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Ritwik Ghatak & Kumar Shahani: Stepping Into the Same River

Ritwik Ghatak & Kumar Shahani: Stepping Into the Same River

5 December 2010 – 23 February 2011

Contemporary Indian filmmaker Kumar Shahani is celebrated in a program that places him next to his late teacher and mentor, Ritwik Ghatak, and features four restored prints of films by Shahani from the Queensland Art Gallery collection – The Khayal Saga 1988, Kasba 1990, Immanence 1991 and The Bamboo Flute 2000.

Ritwik Ghatak, born in 1925 in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), is one of the most striking and poetic voices in twentieth century cinema. He is also one of the least recognised of that select number of truly unique filmmakers who shape every aspect of their oeuvre, as his films have been historically very difficult to see. Working across theatre, fiction and film, he takes folk, classical and epic forms and creates metaphoric works of great power. As a playwright he worked with the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) the theatre arm of the Communist Party of India. From his first film Nagarik (The Citizen) in 1953 until his early death in 1976 in Calcutta, accelerated by poverty and alcohol, he made eight feature films.

Kumar Shahani (b. 1940, Larkana, Sind (now Pakistan) studied with Ghatak at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. Ghatak considered him one of his most talented students. Shahani's first feature film Maya Darpan 1972, was recognised as India's first formalist film; he has made six feature films since that time with Khayal Gatha 1988 winning the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 1990 as well as the Prince Claus Award (1998) and  multiple Indian Filmfare Awards (1972, 1990, 1991). Apart from Shahani, Ghatak taught many other filmmakers who have since been celebrated for their unique visual and narrative styles, including Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Mrinal Sen and Mani Kaul. The hopes, debates and disappointments of postcolonial  India are reflected in the work of these directors who combine radical aesthetics and critical politics. Many of their films explore social transformation, whether deriving from the experience of displacement at the time of the partition of India, its offspring in the form of communalism, the alienation caused by rapid industrialization, or the fractures of modernization and economic polarisation.

Kumar Shahani and the Legacy of Ritwik Ghatak talk

Sat 5 Feb 3.30pm / Cinema B Talk cancelled.

Dr Laleen Jayamanne will discuss the work of Kumar Shahani in relation to the legacy of Ritwik Ghatak.

Kasba 1990 Ages 15+

Kasba 1990 Ages 15+

Sun 5 Dec 2.00pm / Cinema A

35MM, COLOUR, 115 MINS, INDIA, HINDI/URDU/PANJABI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: KUMAR SHAHANI / PRODUCERS: NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, INDIA / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: RAVI MALIK / STORY: ANTON CHEKHOV / ADAPTATION: BHISHAM SAHNI / DIALOGUE: GULZAR / SCRIPT: FARIDA MEHTA, KUMAR SHAHANI / CINEMATOGRAPHY: KK MAHAJAN / EDITOR: PARESH KAMDAR / ART DIRECTION: NITISH ROY, NITIN DESAI / SOUND: VIKRAM JOGLEKAR / MUSIC: VANRAJ BHATIA / CAST: MITA VASISHT, NAVJOT HANSRA, KK RAINA, MANOHAR SINGH, SHATRUGHAN SINHA / PRODUCTION CO: DOORDARSHAN, NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION / PRINT SOURCE: QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY COLLECTION / RIGHTS: NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

In Kasba, Shahani adapts the Chekhov short story 'In the Hollow' (1900) to an Indian context, and uses visual codes drawn from the tradition of miniature painting from Kangra. The film uses this traditional art form as a framing device to explore themes of India’s industrialisation and the emancipation of women. Protagonist Tejo is constructed as a Nayika, the iconic female figure in the tradition of Kangra miniatures (a local avatar of Radha). In Kasba, however, there is no Krishna (Nayaka — the male counterpart) to meet the Nayika’s passion; the object of her passion is displaced and she is instead enamoured of money and independence. Kasba won the Indian Filmfare Critics award for best feature film in 1991.

