This long, insightful and passionate discussion with Prabir Sen is one of Ritwik's final interviews. I recently came across it in Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (edited by Atanu Pal, Banishilpa, 1988) -- a collection of Bangla essays and interviews. I have not seen an English version of this interview either in print or online, but it is quite possible that I have missed it especially because I have not read Rows and Rows of Fences yet. If anyone has come across this discussion in English and/or has copyrights concerns, please send me an email. It is almost impossible to translate Ritwik's pathos, passion and sense of humor, and I definitely do not have the necessary skills. To make matters worse, often during the interview, he poignantly switches to a bangal (Bangladeshi) dialect and that is impossible to convey in English. Also I have not changed the sentences and fragments within quotes as they were in English in the original interview. With all the disclaimers in place, here we go.
Section 1: His own films
Why do you make films?
Why films? Because I am totally crazy. I can not live without making films. Must not we do something? So I make these films. No other reason really.
When you prepare to make a film and choose subjects, what do you look for and look at?
People. I look at the struggle and misery of contemporary life. And try to say that “to the best of my ability”. My only concern is men and women of my country. I have nothing else. It does not matter whether my countrymen accept me or reject me. My only subject is my men and women. What else have I got?
What should be the primary objective of making films?
The primary objective of making films is to do good to mankind. If you do not do good to humanity, no art is a true work of art. Rabindranath said that art must be faithful to truth first and to beauty secondarily (dipanjan: reference to satyam and sundaram). This truth comes out of an artist’s own perceptions and meditations. Since truth is never everlasting and constant and as this world is always subjective and changing, everyone must arrive at their personal truth with their entire life’s deepest thoughts and understandings. One should accept that truth only after fully realizing it. Art is not a trivial thing.
What is more important to you in filming a story or novel? Literary value or the process of transformation to a different art form?
I do not see any distinction between the two. It’s all about different expressions of human life. Which medium I choose is not significant at all. Love of mankind is the only thing of any importance. The daily grind, mindless drudge work – is this life? If you must love, you must give it your all; love with all your heart. I don’t know if I have been able to do that.
Is there a deep-seated connection between Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha and Komol Gandhar? If there is, could you elaborate please?
Of course there is an innate connection. "Meghe Dhaka Tara was completely my… in my subconscious affair. Komol Gandhar was a very conscious affair." My marriage to this woman is very closely tied to it. "And Subarnarekha is a very serious work". I had to work really hard on it, yes psychologically … "a work behind it". Not just physical hard labor, I had to slog very hard mentally to make it work. I don’t know if I was successful, but miyan, the fact of the matter is I slogged.
But the connection?
There is only one connection between these three. And that is the unification of two Bengals. I wanted to unite two Bengals. I love them both miyan… that’s what I am saying and that’s all I am going to say unto the last, until I die. I do not care (about anything)… I do not care about money. "I can fight that out. Ritwik Ghatak can do that out here and in Dhaka". Whoever wants to kick my butt, let them do it. I could not care less.
In most of your films, we can perceive the pain and suffering arising out of the division of Bengal. Has partition been particularly important in determining our current state?
Absolutely. And I have always been extremely against it. Even in my last film (dipanjan:Jukti, Takko Aar Gappo) I think I have attacked it. I am not part of any discussions about political unification. Because I don’t understand it and I don’t need any of it. But cultural unification (I am passionate about) – I have worked in both Bengals. And no one has done it more than me. No one here knows more about Bangladesh than me. The way I have stayed and worked there and what I have seen (dipanjan:reference to shooting Titas Ekti Nadir Naam in Bangladesh) among those bangali boys and girls – especially girls – in Bangladesh, no one else here can match that or has seen that. I will probably go there again after a few days (dipanjan: he never did) . But that’s not the point. The point is – and I have said it in my films – what provoked the strife between two Bengals "is a great betrayal". There is only one Bengal. If we try, we can reunite now on the basis of love and compassion that is always there. "And that has been partitioned completely in a rascal way". This is something very artificial and no one has the right to forgive it. Now historically twenty-five or twenty-seven years have passed. It has already been done , so you can’t help it blah blah. But the point is, culturally Bengalis can not be divided. One culture.
