Friday, May 18, 2007

An interview with Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (1975): Part 2

(Continuing from Part 1)

Section 1: His own films

Have you started thinking about your next film?

Yes, I have thought a little bit about the subject. About a year and a half ago – or maybe a year, I am not sure, I was in the hospital then – I read in a newspaper that there was a girl named Bishnupriya in a village near Nabadwip. A bunch of wagon-breakers who have recently become neo-Congress – pipe guns etc. – started to chase the girl. Her only fault was that she was the daughter of a poor Brahmin and had no way of leaving the village. And she was beautiful. So the hoodlums – "supposed to be neo-Congress" – started to tease her. Ultimately they chased her into a corner near her house. Then the girl said “ok, let me get inside the house and put on a nice sari” and tried to run away through the back door, but the goons grabbed her, took her to the jungle "and they enjoyed her" – all five of them, in succession. Meanwhile a reporter from the newspaper Satyajug who is also from that village reached there. On hearing him coming, they poured kerosene on the girl’s body and finally killed her by setting her on fire. I will make a film on this story. I have instructed Lokesh Ghatak to write a script. This is a fact and has been published in newspapers – Satyajug did a big story on this.

Will there be a connection to Bishnupriya, the historical character?

Yes, naturally. Sri Chaitanya’s first wife was Lakshmipriya who died from a snake bite. Then he married her younger sister and only after that he became Sri Chaitanya Deb. And as you know, he did not have any parallel – there was no one anywhere near his stature in fifteenth-century Bengal. His second wife’s name was Bishnupriya. "And as luck would have it", another Bishnupriya from the same village gets murdered. No matter which village you go to, you can hear the folk song – "Sachi Mata go, aami juge juge hoi janomo dukhini". You will hear this in any village in Bengal. There will be a lot of cross references. I have given just a brief sketch to Lokesh, but he does not have all the details yet. You see, Naba Nyay had just been born in Bengal and Nabadwip was full of brilliant intellectuals. Not one, but in hundreds. All of them were highly educated and brilliant scholars. They used to sit by the river and then the debates and discussions would start to flow. Nimai Sannyasi was one of them. Smarta Raghu Mani was the last and the greatest smarto pandit – he had the last work on Smriti. I will inter-cut all of these – today’s life and that life – and put them side by side. We will have to write it well. Nyay, Naba Nyay – a huge contribution, only from Bengal. And it will touch on whatever is going on in contemporary India. That’s it. No point in talking more about it.

Have you ever thought of making films out of stories written by Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay and Manik Bandopadhyay?

I really want to film Chihna(dipanjan: a short story by Manik Bandopadhyay). Only if I can raise some money, because you know you need these businessmen. No one remembers Chihna any more, no one. I also want to do Putul Nacher Itikatha. I badly wanted to do Bibhuti babu’s Aranyak as well when it was being published in the periodical Prabasi, but someone else has already done it. And his Jatrabadal. Have you read it? It is a terrific story. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do it because these businessmen are the intermediaries and they always create problems. They will never get it.


I had finished a script on Rabi babu’s Chaturanga and then I started talking to producers. I got lucky and someone agreed to finance it as well – "one of the highest gentlemen in the film line". Bishnu Dey, the poet, settled everything for me because that man was a student of Bishnu Dey -- Hemen Ganguly. But ultimately I could not do it. I really really like Chaturanga. Almost all of Rabibabu’s novels are pretty horrible – I mean very affected, right? – but in Chaturanga, he really cracked it. Incredible. There are only four real Bangla novels and it is one of them. Chaturanga’s Jyatthamashai, Sribilas, Damini – unbelievable. So I started writing and the script was ready and then all of a sudden Hemenbabu dropped dead. What can we do?

What are the other three?

You mean in Bangla? Manikbabu’s Putul Nacher Itikatha, Rabibabu’s Chaturanga, Bankim Chandra’s Rajsingha – these are the true great novels -- real deal.

The fourth one?

