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February 22 – February 24, 2008

Politics and Melodrama: The Partition Cinema 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, which certainly rank among the most revolutionary achievements in contemporary Indian art. Involved from an early age in politics and in theater, Ghatak was a member of the Indian Communist Party and regarded Brecht and Eisenstein as his artistic heroes. Consequently, Ghatak's films wed his activism with rich cultural content, fashioning 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.

A brilliant eccentric and heavy drinker, Ghatak completed only eight features before his premature death. The HFA offers Ghatak’s last five as proof of his genius, films which include three heartbreaking melodramas built around the partitioning of Bengal to form Pakistan out of what had been northeastern India. These films – The Cloud-Capped Star, The Golden Line and E-Flat – are together sometimes referred to as Ghatak’s “partition trilogy.”

Special thanks to Regina Schlagnitweit, Austrian Filmmuseum.


Friday February 22 at 7pm

The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghey Dhaka Tara)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak.
With Supriya Chowdhury, Anil Chatterjee, Bijan Bhattacharya
India 1960, 35mm, b/w, 126 min.
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 forge a precarious existence 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 selfsacrificing 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. Gradually, the father realizes the utter 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.

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Friday February 22 at 9:30pm

Reason, Debate and a Story (Jukti Takko Ar Gappo)

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

In his last film, Ghatak confronts his own life directly, casting himself as Nilkantha, an alcoholic and frustrated intellectual; his son Ritaban plays his character's son. Against the backdrop of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, Nilkantha hits the road, setting out from Calcutta once his marriage disintegrates. As his traveling group grows in size en route, Nilkantha reflects on his happy past, worries over the state of India and muses on what the future holds.

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Saturday February 23 at 3pm

E-Flat (Komal Ghandhar)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak.
With Supriya Chowdhury, Abanish Banerjee, Geeta Dey
India 1961, 35mm, b/w, 133 min.
Bengali with English subtitles

This tale of two rival theater groups struggling to collaborate is at once a backstage drama and an allegory about the partitioning of Bengal. The dictatorial stance of the director Bhrigu led to some of his troupe splitting off to go their own way. Now young actress Anasuya tries to reunite the two groups for a production of the classic play Shakuntala. As Anasuya and Bhrigu draw closer, their personal and professional relations are complicated by the jealousy of Shanta, Bhrigu's former actress.

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Saturday February 23 at 8pm

The Golden Line (Subarnarekha)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak.
With Abhi Bhattacharya, Madhabi Mukherjee, Satindra Bhattacharya
India 1962, 35mm, b/w, 139 min.
Bengali with English subtitles

Like The Cloud-Capped Star, The Golden Line is set in a refugee
neighborhood on the outskirts of Calcutta. The film opens in the early 1950s, with young Ishwar and his little sister Seeta taking in an abandoned boy, Abhiram. Years later, Seeta and Abhiram fall in love, but the sudden reappearance of Abhiram's mother confirms Abhiram's lower-caste status. Ishwar's determination to find a high-caste husband for his sister sets the stage for tragedy.

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Sunday February 24 at 3pm

A River Called Titash (Titas Ekti Nadir Naam)

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak.
With Rosa Samad, Roushan Jamil, M.A. Khair
India 1973, 35mm, b/w, 159 min..
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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