Director: Ritwik Ghatak; Writer: Ritwik Ghatak, Radheshyam Jhunjhunwala; Producer: Radheshyam Jhunjhunwala; Cinematographer: Dilip Ranjan Mukhopadhyay; Editor: Ramesh Joshi; Cast: Abhi Bhattacharya, Bijon Bhattacharya, Madhabi Mukherjee, Geeta De, Sriman Tarun, Satindra Bhattacharya, Abanish Bannerjee, Jahar Roy
Duration: 02:01:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 99.261; Saturation: 0.017; Lightness: 0.337; Volume: 0.198; Cuts per Minute: 10.577; Words per Minute: 47.460
Summary: One of Ghatak’s most impressive and complex films, released in 1965, tells of Ishwar Chakraborty (A. Bhattacharya) and his young sister Seeta who start out in a refugee camp after Partition. After a brief scene ironically evoking the vagaries of nationalism, the two rescue the boy Abhiram (Tarun) when his mother Kausalya (De) is abducted. A businessman appoints Ishwar to run a foundry and he takes the two children to the new abode. Abhiram is sent to school and returns years later (S. Bhattacharya) intent on becoming a writer and marrying Seeta
(M. Mukherjee). As Abhiram is an Untouchable, Ishwar finds his job prospects threatened and he asks the boy to leave, arranging for Seeta to marry someone else. She elopes with Abhiram and they, with their baby son, live in a shack in Calcutta until Abhiram dies in an accident and Seeta is forced to turn to prostitution. The lonely old Ishwar contemplates suicide and with his old friend Harprasad (B. Bhattacharya) he goes on a drinking binge in Calcutta, culminating in a visit to a brothel. He is ushered into his own sister’s room. Ishwar is devastated and Seeta kills herself, watched by her son. At the end of the film, an aged Ishwar is leading Seeta’s child to the promised ‘new house’ by the river which forms the visual leitmotiv throughout the film. Ghatak endowed virtually every sequence with a wealth of historical overtones through an iconography of violation, destruction, industrialism and the disasters of famine and Partition. Most of the dialogue and the visuals are a patchwork of literary and cinematic quotations enhanced by Ghatak’s characteristic redemptive use of music. This strategy ensconces the characters and their behaviour deep into the fabric of history itself, constantly referring their actions to forces playing on a broader canvas than the space-time occupied by an individual. A famous example is the sequence set on an abandoned airstrip with the wreck of a WW2 aeroplane where the children playfully reconstruct its violence until the girl comes up against the frightening image of the goddess Kali (who turns out to be a rather pathetic travelling performer). Later, in dappled light, the older Seeta sings a dawn raga on the airstrip. In a classic dissolve, the old Ishwar throws a newspaper showing Yuri Gagarin’s space exploration into the foundry where it bursts into flames which then dissolve into the rainwater outside Seeta’s hovel. Harprasad, who had earlier rescued Ishwar from committing suicide by quoting from Tagore’s Shishu Tirtha, later in the night club parodies an episode from the Upanishads using an East Bengal dialect. Other quotes from this extraordinary sequence including Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) and, through the music, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Kumar Shahani pointed out that when brother and sister confront each other in the brothel, Ghatak’s sudden and brutal recourse to the highly conventionalised codes of melodrama abruptly stresses the usually hidden theme of incestuous aggression in the commercial Indian cinema while also commenting on the brutalisation of India’s revered classical heritage (cf. Shahani, 1986).
Motto of the company that produced the film is 'Satyam Sivam Sundaram' ('Truth Peace Beauty'). Ironically enough, these same terms would be put to severe scrutiny in the course of the film.
Khaled Chowdhury (1919-2014) , a paricipant of the 'Indian People's Theatre Movement' (IPTA), the poineering figure in the arena of stage-decor, designed the film's title cards and posters. From his reminiscences we learn that he deliberately used the vertical scroll peculiar to Bengal's folk-art and based the shape of Bengali letters in the title-cards on those associated with hand-written parchments (See: Khaled Chowdhury, 'Ananya Ritwik', Chitrabhas
, Kolkata: North Calcutta Film Society, 2004, p. 123).
Name of the studio is Renaissance - again ironic
Sloka - to check
13 April (and not on January 26 as indicated in the card) 1919 was when Jallianwala Bagh massacre happened. On the orders of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the army fired on the crowd for ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to run out. The figures released by the British government were 370 dead and 1200 wounded. Other sources place the number dead at well over 1000. It may be mentioned here that Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) - who has a material presence in the film - renounced his Knighthood. In the letter of protest dated May 30, 1919 and addressed to the then-Viceroy, Tagore wrote, "I ... wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings".
