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Directors in Focus
High Passion: The Films of Ritwik Ghatak

Since his death at age fifty in 1976, Ritwik Ghatak has come to be regarded as one of the greatest figures in postwar Indian cinema for his brilliant and abrasive films, among the most revolutionary achievements in contemporary Indian art. The product of an early involvement in politics and people’s theater, Ghatak, as a filmmaker, was bent on wedding his political activism with cultural content as he fashioned popular forms—melodrama, songs, dances—into appropriate vehicles for radical political expression. His films are almost all veiled autobiography. Ghatak came of age during the convulsions of the 1940s—World War II, the terrible "man-made famine" of 1944, the communal violence that came with independence, and especially the partition of Bengal, which obsessed him all his life. His subjects are almost invariably chosen from among the uprooted and the dispossessed: parentless children, homeless families, disoriented refugees, and the petit bourgeoisie, economically broken by their exile. Yet, as in the fatal vision of Robert Bresson, there is a glimmer of hope in even the darkest moments. Despite widespread critical acclaim, not one of Ritwik Ghatak’s films is available for distribution in the United States, either on film or video. We invite you to take advantage of this rare opportunity to discover the works of this neglected master.


April 13 (Friday) 7 pm (Introduced by Mani Kaul and Parag Amladi)
screens on April 18 (Wednesday) 9 pm

E-Flat (Komal Gandhar)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1961, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Supriya Choudhury, Abanish Banerjee, Anil Chatterjee
Bengali with English subtitles

Said to be Ghatak’s favorite film, the quasi-autobiographical E-Flat portrays the People’s Theater Movement of the late 1940s, agonizing over its jealousies and schisms as two rival groups seek to put on a joint production. The title comes from a Tagore poem in which a girl is compared with a particular melody and the melody, in turn, with Bengal. The script has an equally elaborate structure in which the divided mind of the film’s heroine, Anasuya, mirrors the divided leadership of the People’s Theater and, ultimately, a divided Bengal.

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April 13 (Friday) 9:30 pm (Introduced by Mani Kaul and Parag Amladi)

Reason, Argument and Story (Jukti Takko Ar Gapoo)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1974, 35mm, b/w, 120 min.
With Ritwik Ghatak, Tripti Mitra, Saonli Mitra
Bengali with English subtitles

Ritwik Ghatak’s final film (made two years before his untimely death) features Ghatak himself in the role of Nilkantha Bagchi, an alcoholic intellectual nearing the end of his life who journeys forth through Bengal, deep into the fabric of his past life, loves, and friendships. With Nilkantha travel a Bengali refugee, a once-respected writer who is now a literary hack, an unemployed trade unionist, and a penniless teacher of Sanskrit. The encounters and adventures that transpire during the pilgrims’ painful progress express the director’s disillusionment with organized politics and the loss of his bedrock faith in even the everyday politics of experience.

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April 14 (Saturday) 7 pm (Introduced by Parag Amladi)

The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1960, 35mm, b/w, 120 min.
With Supriya Choudhury, Anil Chatterjee, Bijon Bhattacharya
Bengali with English subtitles

Considered Ghatak’s masterpiece, this powerful and innovative melodrama revolves around a refugee family from East Bengal, victims of the Partition, who struggle for survival on the outskirts of Calcutta. Ghatak captures the complex play of creative and destructive forces at work in the attempt of each family member to survive. At the center of this domestic tragedy is the self-sacrificing Neeta, the family’s eldest daughter and provider for all, who struggles away at her job in the city. Closer to home, an elder brother practices to become a singer, while a younger one turns to factory work. The father realizes the worthlessness of his liberal education in a modern world that has no place for Yeats or Milton and no regard for the ideals of nineteenth-century Bengali liberalism.


April 14 (Saturday) 9:30 pm (Introduced by Parag Amladi)

Subarekha

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1965, 35mm, b/w, 125 min.
With Abhi Bhattacharya, Madhavi Mukherjee, Satindra Bhattacharya
Bengali with English subtitles

In Subarnarekha, Ritwik Ghatak takes the stuff of melodrama and turns it into a piercing political cry. Set in Calcutta after the partition of Bengal, the film focuses on two Bengali refugees, Ishwar and his younger sister Seeta, who are reduced to living in dire poverty on the banks of the river Subarnarekha. Amidst a floating population of refugees building temporary homes, they are joined by many other uprooted Bengalis, including an abandoned boy they attempt to educate and an idealistic school teacher and his family. Ghatak’s characters are emblematic of the trail of human debris left by colonialism in an increasingly industrialized, post-independence society. Still, as with all Ghatak’s films, Subarnarekha ends on a note of optimism, however frail.

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April 17 (Tuesday) 9 pm

A River Called Titash (Titash Ekti Nadir Naam)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1972, 35mm, b/w, 123 min.
With Rosy Ahmed, Sufia Rustam, Kabari Choudhury
Bengali with English subtitles

Based on a celebrated Bengali novel, this film is a spare and beautiful portrait of the life and ultimate dissolution of a fishing community on the banks of the river Titash in East Bengal during the 1930s. Interspersed within its lyrical recording of the rhythms and rituals of the community is the tale of a couple separated by a kidnapping. The wife escapes her captors and finds shelter with the fisherfolk while her husband goes mad with grief. For Ghatak, whose childhood and early youth were spent in East Bengal, the film confirms the inevitability of change and the terrible cyclical power of loss and resurrection.

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