Oh, Tarashankarda’s – another dead fellow – Ganadebata. That’s it. There is no other novel in Bangla literature. Everything else is crap – publishers still sell those and it all seems to be fine, but crap really. Stuff that women read after sending off their husbands to work or to the market. Just before their afternoon siestas, they take a pillow and those novels and then start to drowse off. That’s what we write nowadays and that’s what they are good for (laughing). Aranyak did not quite reach the level of those four. Too much forth. Great writing no doubt, but has an overflow of emotion. Those four are precise. Just perfect. From a writer’s perspective, there is nothing above them.

Do you want to talk a little about your filmmaking experiences – events that you cherished or hated?

There are tons of events and incidents like that. There is no point in talking about all that though. If you are working, those problems will always be there. What can I say about it? People who were with me and around me, they will talk about it. The final word is – to summarize – somehow I have survived. I survived (shouting).

Section 2: Inspirations

In the art of filmmaking, who have influenced or inspired you? And how those inspirations or influences have worked their way into your art?

It’s not just me, anyone in the world who is a serious artist, who has done any serious work in Bengal or elsewhere, anyone whose name you have heard -- each and every one of them is inspired by one individual and his name is Sergei Eisentein. We wouldn’t know “f” of filmmaking if Eisenstein were not there before us. He is our father. Godfather. When we were young, his writings, theses, and his films made us go nuts. And those were not easily available back then. We had to hide them and import them very carefully. This man Eisenstein -- and you can ask Satyajit Ray, too, and "he will admit that he is the father of us". From him, we learned how to cut – editing is the key to filmmaking. Then there is Pudovkin. He was here in 1949 and I was fortunate enough to meet him. Party instructed me to follow him, spend time with him and learn from him. Pudovkin told me something that is the basis of all of my education. He said: “films are not made, filmmaking does not make any sense – a film is built”. Brick by brick, exactly like building a house. That’s how you build films, by cutting one shot after another. It is built, not made. These two individuals and then there is Carl Dreyer. I watched his films in Pune long time ago. The Passion of Joan of Arc. I totally lost myself after watching that film. And there is another person who I must admit to be one of my gurus. Luis Buñuel. They are my true gurus. Oh, and Mizoguchi. After watching Ugetsu Monogatari, I was “staggered”, I mean I went completely crazy. That’s what a real film is! Everything I know about films, I have learned from these people.

Will you talk about a few of the greatest films that you have watched?

The greatest film – you want me to name it? Battleship Potemkin. There has not been a film which can top that. None. The Odessa Steps scene – no one will ever be able to shoot anything greater than that. Film is all about editing. Cutting, editing. The scissors are the films – when to throw away, after exactly how many frames. The whole film depends on that. No one has created anything greater than Battleship Potemkin.

Section 3: Challenges in Filmmaking and Film Criticism

In your experience, what has been the most difficult aspect of filmmaking and why?

In my experience, there is only one difficult aspect of filmmaking. Only one and nothing else. And that is financing. Raising money and managing it are the biggest challenges. After that, my workers, my technicians and my artists will give their lives to do one great work of art. But getting the money and managing it is the only hurdle. Nothing else.

Why is it so hard?

Our social structure, what else. If I must talk about it, I will have to start talking about Marxism. These rogues and bastards, they are hoarding all the cash and are taking part in all sorts of vulgarity and mischief. They are the real troublemakers. If we could switch off these black marketers, that would solve it. You see for yourself, eleven thousand crore "white" money is circulating in our country and there are thirty-three thousand crore rupees in the black market – almost the entire cash flow of our country is taking place in the black market.

In the context of film production?

No, I am not talking about just films –- our entire society, economy have been taken over by these black marketers and their money "from all sides". And even the government of India has admitted that. Today the true worth of one rupee, after a continuous decline, has fallen to -- and Chavan admitted it -- thirty-six paise. In reality, it is just twenty-five paise. The value of one rupee is twenty-five paise. People can’t eat because of inflation. This famine has completely exposed the entire system. What can I say? Films are nothing special. They are just a small piece in the whole puzzle.

In filming great literature, what kind of difficulties does an artist face?