However, vis a vis the date of 26th January in the card, it may be mentioned that Republic Day only came into force in 1950 on the same date. The date was chosen because it was this day in 1930 when the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress. In 1948, when the film begins, 26th January has deep political significance but cannot be as yet read as Republic Day.
Check this text
'Vande Mātaram' - literally - 'I praise thee, Mother' - is a poem from Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's 1882 novel Anandamath
. It was peculiarly written in a mixed language comprising Bangla words and Sanskrit phrases. 'Vande Mataram' is a hymn to the motherland. It played a vital role in the Indian independence movement. The first person to put a tune to the first verse of the poem was Rabindranath Tagore, who also sang it at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. On October 30, 1937, Rabindranath released a statement to the Anandabazar Patrika, in which he said, having grown up in a Brahmo environment, he had no liking for the entire song. Then again in a letter written on December 28, 1937, to one of the most prominent post-Tagore poets, Buddhadev Bose (1908-1972), Rabindranath said, 'Why should any Muslim or Christian or even a Brahmo be forced to pay obeisance to Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi in the name of patriotism?". Although accepting the slogan value of the phrase 'Vande Mataram', he condemned in no uncertain terms the fanaticism expressed in certain elite Hindu quarters in the late 1930s regarding its appropriateness as a national song. In fact, the debate between Hindu and Muslim Bengalis may be read as a symptom of the approaching Partition (Letter to Buddhadev Bose, 12 & Notes, Chithipattro, Kolkata: Vishwabharati, 1995, pg 134-136, 373 and 379). Incidentally, Bose in his letter to Rabindranath had wryly observed that the Indian labouring class never pronounces the word Vande Mataram, and it will be the working class that would some day create a new music and a new slogan.
'Jallianwala Bagh Day' at a refugee colony named in the film as 'Nabajiban Colony', presumably near Jadavpur, Kolkata. The fact that the refugees are observing Jallianwala Bagh Day and not, say, Independence Day, is itself telling: a memory connection is being forged between the innocents butchered in Punjab and the destitute refugees of Bengal
This scene gives a rough idea of the state of pedagogy in schools. Of all subjects, only four are mentioned here. It seems in the new school that is being established in the refugee colony, English, History, Sanskrit and Bangla are the most prominent. Incidentally, in pre-Independence Bengali children's literature, almost invariably the teacher who enthused the students about the nation's past and miserable present was the teacher of history.
Rabindranath Tagore's 'Jana Gana Mana' was adopted as the national anthem only on January 24, 1950. So what exactly is meant by 'Bharat mantra' or 'Bharat Chant' here is not quite clear. This omission of detail seems deliberate and significant.
First introduction of the film's leitmotif: 'notun bari' or the 'new home'.
The sequence at the opening of the refugee camp.
The actress here is Geeta De (cf. Meghe Dhaka Tara
and Komal Gandhar
The 'Bagdi': in the Brahminical order is one of the lowest of the low castes, bereft of social prestige and power. The 'Bagdi' is included in the scheduled caste list.
The people displaced from East Bengal came from various districts but due to Partition were compelled to live side by side in refugee colonies. The initial attempt, as this scene underlines, was to maintain the distinctions between people hailing from, say, Dhaka and Pabna. This abrupt confluence also means that the different dialects of Bengal were being used simultaneously at the same place. This synchronic layout would eventually create a melting pot to configure a language that would be commonly recognized as the neo-Bangal
dialect later popularized by a number of Bengali films.
This is a critical scene. The second invocation of the 'Bharat Mantra' coincides with the abduction of the mother. For Abhiram, this loss leads him to finding another parent. This scene is emblematic of a forced fluidity that redefines existing kinship relations during a moment of crisis such as this one - the biggest human displacement in recorded history that occurred during the Partition of Bengal. Thus, 'Bharat Mantra' at this point indexes not the India of the past but an India in-the-making,
For Ishwar, this brief humanitarian gesture would have major consequences to his own future. In fact, fluidity
would function as one of the tropes of the film.
The original name of he refugee settlement was 'Taal-Pukurer Danga', or 'land of palm pond'. This was fallow land not utilized by the landlord. The refugees have forcefully taken over this land and given it a positive-sounding name, Nabajiban or "New Life".
This scene is crucial precisely because the two protagonists, Ishwar and Haraprasad, are seen alone together for the first time. Ishwar's posture has a statuesque quality about it while in the case of Haraprasad it is of nervous energy.
The journalist is the actor Shyamal Ghosal (cf. Satyajit Ray's Charulata).
