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Revisiting the Works of Ritwik Ghatak: Exploring the Intersection of Reason, Debate, and Narrative

Updated: May 1, 2023

Ritwik Ghatak , an exceptionally gifted filmmaker of the 1900s was born on 4th November 1925 in Dhaka ,Bangladesh. Apart from being a film director, he was also an excellent screen writer and a playwright. The event of partition of 1947 had uprooted him from his homeland and forced him to the west.

He was traumatized as he used this mental state to his artistic benefits. His plays and films are often characterised with crude social reality , melodramatic expressionism coupled with a naked way of portraying oppression.

Ghatak was an active member of the undivided communist party of India.He was well aware of the political strata prevalent in Bengal and in India.He along with Bijon Bhattacharya, Utpal Dutta, Salil Chowdhury , Ravi Shankar and other notable artists formed the IPTA(Indian People’s Theatre Association).

In 1955 due to major ideological debates and individualism Ghatak was expelled from the communist party.Later his films were blocked from screening.He suffered from alcoholism inflicted by the frustrations.Even after all these, he rarely faced a creative block in his life , rather he channelised all his rage and frustrations into his writings.He spent his last days in extreme poverty and suffered from alcoholism. His sufferings finally ended on 6th February, 1976.

An image showing early and middle aged Ritwik Ghatak's potrait  side by side
Legendary Filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak


The film Reason Debate and Story was the last film directed by Ghatak where he himself played the part of Nilkantha Bagchi. The film is more of a quagmire. The more you trust your step,the more you are engulfed in it. It is more of a paradoxical film.

The name Nilkanta itself refers to the Hindu mythology. It signifies a person who has blue throat due to the amount of poison he has engulfed. In the practical world it serves as the epitome of an experienced individual.

The film starts with the still image of a thin, worn man who stares purposelessly at the audience.Next to that scene we see three structures covered in black outfit dancing in a peculiar way. Here Ghatak used the “sign of three” , a reference from the upanishad, to dig holes for the characters to fill in.

According to the upanishad, there are three primary states in which we dwell. The three states combine together to form a fourth and final state. Out of the three characters, Nachiketa is heldas an example to represent the problems of unemployment faced by the youth in west bengal. Bongobala , who has eloped from Bangladesh after the the partition is used by Ghatak to rhetorically represent the difficultiesfaced by the immigrants.

An illustration of Ritwik Ghatak, original source web.
Ritwik Ghatak Cartooned Illustration

Ghatak consciously employed the gender roles as he always considered Bangladesh as his motherland. Nilkantha Bagchi here can be inferredas the child of the partition. Three of them cumulatively picturises the present state of overall Bengal. The old man in the first scene can be inferred asthe personification of Bengal, its condition after the partition also the fourth state and final as mentioned above.

Ghatak in the next scene proved that he was never against women empowerment. He always had a progressive mind. It was evident when Durga, a well educated woman very fluent in her speech criticised and thrashed Nilkantha Bagchi for his alcoholism. Durga who happened to be Nilkantha’s wife threatened to leave him and settle on her own.

The broken intellectual had no other way but to leave his house with Nachiketa who was his loyal devotee. On his way he met new people and drank a lot of alcohol. His stay at a poor artist’s house and the shots taken in that reference were magical. The sound and camera work, the jump cuts the close shots serve as proof why Ghatak is still considered among the finest. The poor artist was a ‘chhau’ dancer. It is a primitive dance in Purulia where people wear masks and enact mythological stories.

Ghatak also portrayed the jeopardization of indie cultures. The dancer was in tears while describing how industrialization was affecting their culture and how it was on the verge of eradication. The fierce fight between the educated sanskrit teacher and the illiterate ‘chhau’ dancer was a fun thing to watch. At last Ghatak took Bongobala to his wife Durga and she agreed to provide her with a shelter. Bagchi had to leave her place after which he was captivated by a group of young Naxal. Bagchi had an ideological debate with the young revolutionary and later he was killed.

I really want everyone to watch this film at least once. The amount of joy one gets while unfolding the layers is incomparable. Ghatak in all his films has staged the socio-political scenario and the struggles of the marginalised people. All his films are revolutionary in their own way . He never followed a specific grammar .He created a genre of his own.

There are a lot more things to write about this genius. But i will stop myself here. I hope I did not obfuscate the interpretation.

I hope you guys find interest in his films after reading this review. Tell us about your views on Ghatak and if you have not watched it hurry it is on You Tube


1 Comment

May 17, 2023

Got to learn so many information about Ritwik Ghatak. Thanks for covering this. Waiting for more such informative posts.♥️

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