Titas Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas) 1973 Ages 18+

Titas Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas) 1973 Ages 18+

Sun 12 Dec 2.30pm / Cinema A

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, STEREO, 123 MINUTES, INDIA-BANGLADESH, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: RITWIK GHATAK / PRODUCER: HABIBUR RAHMAN KHAN / SCRIPT: ADVAITA MALLA BURMAN, RITWIK GHATAK / CINEMATOGRAPHER: BABY ISLAM / MUSIC: USTAD BAHADUR KHAN / EDITOR: BASHEER HUSSAIN / CAST: KABARI CHOUDHURY, ROUSHAN JAMIL, PROBIR MITRA, RITWIK GHATAK, RAHMAN KHAN / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: WORLD CINEMA FOUNDATION, RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK MEMORIAL TRUST / SCREENING FORMAT: DIGITAL BETACAM

‘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.’ Harvard Film Archive

Jukti Takko Ar Gapoo (Reason, Argument and Story) 1974 Ages 18+

Jukti Takko Ar Gapoo (Reason, Argument and Story) 1974 Ages 18+

Sat 8 Jan 3.00pm / Cinema A

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 120 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK / CINEMATOGRAPHER: BABY ISLAM / CAST: RITWIK GHATAK, TRIPTI MITRA, RITABAN GHATAK / MUSIC: USTAD BAHADUR KHAN / EDITOR: AMALESH SIKDAR / PRINT SOURCE: BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE / RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

‘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.’ Harvard Film Archive

Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) 1960 Ages 15+

Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) 1960 Ages 15+

Sun 9 Jan 10.30am / Cinema A

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 126 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: RITWIK GHATAK / SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK, SHAKTIPADA RAJGURU / CINEMATOGRAPHER: DINEN GUPTA / EDITOR: RAMESH JOSHI / PRINT SOURCE: BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE / RIGHTS: RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

'Considered Ritwik 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 centre 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. 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’  Harvard Film Archive

Komal Gandhar (A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale) 1961 Ages 15+

Komal Gandhar (A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale) 1961 Ages 15+

screening cancelled

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 134 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK / CINEMATOGRAPHER: DILIP RANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY / EDITOR: RAMESH JOSHI / PRINT SOURCE: BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE / RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

‘Said to be Ritwik Ghatak’s favourite film, the quasi-autobiographical A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale portrays the People’s Theatre Movement of the late 1940s, agonising over its jealousies and schisms as two rival groups seek to put on a joint production. This tale of two rival theatre 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. 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 Theatre and, ultimately, a divided Bengal.’ Harvard Film Archive

Bhavantarana (Immanence) 1991 Ages 15+

Bhavantarana (Immanence) 1991 Ages 15+

screening cancelled

35MM, COLOUR, 65 MINS, INDIA, ORIYA/SANSKRIT (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: KUMAR SHAHANI / PRODUCER: ROSHAN SHAHANI / SCRIPT: FAREEDA MEHTA, KUMAR SHAHANI / CINEMATOGRAPHY: ALOK UPADHYAY / EDITOR: PARESH KAMDAR / SOUND: NAMITA NAYAK / MUSIC: BHUBANESHWAR MISHRA, HARI PRASAD CHAURASIA / CAST: KELUCHARAN MOHAPATRA, SANJUKTA PANIGRIHI, RAJAT KAPOOR, RAMCHANDRA PARIHAR / PRODUCTION CO: BOMBAY CINEMATOGRAPH / PRINT SOURCE: QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY COLLECTION / RIGHTS: MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, INDIA

The odissi classical Indian dance style, originating in Orissa, dates back to the second century BC and is characterised by graceful, acrobatic poses that mirror sacred Hindu temple sculptures. Immanence explores the life of legendary odissi dancer and guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (1926–2004). Mohaptra’s innumerable dance compositions are performed across the globe; Shahani’s film is a tribute to his legacy.

Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread) 1965 Ages 15+

Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread) 1965 Ages 15+

screening cancelled

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 143 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK / BASED ON THE STORY BY RADHESHYAM JHUNJHUNWALA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: DILIP RANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY / EDITOR: RAMESH JOSHI / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

In The Golden Thread, 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, The Golden Thread ends on a note of optimism, however frail.’ Harvard Film Archive

Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) 1997 Ages 15+

Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) 1997 Ages 15+

screening cancelled

35MM, COLOUR, 110 MINS, HINDI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: KUMAR SHAHANI / PRODUCER: NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION / SCRIPT CONSULTANT: RIMLI BHATTACHARYA / CINEMATOGRAPHY: KK MAHAJAN / EDITOR: SUJATA NARULA / ART DIRECTION: NITISH ROY / SOUND: NARINDER SINGH, NAMITA NAYAK, AM PADMANABHAN / MUSIC: VANRAJ BHATIA / CAST: NANDINI GHOSAL, SUMANTO CHATTOPADYA, KAUSHIK GOPAL, SHIBHU, SRUTI YUSUFI, RAMCHANDRA PARIHAR / PRODUCTION CO-ORDINATOR: RIMLI BHATTACHARYA/ PRODUCTION COMPANY: NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: NATIONAL FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, INDIA

Adapted from a novella by Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941), Char Adhyaya captures the ideals of the Bengali Renaissance of the 1940s. A group of young intellectuals and revolutionaries, led by the brilliant young Indranath, is fighting for independence from the colonial system. Ela, the group’s emancipated muse and teacher is troubled by her romantic love for the poet Attindra who – like her – doubts the cruelty of revolutionary acts sanctioned by Indranath’s ideals. Shahani again draws on Indian visual arts, music and dance, to explore relationships between literature and politics, love and revolution, during this important period of cultural synthesis and change in modern India.

Khayal Gatha (The Khayal Saga) 1988 Ages 15+

Khayal Gatha (The Khayal Saga) 1988 Ages 15+

screening cancelled

35MM, COLOUR, 103 MINS, INDIA, HINDI/URDU (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: KUMAR SHAHANI / PRODUCERS: MAYDHYA PRADESH FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION / DIALOGUE: ASHMAKI ACHARYA, KAMA SWAROOP / CINEMATOGRAPHY: KK MAHAJAN / EDITOR:  PARESH KAMDAR / ART DIRECTION: ANOOP SINGH / SOUND: VIKRAM JOGLEKAR, AM PADMANABHAN / MUSIC RESEARCH AND CO-ORDINATION: ROSHAN SHAHANI / CAST: MANGAL DHILLON, RAJAT KAPOOR, MITA VASISHT / PRODUCTION CO: BOMBAY CINEMATOGRAPH / PRINT SOURCE: QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY COLLECTION / RIGHTS: KUMAR SHAHANI

The Khayal Saga weaves together the many legends and stories surrounding the vocal tradition of the khayal, a major element of Indian classical music. The history of the khayal is also a story of music’s relationship to classical Indian dance. Shahani’s treatment presents the khayal in all its richness through metaphors in images and sounds. The film is recognised internationally as one of the most important documents of this tradition. It won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 1990.

Ajantrik (The Unmechanical aka The Mechanical Man aka The Pathetic Fallacy) 1958 Ages 18+

Ajantrik (The Unmechanical aka The Mechanical Man aka The Pathetic Fallacy) 1958 Ages 18+

screening cancelled

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 102 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK CINEMATOGRAPHER: DINEN GUPTA / EDITOR:  RAMESH JOSHI / MUSIC: USTAD ALI AKBAR KHAN. CAST: KALI BANNERJI, GYANESH MUKHERJEE, DEEPAK, GANGAPADA BASU / RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

The Mechanical Man (also known as Pathetic Fallacy) is Ghatak's best-known film outside of India. Like Ray's Pather Panchali, with which it coincides chronologically (and thematically, in its portrayal of the disintegration of rural Bengal), it was a seminal force in the re-evaluation of the Indian cinema that was to take place in the sixties. The story of the taxi-driver Bimal, whose best friend and true love is the jalopy he has named Jagatdal--is at once an entertaining tale and a gritty parable of the psychological condition of a culture that is being torn apart. The setting is a corner of Bengal in which mining and industrial activities are juxtaposed with pockets of tribal culture; Bimal's attempts to integrate himself, in his lonely way, into both the machine age and the traditional world focus almost entirely on his beloved Jagatdal. His social life is a series of brief encounters with fares--a young woman deserted by a lover, an elderly man rushing to meet a dying loved one, a group of tribals on their way to a secluded village in whose idyllic surroundings Bimal chooses to lose himself. When the old crate finally sounds its death rattles, Bimal promises him resurrected life, and the intensity of The Mechanical Man reaches a haunting climax. As in most of Ghatak's films, a note of optimism rings through the pain; and as for Bimal's attachment to his mechanical friend, Ghatak has said, "You can call him a lunatic, a child, or a tribal...they all react to lifeless things almost passionately. This is an ancient, archetypal reaction..." Pacific Film Archive