The cynical newspaper man at the desk mutters to himself a sentence which would become the core utterance of the film. The sentence is, 'Udbastu! Ke noy udbastu?' - or 'Refugee! Who isn't a refugee?'
The principal meaning of the word "Udbastu" is 'the land adjoining the house'. By a metonymic switch it gets to be signified the 'homeless' (ref. Haricharan Bandyopadhyay, Bangio Sabdakosh (Vol 1, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2011, p. 408).
The first news item that the optimistic young journalist gets to read is that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's assassination. The man who had declared that Partition would only take place over his dead body was killed only a few months after the momentous event. Gandhi's last words were "Hey Ram".
Note that the name of the adopted boy is Abhiram, or Ram in short, and that of Ishwar's sister, Sita. the oblique reference to the Ramayana
will become more pronounced as the film proceeds.
Six years between 1942-48:
1942: Quit India Movement
1943: the great Bengal manmade famine in which at least three million people died - a famine necessitated by the needs of the British army engaged in the Second World War; Tebhaga Movement spearheaded by the Communist Party of India
1945: Hiroshima, the first nuclear explosion: end of the 1939-45 Second World War
1946: the communal violence (the Great Calcutta Killing; Noakhali and in other parts of Bengal
1947: Partition of Bengal (and Punjab)
1948: Assassination of Gandhi
The sarod player is Ustad Bahadur Khan, the music director of the film. The raag is Charukeshi.
Pensive mid-shot of Ishwar recalls the earlier iconic presence established in the film's beginning. This is further corroborated by the fact that his Marwari industrialist college batchmate will recall that because of his serious look he was often compared to Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), one of the chief architects of Bengal's modernity.
Among his many other achievements -- such as, legitimizing widow re-marriage, fighting against child-marriage and polygamy, endowing a new dignity to Bengali prose -- Vidyasagar is credited with the honour of having written the most influential primer in Bengali, namely, Barnaparichary
(1855). This text chronicles the tales of good boys and bad boys whose paradigmatic representatives are Gopal and Rakhal respectively. (After a few initial editions) the characters of Barnaparichary
shed their surnames - i.e., caste becomes inconsequential in the configuring of a new moral economy. The text promises that any boy leading a disciplined life, devoting himself to studies, was bound to prosper in the future. In other words, Barnaparichary
highlights the social mobility that could be actualized by imbibing modern education. However, the text itself is split from within. In a round about manner it also discloses that every Gopal has a Rakhal inscribed from within, functioning as the former's 'dangerous supplement'. The film's own Ishwar/Gopal seems to be heading towards the embarrassing exposure of his repressed Rakhalhood (cf. Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Gopal-Rakhal Dvandasamas: Upanibeshbad O Bangla Sishusahitya
, Kolkata: Karivar, 2013).
Ghatsila is a town in Jharkhand. At the time of the film's making it was in Bihar. The town is located on the bank of the river Subarnarekha (literally, 'the golden line'). Ghatshila, for a long time, had a thick Bengali population. One of the most celebrated novelists of Bengal, Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay (1895-1950)-- on whose novel of the same name Satyajit Ray made the film Pather Panchali
(1955) -- had a house in Ghatshila and it was there that he died.
The honest middle-class Bengali, although destitute, refuses to falsify papers to suit the interests of his Marwari businessman-friend. Interestingly, the world-wise Marwari fully appreciates the Gopal-aspect of Ishwar's character. Indeed, the rich man here is testing the honesty of his to-be employee - and to his utter satisfaction, the latter passes the test with flying colours.
'Dehatari chhaira dilam' is a folk song aligned to the Sufi-Marphati tradition. In the film it is sung by Ranen Ray Choudhury. Another famous rendition of the song is by Hemanga Biswas (1912-1987).
This episode marks a second stage in the development of the relationship between Ishwar and Haraprasad. Ishwar wants to build a home of his own; by the same token, he hopes to relinquishe the burden of being an uprooted person. In contrast, Haraprasad insists that it is the task of a human being to think beyond immediate self-interest. Therefore in his eyes Ishwar is a deserter, a man who has compromised the interest of the upcoming refugee colony. However, even though Ishwar says his sole responsibility is to his sister, Sita, he - in a moment of heat - agrees to take Abhiram with him to Chhatimpur, near Ghatshila. This decision will have many consequences.
Yet, while talking about their to-be new home to Sita, Ishwar forgets to mention Abhiram. After being reminded of him by Sita, Ishwar says he too may come along. So far, Abhiram functions as a kind of afterthought in Ishwar's mind. That this afterthought has an element of fatality about it is obviously not clear to him at this point.