I remember you mentioning once that, in the last shot of Subarnarekha, when Binu’s uncle(mama) was talking to Binu about a new world, he was lying. In that context, you mentioned that we could not suggest new solutions as we were finished. If you really believe that, do you make films only for your own joy? But when we watch your films, we feel otherwise.
Right, right, both are correct. The truth is I am delighted after watching my films. Decoupled with enjoyment, there can be no art. But at the same time you can not forget about doing good to men. How are you going to do any work without love for human beings? You have to love like crazy if you want to create. Yes, that’s the other side of it. There is no contradiction between the two. Why shouldn't I love you while creating art? I don’t see an inherent contradiction.
In the context of Indian film history, all of your films stand out as exceptions. But even among them, Jukti, Takko Aar Gappo stands apart. What do you think?
I don’t have an opinion. This is totally up to others. I wanted to make films and I did it. Now you decide if those are of any value. How do I know? Never question (dipanjan:in the last paragraph of his review of Ajantrik, Rosenbaum touches on artistic intentionality) an artist about his work because “he is always biased”. There is no point in asking him. Like it or hate it, the reactions are your own. Some people will get pissed, some will be delighted. Why should that concern me?
But you have changed form in this film…
Every work of art is distinct. The form comes out of its theme, philosophy and reflections. I picked the form I felt right for its themes. So there is no point in asking about change in forms. Content dictated it.
Was it inevitable for you to portray the role of the protagonist?
Yes, I think so. Because I don’t think I saw anyone in Calcutta who could express the thoughts and words I was trying to communicate through that character. I know pretty much everyone… I mean those who act. None of them could do it. Similarly except Monidi (dipanjan:Tripti Mitra), no one could do the role of the wife. There are lots of actresses, but it’s the truth. Those two are the only serious roles – Monidi’s and mine – and if you are not an old (dipanjan:purono=old/ex?) communist, and if you have not come out of that struggle, it’s not possible for you to do those roles. You can force other actors to act, but that will be fake. I thought of Madhabi, but she could not grasp what I was trying to say. A single expression of Monidi, on the other hand, would always do the trick. It’s because we joined the communist party together and both of us left it around the same time, too. And both of us knew the unfortunate paths we had taken to reach this sad state in Bengal. So, no, I don’t think anyone else could have done it.
My Lenin. We did not get a chance to watch it, isn’t there a way?
That…there are a lot of problems. It’s about…all right…Morarji Desai. My Lenin was cleared by the censor board here and then I took it to Delhi. It was before Congress was divided. So I showed the film and the Polish cultural attaché went berserk. He understands Bangla very well. He was crazy about it and immediately started making plans of sending it to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. Then I found out that Morarji Desai had sent a letter and Indira told me "Ritwik, this film is banned!" and I said "What nonsense! You must do something! Ridiculous!" Then Haksar sahib who is like a father figure to me – he used to love me immensely – and was the chief secretary then, took it to Morarji. Then this girl – what’s the name, oh yes, Nandini, now she is in Orissa – called me and said "Ritwik, what can I do? You go ahead and do whatever you want." Haksar sahib also came out of his room and started saying "Isi me koi garbar nehi hai, what’s wrong with it?" Then it started to sell in Russia and some other socialist countries wanted to buy it. With that money, I could have bought food for my family for a long period of time. But eventually Morarji did ban it. Anyways, Haksar and Nandini managed to give me about thirty thousand rupees and also a bad name. But at least I would be able to buy some drinks now which will piss my wife off. That’s all. "This is part of life, can’t be helped". I blew some of the money and then I came back, miyan, "fly back to Calcutta". To give a few bucks to my wife and to tell her - now for one month at least, don’t disturb me. "These are occupational hazards".
(To be continued ...)