(PAST/ ARCHIVE) Ajantrik - Ritwik Ghatak

(PAST/ ARCHIVE) Ajantrik - Ritwik Ghatak

Ajantrik  (The Pathetic Fallacy/ Unmechanical) (1958)


Synopsis: Bimal is a taxi-driver in a small provincial town. He lives alone, his taxi is his only companion and, although very battered, it is the apple of Bimal's eye. The film shows episodes from his life in the industrial wasteland, as he delivered people from one place to another. Ajantrik has been variously read as an exploration of exile and loneliness, as a study of man’s attachment to a machine and as an allegory of filmmaking itself.


The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema describes Ajantrik as:

…a new investigation into film form, expanding the refugee experience into a universalised leitmotiv of cultural dismemberment and exile, evoking an epic tradition drawing on tribal, folk and classical forms (Buddhist sculpture, Baul music, the khayal)”.


About the Director: Who is Ritwik Ghatak?

Ghatak (born, 1925: Dhaka, Bangladesh) was a legendary Bengali film director who has never achieved due recognition in the West on a level of his contemporaries such as Satyajit Ray. He was also an actor, playwright, fiction writer, journalist, translator, teacher and left-wing activist. He was a leading member of the important Marxist cultural group, the Indian People’s Theatre Association.  Ghatak was traumatised by the partition of his beloved Bengal into West Bengal and East Pakistan after Indian Independence and directed a trilogy shadowed by the experience - Meghey Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star, 1960), Kormal Gandhar (The Gandhar Sublime, 1961) and Subarnarekha (The Golden Line, 1962). With the exception of Eisenstein, Ghatak was relatively free of Western influences on his cinema. To be sure, Satyajit Ray once said: “For him Hollywood might not have existed at all.” He was suffered from life-long manic-depression with as many unfinished film projects as finished films, and he tragically died at the age of 50 in 1976 due to his chronic alcoholism.


5 interesting facts

1. Ghatak was the first to translate Bertolt Brecht and Nikolai Gogol into Bengali.

2.  Ghatak was an avid fan of Western music including Paul Robeson and Mozart.

3. Ghatak films were initially banned in Bangladesh – the land of his birth – due to the repression of the Pakistani government on Bengali culture (when Bangladesh was East Pakistan and the imposed official state language was Urdu).

4. Ghatak is the uncle of the legendary Bengali novelist and activist Mahasweta Devi.

5. Ghatak's pupils at the Film and Television Institute of India include many of the luminaries of Indian parallel cinema such as John Abraham, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani and Saeed Akhtar Mirza.


Satyajit Ray on Ritwik Ghatak:

Ray and Ghatak were mutual admirers of each other’s work. Ray regarded Ghatak as the most original Indian director and wrote the introduction to Ghatak’s collected writings on cinema as well as initiating the Ritwik Ghatak Memorial Trust. Ray said: “Ritwik was a Bengali director in heart and soul, a Bengali artist much more of a Bengali than myself. For me that is the last word about him, and that is his most valuable and distinctive characteristic.”


Ghatak continues to inspire contemporary British black and Asian artists:

“Ghatak has been a great and a valued inspiration and influence on our moving image practice. In particular his attention to the audible as well as the visual allowed us to listen to the films as well as witness the poetic eloquence of his compositions. As one of India's first modernist film makers he laid the foundations for a cinematic understanding of the emerging and fragile post colonial condition in the subcontinent and his work will continue to be treasured.” The Otolith Group (Kodwo Eshun/ Anjalika Sagar)


About the Soundtrack: Who is Ali Akbar Khan?

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (born 1922: Comilla, Bangladesh) is a master of the sarod. In 1956 he founded the Ali Akbar College of music in Kolkata. In 1960 he provided the soundtrack for Satyajit Ray’s Devi. In 1971 he featured in the monumental Ravi Shankar and George Harrison Concert for Bangladesh in. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan continues to play concerts worldwide. He recently contributed to the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2008).


Further Interest

·       Book: Stories by Ritwik Ghatak. Most of Ghatak's writings are long out-of-print although his collected short fiction is still available in an excellent English translation.

·       Book: Ritwik Ghatak: The Celluloid Rebel. A good, concise monograph.

·       Film: The Name of the River. An award-winning biopic of Ritwik Ghatak and the history of Bengal by Ghatak's former pupil Anup Singh.


All these DVDs and books are easily available through mainstream sources such as Amazon.

·       www.southasiancinema.com South Asian Cinema Foundation. See the two anthologies Partition Films and Leftist Thought and Indian Cinema for special features on Ghatak. Purchasable online.

·       www.parabaas.com Parabaas. Excellent free on-line-zine on Bengali culture, literature and arts


Bengali Cultural Events in London

·       Mrinal Sen Retrospective at Nehru Centre. TOMMOROW. 15th November. Another legendary Bengali Marxist director.  2.30pm - Quiet flows the Dawn (1979). 6.30pm  - In Search of Famine (1980).

·       The Art of Santiketan. (25th Nov – 5th Dec) A survey exhibition of Tagore’s legendary art school that produced Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen and other Bengali luminaries.

·       All events are free, no booking required. Details: www.nehrucentre.org.uk

·       Other Asias: Current 1 – Information (21st Nov – 25th Nov) A Pan-Asian group art exhibition featuring 7 Bangladeshi artists – many hosted in the UK for the first time. See: www.otherasias.com for full details.


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