If anyone asks you “Who is a Filmmaker”? You would definitely answer, “A person who makes films.” But if I ask you “Who is a magical filmmaker”? You may wonder to reply. Yes, it’s true that there are few, who didn’t only make films but created nothing less than magic on the big screen. They have excelled beyond the set conventions and marked their names, in history. Ritwik Ghatak was one such explorer of life, surroundings and everything that misses the sight of ordinary people.
His wife Surama Ghatak was just finishing her MA course when Ghatak began work on his most successful work till date, Meghe Dhaka Tara. The memories spent with her husband are still fresh in her mind like time has never moved ever since his death. As she recalls, she had first met him while he was working in IPTA.
As she recounts her bittersweet life moments with him in various interviews, we simply sit in awe of the bubbly woman, who spent some harsh years earlier. She remembers how much fond he was of his children and would often take them on an outing to the Zoo or a restaurant, despite their ever-rising monetary issues.
But first let’s get to know, the sorrowful journey from a dreamy young boy spending the golden days of his life, to an adult man, disgusted and frustrated at the socio-political situations engulfing the state then. Ritwik Ghatak went on to direct a total of eight feature films but also displayed his sheer work of brilliance as a story and scriptwriter.
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The tragic journey into something beautiful
Ritwik Ghatak’s birthplace is Dhaka, Bangladesh. Born to district magistrate Suresh Chandra Ghatak and playwright and poet, Indubala Devi, Ghatak had nine siblings and was the youngest of them all.
However, tragedy began showing its menacing glances at him from an early age when the Ghatak family had to shift to West Bengal owing to the 1943 famine and the partition of 1947. The trauma and aftereffects of Ritwik Ghatak’s struggling journey in fitting into a harsh environment of pain, hurt and indignation of being separated from his roots, found its way into his films.
Ghatak often recalled his days back in Dhaka, where he steered his life’s journey on the road to adolescence, with a sense of overflowing sentiments carrying forward the pain he received in the days later.
His movies carried beautiful scenes of the picture perfect river Padma and its lush green surroundings, that were often based on his recollections of the days spent there. Ghatak stepped into the path of creativity in the form of theatre with his first play “The Dark Lake” (Kalo Sayar) in the year 1948. He was a member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association also known as IPTA.
He began his journey with “The Citizen” (Nagarik). Some of his majestic works include the comedy “Ajantrik”, “The Cloud-Capped Star” (Meghe Dhaka Tara), “Subarnarekha” and much more. His most successful work as a scriptwriter was the commercially hit 1958 Hindi movie “Madhumati”.
When Ritwik Ghatak depicted the dark world through beautiful cinema
The 1950 Bengali movie “Chinnamul” saw the entrance of Ritwik Ghatak into the Bengali movie industry, as an assistant director and actor. The cinematic world was yet to witness one of its most exceptional servers.
Ghatak’s maiden directorial work was “The Citizen” (Nagarik). Ghatak’s empathy with the rootless, mixed with his obsession with their despair, finally found a vent in an otherwise confined space. The movie showed the journey of a distressed refugee youth, played by Satindra Bhattacharya, as he faced a lump sum share of problems while searching for a job in the city of Kolkata, but unfortunately in vain. The film is also credited with exploring themes of destitution amidst darker days, humiliation, and despair.
However, the movie did not find its way to the cinema halls during Ghatak’s days of living, ultimately finding its glorious destination 25 years later. Often considered as a breakthrough in the history of Indian Cinema, if this movie had released at the right time, it would have set examples of Ghatak’s unique skills and thinking in front of the whole world then.
Meghe Dhaka Tara is his most commercially successful directorial venture to date. His feelings of disgust at the broken society mixed with agony at the dying values of that time were perfectly captured in this movie. Ritwik Ghatak had beautifully sketched the loss of ideologies, values as well as moral sense against the ever-rising problems of destitution and deprivation.
The movie portrays the journey of the main protagonist Neeta, played by Supriya Choudhury. Faced with the burden to satisfy the needs of an otherwise parasitical family, hell-bent on utilizing her until the last moment, to meet their needs and wishes, she almost steers herself to obliteration.
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As Surama Ghatak recollects some bygone moments
Surama Ghatak in an interview many years later had beautifully described moments of those turbulent times of their life. She had recollected how once the filming of “Kato Ajanare” was shelved when Ritwik had a fallout with the producer of the movie. Ghatak kept on working on movies despite facing monetary issues.
Satyajit Ray, his usual contemporary in the Bengali movie industry at that time, had commented on Ghatak’s continued commercial failures, stating that “He had the misfortune to be largely ignored by the Bengali film public in his lifetime”. Ritwik Ghatak and his family had faced quite a lot of financial crisis, during this time, which many considers as one of the many reasons behind the deterioration of his mental health and his submission to alcohol. As she recollects now, her husband began succumbing to alcohol post the commercial failure of “Subarnarekha”.
However, he never let his family face these hard times and allowed his wife and kids, to have the pleasures of an ordinary family as much as he could. However, things took an ugly turn with time and Ghatak was diagnosed with failing mental health. He never let his hunger for crafting mesmerizing movies perish and let his failing health get the better of him.
It is quite unbelievable, the way how he finished his last two films, amidst such grave health issues. While filming “Titash Ekti Nadir Nam”, he faced an almost fatal phthisis attack and had to undergo severe treatment at a hospital. While acting and filming for “Jukti Takko Aar Gappo”, Ritwik Ghatak used to vomit blood frequently. However, he had set an example of sincerity and dedication to work, by striving to be the best, even when he was undergoing such a painful phase.
He left this world on the 6th of February of 1976, owing to several health issues, leaving behind his works for inspiration and changes to be brought to the society. He desired that the audiences and moviemakers think beyond the ordinary and his wish has somewhat got fulfilled after his death. Nowadays, we see many filmmakers, separated by religion, caste, etc. but united through his marvelous works, as they strive to think out of the box and conjure magic on screen.