mother Goddess (in the form of Durga), is a daily practice for many Bengalis. The Durga-Puja festival is the most important Hindu religious festival in Bengal.
34. For examinations of the relationship between music and image in film (although primarily Hollywood film), see James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer, eds., Music and Cinema (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), Caryl Flinn, Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and Hollywood Film Music (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), Kathryn Kalinak, Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), and Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).
35. Caryl Flinn, Strains of Utopia, p. 133.
36. A khayal combines the classicism of dhrupada (where the lyrics are lofty and are strictly developed without flippant embellishments) and the romanticism of thumri (light songs influenced by Urdu-Persian poetry and sung in Hindi). Khayals may be in praise of gods or royal patrons; they may center on divine or human love; and they may be devotional, philosophical or seasonal. For more on khayals, see Sumati Mutatkar, Aspects of Indian Music (New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1987): 84-89.
37. For more on this trope in Bengali thought, see “The Moment of Departure: Culture and Power in the Thought of Bankimchandra,” in Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (Tokyo: Zed Books Ltd., 1986), particularly, pp. 79-81. For more on this trope in Indian film in general, see Rosie Thomas, “Sanctity and Scandal: The Mythologization of Mother India,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 11 (1989), pp. 11-30.
38. Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 10. Also see Hamid Naficy, ed., home, exile, homeland: film, media, and the politics of place (London: Routledge, 1999).
39. Naficy, An Accented Cinema, p. 10.
40. For more on Durga see Dulal Chaudhuri, Goddess Durga: The Great Mother (Calcutta: Mrimol Publishers, 1984). The identification of Nita with Durga/Jagadhatari is clear in the film. Ghatak attests to this identification in numerous essays and interviews. See specifically, Haimanti Banerjee, Ritwik Kumar Ghatak: A Monograph (Pune: National Film Archive of India, 1985), pp. 56-57. For more on Uma, see Narendra Bhattacharyya, The Indian Mother Goddess (New Delhi: Manohar, 1977), pp. 62-63.
41. Ira Bhaskar, “Myth and Ritual: Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara,” Journal of Arts and Ideas (April-June 1983), pp. 43-50.
42. Naficy, An Accented Cinema, p. 169. Earlier in this chapter, Naficy states:
43. Gangar and Rajadhyaksha, eds., Ghatak: Arguments and Stories, pp. 51-52.
44. Ghatak, Rows and Rows of Fences, p. 6.
45. These songs are called vijaya songs and express a mother’s sorrow at the departure of her daughter for the home of her husband. In vijaya songs, the goddess Durga/Uma is represented as a typical young Bengali bride. Vijaya songs are usually sung at Uma’s departure on the tenth and concluding day of Durga Puja which occurs during the month of Asvin in September/October. For more on Kali and Uma in the devotional poetry of Bengal, see Rachel McDermott’s nuanced research and translation work in her Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Also see Sumanta Banerjee, “Marginalization of Women’s Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Bengal,” in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, eds., Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1990), pp. 132-134.
46. I must point out here that “the mighty Shiva of Aryan mythology” is often depicted as “a corpulent and indolent hemp-smoker in Bengali folklore,” thus adding another layer of meaning to Nita’s banishment and symbolic return to Shiva. See, Ibid, p. 133.
47. Geeta Kapur, “Revelation and Doubt: ‘Sant Tukaram’ and ‘Devi’ ,” in Tejaswini Niranjana, P. Sudhir, and Vivek Dhareshwar, eds., Interrogating Modernity: Culture and Colonialism in India (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1993), p. 42-43. Also found in When Was Modernism.
48. For more on Rabindra Sangeet, see Jayasri Banerjee, ed., The Music of Bengal: Essays in Contemporary Perspective (Bombay: Indian Musicological Society, 1988), pp. 81-92; also, Sumati Mutatkar, ed., Aspects of Indian Music: A Collection of Essays (New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1987), pp. 127-131; and, Sukumar Ray, Music of Eastern India (Calcutta, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay Publishers, 1973), pp. 161-188.
49. Krishna Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati Publishers, 1980).
50. For more on the major themes of Tagore’s songs, see Banerjee, ed., The Music of Bengal, pp. 81-92; Mutatkar, ed., Aspects of Indian Music, p. 129; Ray, Music of Eastern India, pp. 168-175.
51. From a 1976 interview with Ghatak entitled, “I Am Only Recording the Great Changes,” reprinted and translated in Sibaditya Dasgupta and Sandipan Bhattacharya, eds., Ritwik Ghatak: Face to Face, p. 110.
52. Rajadhyaksha, A Return to the Epic, p. 75.
53. For a short but informative piece on the “Bengal Renaissance,” see Sumit Sarkar’s “Calcutta and the ‘Bengal Renaissance’,” in Sukanta Chaudhuri, ed. Calcutta: The Living City, Volume I: The Past (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 95-105.
55. For more on Radha, see Edward C. Dimock, Jr., The Place of the Hidden Moon (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966).
56. In her dense and provocative piece, “Moving Devi,” Gayatri Spivak recounts the various deaths of Sati, in Cultural Critique, vol. 47 (Winter 2001), pp. 120-163. The Puranas are epic, mythological and devotional texts sacred to Hinduism and are believed to have originated during the first millennium C.E.
57.An Accented Cinema, p. 188.
58. For a relevant interview with Nino Rota, see Lilianna Betti, Fellini (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1979), pp. 154-164.
59. Ghatak, Rows and Rows of Fences, p. 76.
60. Gangar and Rajadhyaksha, eds., Ghatak: Arguments and Stories, p. 62.
61.Naficy, home, exile, homeland, p. 4.
62. The piece is in a collection of Bengali essays on film by Ghatak, entitled, Chalachitra, Manush, Ebong Aro Kichu [“Cinema, Man, and Something More”], (Calcutta: Sandhan Samabayhi Prakashani, 1975), pp. 3-10.