Well, there has not been a whole lot of great literature in this country. If you want to make films out of whatever little there is, you must keep one thing in mind. Literature is one form of art and film is another. So when you are making a script out of literature, you can not just dumbly follow it. That’s not right. A film is primarily visual – a visual art. This has to be kept in mind. Sound is secondary. Yes, it is important, too. It can help to move the images forward. Literature on the other hand is meant for reading. When you are reading a great work of literature, you feel great joy -- something that is born out of your refined taste for words. But "film is a performing art". It is about seeing, hearing. There is a hell and heaven difference between the two. So you must change. If the writers get mad because of that – well, I have nothing to say. But the fact is they must realize that to translate from one medium to another and to make it work, you must make changes.

Do you think the gulf that we observe between artistic excellence and its comprehensibility to an average moviegoer is desirable as a whole?

No, no. There is no room for such silly questions.

Why do you say so? In spite of everything, you are doing some good work. But a majority of people are not getting it. In this situation, how can we try to bridge this gulf and make the communication happen? Shouldn’t we think about that – I mean we want the audience to start thinking and reflecting…

Primarily, I could not care less. First, I do not live my life based on who accepts my work and who does not. And secondly, these questions are worthless. Please ask sensible questions only.

What do you think about the role of a critic in understanding films? And here how the critics are…

The role of a critic is very important -- extremely important. Who is a critic? He is the bridge between a creative artist and audience. But we don’t have critics like that in our country. One or two that we had are selling out, too. Since the commercial papers and magazines have bought them out, they do not dare to write the truth any more. They have to obey orders all the time. And I can’t convince you how valuable criticism is. I won’t even try. You see, when George Bernard Shaw started to criticize English plays – he was not a playwright yet – the entire city of London was turned on its head. That is true writing! Here no one dares to write. There were a few who could do it. I know of a couple. Saroj Sengupta -- he used to write seriously. He was kicked out. And there is this other guy -- what’s his name, he’s in Anandabazar…


No, no, no.


No, no, not N.K.G. Ah, that other guy. “Just now I am missing the name”. I will let you know if it comes back. "These are the only two critics". And Shyamlal who is now the editor of Times of India. He used to be a film critic. Then they moved him and made him an editor. He got a Padmashree or something like that this year. So these are the facts. In this country, no one respects critics. A few good men who want to do honest serious work and they are removed very fast. And what’s the point in talking about the rest? To criticize films, one must understand the medium first. Different aspects of films and the technical details need to be understood, right? Only they themselves can say how much of the process they really get. I am not going to comment on that. “I am not going to get involved in any trouble. But the point is that, I have understood this”. Ah!. That gentleman, I can’t recall the name. He is the best in India… from Anandabazar. Now he is with Desh and they don’t let him write anything.


No, no, not Sebabrata. Very strange! The way I miss certain names from time to time!

How important a medium film is in the context of cultural movements?

I think film is an extremely important medium. But where are we using it in such a way? You all know what’s going on. There is no point in discussing all this. In this country, film has become the crassest instrument of cheap entertainment. So, I am quite worried about future of films in this country. I have no idea what will happen in the future though.

As an industry, film is capital-intensive. So how much dissident can it really be?

Totally and absolutely. But it all depends on who are building the film. If an artist is fearless and not spineless, he or she can do anything. In their films, they can capture the struggles and plight of the entire universe. But what can we do if they don’t? And usually they don’t. That’s why our films have become so ridiculous.

(To be continued ...)


Horinath said...

Thanks for sharing it! Pode khub bhalo laglo.. Ritwik Ghatak babu toh bahut byapok nirdeshok chilen.

tini ak "Humane" nirdeshoker perfect udharon.

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

Thanks for translating this.

Chaturanga, Aranyak... Ritwik Ghatak making a film of these novels would have been so amazing. But he mentions Aranyak being made by someone else. Is that right? I am not aware of Aranyak being made into a film.

Also, the Potemkin in specific and Eisenstein in general has been accepted as the benchmark of film editing by Ray as well. In Our Films, Their Films.

Thanks again for a wonderful translation.

Dipanjan said...

Yes, that's what he said. I very vaguely recollect watching it ages ago on DD Calcutta, but can't recall any details.