Bari Btheke Paliye (The Runaway) 1959 Ages 18+

Bari Btheke Paliye (The Runaway) 1959 Ages 18+

screening cancelled

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 130 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: RITWIK GHATAK / SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SHIBRAM CHAKRABORTY / PRODUCER: CHITRAKALPA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: DINEN GUPTA / MUSIC: SALIL CHOWDHURY / CAST: PARAM BHATTARAK LAHIRI, PADMA DEVI, SHAILEN GHOSH / RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

‘In his lightest work, Ghatak views the big city of Calcutta through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, Kanchan, who runs away from his small village to escape the cruelty of his father. In this strange new place he is befriended in turn by a costumed street vendor who was once a teacher and now fancies himself a pied piper; a youthful magician who is really a gangster; a wealthy young girl and her kindly parents; and a downtrodden servant woman who is beaten by her employers. Even seen through his naive eyes the city has its own cruelties; only youth itself is incorruptible. When he returns to his village, Kanchan finds his father, and thus his world, changed for the better.’  Pacific Film Archive

Birah Bharyo Ghar Aangan Kone (The Bamboo Flute)  2000 Ages 15+

Birah Bharyo Ghar Aangan Kone (The Bamboo Flute) 2000 Ages 15+

Sun 20 Feb 11.00am / Cinema A

35MM, COLOUR, 84 MINS, INDIA, HINDI/TAMIL (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: KUMAR SHAHANI / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND MUSIC RESEARCH: ROSHAN SHAHANI / CINEMATOGRAPHY: KK MAHAJAN, SUBROTO MAULLICK / EDITOR: LALITHA KRISHNA / SOUND: AM PADMANABHAN / MUSICIANS: PANDIT HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA, PANDIT JAL BALAPORIA,RUPAK KULKARNI / ARCHIVAL MUSIC: ANNAPURNA DEVI, (ON SURBAHAR), T VISWANATHAN , DR N RAMANI, T.R.MAHALINGAM (FLAUTISTS) / CAST: ANANDI RAMACHANDRAN, SIDHARTH SRINIVASAN, ABID ALI, ABHA DUBEY, PANDIRAM / PRODUCTION CO: BOMBAY CINEMATOGRAPH / PRINT SOURCE: QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY COLLECTION / RIGHTS: MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, INDIA

The Bamboo Flute is Kumar Shahani’s cinematic tribute to the flute and its importance to Indian civilisation. Shahani depicts the flute — from its bamboo form (the bansuri) to the classical metal instrument (the veena) — as a primordial interpreter of natural sounds. It has been used throughout the history of the subcontinent to stimulate thought and heighten perception, and is written into Krishna’s experience of waking into an auditory world. The Bamboo Flute transforms auditory experience into a non-linear narrative, using synaesthetic images and motifs. The film’s visual sequencing is informed by the structure of classical bansuri music.

Nagarik (The Citizen) 1952 Ages 18+

Nagarik (The Citizen) 1952 Ages 18+

Wed 23 Feb 6.00pm / Cinema A

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 120 MINUTES, INDIA, BENGALI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: RITWIK GHATAK / PRODUCER: PRAMODE SENGUPTA, BHUPATI NANDI, RITWIK GHATAK / CINEMATOGRAPHER: RAMANANDA SENGUPTA / MUSIC: HARIPRASANNA DAS / CAST: AJIT BANERJEE, KALI BANERJEE, GANGAPADA BASU / RIGHTS: RITABAN GHATAK/RITWIK GHATAK MEMORIAL TRUST

‘In Nagarik, Ghatak adapts a family melodrama to the language of neorealism in treating his continual theme, the difficulty of individual integration into modern Indian society. A series of loosely connected stories set in a lower-middle-class neighborhood focuses on Ramu, an optimistic but perpetually unemployed young man who has himself, his girlfriend, and his entire family convinced that in just another month he will have a job. The months go by until, finally, time runs out. As the family prepares to move to a slum, still re-affirming their commitment to each other, the Internationale fills the sound track. Ghatak's first feature (never released in India) was made on a shoestring budget and it shows; yet its inventive, dialectical use of sound as text, and deep focus to place characters in the swim of larger events, are just two of the elements which belie this budget.’ Pacific Film Archive