Figures of Dissent: Ritwik Ghatak


3 October 2013 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane event.
introduced by Stoffel Debuysere

“I believe in committed cinema… committed to that contemporary reality, to the daily acts of heroism in that reality. No important work can be created without this commitment, I think… Because this commitment presupposes a desire for change of that reality.”
– Ritwik Ghatak

Jukti Takko Ar Gappo (Reason, Debate and a Story)
1974, 35mm, b/w, Bengali with English subtitles, 120′

In 1947 Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (1925–1976) was one of the over 10 million refugees who left behind their homes in East Bengal, fleeing from the surge of communal violence and human devastation that erupted in the aftermath of the Bengal famine and the partition of India. The terrible specter of this tragedy would continue to haunt Ghatak’s life and work, until his body and mind finally gave up thirty years later, ravished by illness and alcohol. Thirty years of struggle, against the postcolonial establishment, against the political and intellectual corruption of the middle class, against the crumbling appearance of a divided Bengal, against a world denying its own people their dignity and humanity. A struggle he began in the realms of literature and militant theatre, before taking up the camera and making his foray into cinema, the only medium he saw capable of reaching a mass audience – a wish that, in regards to his own work, sadly never came true during his lifetime. In his quest to express his pangs and agonies about his suffering people and reawaken the suppressed powers of Bengali culture and history, he chose to experiment with one particular form: the epic melodrama. But rather than looking towards the obvious example of Hollywood for inspiration, Ghatak found his touchstones in the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein and Ray Satyajit, the theatrical traditions of Bertold Brecht and Constantin Stanislavski, and especially the poems and songs of Rabindranath Tagore, considered by many as the pinnacle of Bengali culture. One of the most accomplished and heart-rending uses of Tagore’s music can surely be found in Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, Ghatak’s final, most autobiographical and allegorical film, in which he himself played his own role: that of a tormented leftist intellectual, burdened and ultimately broken by the weight of history.

In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)”
KASK / School of Arts