Rambilas, the proprietor of the iron foundry, pays a meagerly salary of Rs 150 to his friend. Yet, he does not desist from spending money for building a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the prime disciple of Ram and Sita of the Ramayana
. The spiritual nexus between a moneyed Marwari and Hanuman in some sense foreshadows the later right-wing neo-Hindu movements of the 1990s.
Quite in keeping with his rationalistic temperament, Ishwar rebukes Mr. Mukherjee, his assistant, for using the language of fairy tales. In Ishwar's estimate, fairy tales are tantamount to falsehood, and damaging as far as the healthy growth of a child's mind is concerned. This attitude was deeply ingrained in the 19th C. and early 20th C. bhadralok psyche. Seriousness of approach, adherence to scientific reasoning etc, were deemed essential by all over-serious guardians. It is interesting to note that Michael Madhusudhan Dutt (1824-1873) - the author of Meghnadvad Kavya
, which was modeled on the Western epic - wrote, in his early youth, an English essay in 1842 in which he derided the practice of telling unbelievable stories to children. The essay, written on the theme of the importance of educating Hindu females, earned him a golden medal from the authorities of the Hindu College. He said therein, "Many people have been unable to give up the belief in the existence of Ghosts, notwithstanding the strong remonstrances of Reason, and the evidence of Science, because the impressions left on the mind by the ideal tales heard or recited in the nursery could not be effaced!" (Michael Madhusudhan Dutt, "An Essay", Madhusudhan Rachanabali
, Kolkata: Sahitya Samsad, 2009, p. 595).
The song 'Aaj dhaaner khete raudra-chayaye lukochuri khela' is a Rabindra-Sangeet. Its tune has the touch of the Baul
melody and it is set to the kaharba
taal or time-cycle. Although there is no strict musical form called the Baul
as such, Rabindranath derived his inspiration for his Baul
-songs from subaltern sources. Rabindranath composed the song in 1908. Originally part of the play Sarodatsab
(1908), it was retained in its revised version Rinsodh
(1921). The song also featured in Rabindranath's Gitanjali
(1910). Of the 103 poems that made up Rabindranath's English Gitanjali
(1912), 53 were drawn from the Bengali Gitanjali
. However, 'Aaj dhaaner khete' was not one of them.
Usually a song by Rabindranath has four sections: asthai
, and abhog
. This complicated melodic structure is further complicated by a sudden departure from the asthai
in the third section sanchari
. Both in terms of melody and words, the song takes a new turn at the sanchari
. In "Aaj dhaner khete", the first line of the two-line enticing sanchari
is 'Ore, jaabo na aaj ghare re bhai, jaabo na aaj ghare' ('Oh brother, I shan't go home today, I shan't').
Thesis4 THE ARCHIVE IS NOT A SITE OF REDEMPTION
Sometimes a shadowy existence may be desirable. Life as it is lived in the shadows is life lived behind history's back, immune to its claims, with little interest in its rewards or compensations.
First appearance of the bombed Second World War airstrip. It would come three times in the film. Here the overt evocations of both the children in the paddy fields of Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali
(1955) and the child in the graveyard at the end of Ghatak's Ajantrik
(1958) come to mind. In the "Aaj dhaner khete' song that Sita is learning (in the previous sequence), the line 'Ore, jaabo na aaj ghare re bhai, jaabo na aaj ghare' ('Oh brother, I shan't go home today, I shan't'), referring to going out into the world, proves to come true for Abhiram rather than for Sita. It is as though the boy's bodily movements, signalling flight, also presage his own freedom which the girl can only sing about. Clubbing together these sequences also suggests the innate asymmertry between men and women in enlightened Bengal's Scheme of Things.
After Abhiram's departure, Sita is all alone on the deserted aerodrome and she is rehearsing the song she has just been learning. Interestingly, we get to hear from her the fourth section of the song, i.e., the abhog
, the first section, i.e., asthai
, but she is blocked by the bahurupee (a man dressed as the goddess Kali) before she can approach the fourth section, the sanchari
, i.e. In other words, she does not sing the words expressive of total freedom, 'Ore, jaabo na aaj ghare re bhai, jaabo na aaj ghare' ('Oh brother, I shan't go home today, I shan't').
This indeed is a coincidence. The old man, the manager of the foundry, who pacifies Sita, happens to also be the person who has almost stopped talking after his own daughter fled from her home. The repeat motif of the 'I shan't go home' now assumes ironic proportions. Sita's own assertion of her freedom is blocked by the Bahurupee; and then, as if to underline the inherent irony, the manager presents the narrative-structure of the Ramayana
as being bracketed by two episodes related to Sita, her issuing forth from the earth and her return to it.
Axis jump, lingering on empty frames, CUs, wide shots.
Death of a bagdibou