Mr. Nair writes about the special relationship he shared with the legendary director Ritwik Ghatak:
A Personal Note
By P.K. Nair
Ritwik Ghatak, is one, whom I had the highest regard as a filmmaker and film teacher. I would fondly refer to him as “the erratic genius of Indian Cinema” and place him in the company of such world masters as Alexander Dovzhenko, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Paradjanov. In fact, he mentioned to me once, these were the filmmakers who really inspired him. Groomed under the strong left wing ideology of the theatrical group IPTA (Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association) in the early forties, he believed in the pristine glory of “The Indian Melodramatic tradition” and when he switched to filmmaking in the mid fifties, he continued with its fine tuning and later lifted it up from it’s routine mundane usage to epic dimensions of cinematic excellence. His films are so rich in its cultural references , that its essential to familiarize oneself with the Indian myths, folklore and traditional concepts to unravel their significance. As a film teacher, Ghatak dispenses with the theory that Cinema is primarily a visual medium and Sound has only a secondary role. Though he accepts the need for realizing harmony in the audio visual experience, he would let the Sound to dominate the visuals at times, as a personal choice. His audio track is an integral part of the narrative and so rich in its content that no student of Cinema can afford to miss it. Who can ever forget the whiplash sounds in “ Meghe Dhaka Tara”?
Uprooted from his traditional East Bengal moorings in Dhaka, driven to the Calcutta metropolis for a livelihood, Ghatak was a victim of partition like several of his fellow artists. The impact of partition was so traumatic and intense, one gets the feeling he could never get it out of his system. No wonder “uprootedness” keeps on emerging again and again as a recurring motif in almost all his films.
Unfortunately, Ghatak did not get the recognition he really deserved during his lifetime unlike his illustrious contemporary, Ray. This had a negative impact on his phyche that led to his constant frustration and final disillusionment. He was perhaps the most misunderstood, misinterpreted and “unrecognized” Artist of his time. Out of all foreign critics only George Sadoul wrote about him after seeing “Ajantrik” at the Venice Film Festival in 1957. Of course now Ghatak has become the uncrowned “icon” for all film students in the country and film festivals abroad.
History has been a mute witness to Artists struggling to make their creations and not getting public acceptance, during their time, fading away in oblivion, unsung and unheard of. Realization of the importance of their contribution to humanity, dawns on us much later. Ritwik Ghatak was no exception. The generation that followed owe their respect to him as we happen to be the lucky beneficiaries.
MEGHE DHAKA TARA / The Cloud-capped Star
This is Ghatak’s most endearing and successful film from the public acceptance point. The tragic story of a young woman, who takes upon herself the heavy burden of running the household and looking after the welfare of her family members, at the risk of her personal happiness, love and career, ending up a hapless victim of her own large hearted magnanimity, presented by Ghatak in a highly emotion charged narrative, with mythical overtones and passionately critiquing the way we treat our daughters.
Neeta, the elder daughter of a lower middle class family, uprooted from East Bengal because of partition, living in a refugee settlement colony in suburban Calcutta, assumes the responsibility of taking care of her family – elder brother, Shankar, training himself diligently to be a singer, younger brother, a budding sports enthusiast, wanting to be a football player, the youthful younger sister who takes life easy, the warm hearted retired schoolmaster father, fond of quoting from world literature and the pitiable mother with a bitter tongue. Neeta manages to take care of the urgent needs of all members of her family, including that of her lover, Sanat, in pursuing his doctoral research in Physics, with the income she earns from her tuition classes.
When her aged father meets with an accident in a railway track, she is forced to discontinue her studies, and take up a routine secretarial job to keep the household running. She dismisses her lover Sanat’s criticism of brother Shankar wasting his time and latching on to her by assuring him of her firm conviction that he will be a great singer one day, and “ so do you, in your field”. As for their marriage, she asks him to wait till her commitments to the family are over. But his impatience draws him closer to the youthful charms of the younger sister, Geetha and he decides to marry her, letting down Neeta in the lurch. Though the schoolmaster father vehemently argues that the marriage should be “in continuation” to that of the elder daughter, he is forced to give his consent out of sheer helplessness. Shankar leaves the household in protest, and goes off to Bombay in search of his fortunes. Neeta’s worries keep mounting as her sportsman brother lands up in an accident in the factory he was working in and had to be hospitalized. She goes to Sanat for financial help as in between he had taken up a lucrative job. His pregnant wife accuses him of reviving old friendships.
Too much running around with all the strain and stress of the burden on her shoulders, lands up Neeta to a breaking point when she is diagnosed with TB. Not wanting to embarrass the family, she voluntarily shifts to an outhouse, keeping aloof from the family and continue with her daily life…Its only when the singer brother Shankar returns to the household after achieving fame in Bombay that the secret is revealed to the utter dismay of the family members. He immediately arranges to shift her to a sanatorium in Shillong. Later Shankar visits her in the sanatorium and we see her letting an old love letter written by Sanat, slip through her hands in which he has described her as a “Cloud-capped Star”. As Shankar narrates the happy developments back home, Neeta bursts out wailing “Brother, I want to live. I want to Live…”. As she keeps on repeating her words, the wailing sounds reverberate around the whole Nature as the camera swings around a 360 Degree pan. The film ends with Shankar at the wayside grocery shop as the amiable grocer, recollecting Neeta’s familiar walking in front of his shop, laments: “Does she deserve all the suffering that was her lot?” As Shankar looks away, we see another young woman from the refugee colony, stumbling and bending down to discover she has torn her slipper. She walks on dragging her feet.
Neeta’s birthday coincides with Jagaddhatri Pooja, day (Durga Pooja). Jagaddhatri is the all pervading, all caring “Mother Goddess”. This may be one of the inner compulsions that provoked Neeta to assume the role of The Mother Goddess to her middle class family and thereby achieve a certain immortality through spiritual liberation. The underlying factor to all forms of “Spiritual upliftment” stems out of a long process of experiencing “Pain and suffering” as an inevitable route.
Neeta always wanted to go to the hills – the abode of Shiva (God of Energy)
She wanted her lover to be a Scientist, elder brother a Singer and Artist. And another brother a Sportsman. The desire of achieving excellence in the fields of Science, Arts and Sport, is a holistic approach to a healthy civilization and nationhood.
The filmmaker’s anguish is expressed eloquently in the whiplash sequences. In his critiquing, he does not spare either Neeta, Sanat or the family elders.
From the ‘Particular’ to the ‘Universal’. It’s not the story of one Neeta but that of many Neetas. Before the film ends, the next edition of the character is introduced. The cycle continues…
- P.K. Nair
15th December 2012
Original post via Celluloid Man