Saturday, June 16, 2007

An interview with Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (1975): Part 3

(Continuing from Part 2)

Section 3: Memories of Bimal Roy

In the early stage of your film career, you were involved with Bombay film industry. Would you like to talk about that experience a little bit?

Which aspects of the industry?

Specifically, we want to know about the experiences of working with Bimal Roy.

To talk about Bimal Roy, I must start by saying that that I worship him. How great a filmmaker he was is not that important to me. To me, the most significant part is his greatness as a human being. You see, my cousin (Rangada) Sudhish Ghatak brought him here from Dhaka as a third assistant. At that time I was a school student and knew next to nothing about films. Then Bimalda used to carry me and take me to New Theatres. Back then you could not get the doors opened easily and the gatekeepers were really strict about not letting anyone go near the sets. Not that it has changed much. Anyways, yes, I have worked with Bimalda. Then N.T. slowly fell apart. After that, Bimalda directed Tathapi at Bharatlakkhmi and I became his chief assistant. Bedeni was before that. Even before that, Bimalda moved out of his role as a cinematographer and became a director in Udayer Pathey which as you know, became sort of a cult hit. Bimalda groomed (dipanjan:he mentored Hrishikesh Mukherjee as well) me and used to love me immensely. It is up to you to discuss and criticize his work, but I know what kind of a person he was. Anjangarh after that etc. I used to travel around with Bimalda and worked extremely hard. That's all. He was a family friend, so what more can I say about him? Whatever I say will be "biased". To speak about him is to speak about our family, our own history.

How did Udayer Pathey help in turning contemporary Bengali film scene around?

If I must criticize, then...well...with Udayer Pathey, Bimalda extracted Bengali film out of the sinking depth it used to languish in. But if you listen to the dialogs today, they will sound ridiculous and sub-standard. That was done by Jyotirmoy who embellished the language to such an extent that it does not sound real. Bimalda could have done much better, for example, "with a small needle"...( chhoto chhNucher dwara)

"How can we fight against a monster such as poverty?" (daridryer moto doityo)

Yes, all that "rubbish". Absolutely rubbish. That was done by Jyotirmoy "rascal" who edited the script and added all the flourishes.

Why are you calling names?

(laughing) Miyaan, they are all my friends. They are all truly deprived folks.

Section 4: Indian films: motley topics

Could you talk a little bit about the trends and directions of Indian films during the long gap between Subarnarekha and Jukti Takko Gappo?

I can not do that. I do not watch (a lot of Indian) films. Whatever little I can say -- and it is gradually becoming more and more constrained and limited -- I have tried to do that in Jukti Takko Gappo. I do not have anything more to add.

Is there meaningful protest in contemporary Indian films?

First of all, it is not possible for me to say whether any Indian film has meaningful protest in it or not. As I said, I do not watch (a lot of) Indian films. And whatever little I hear from others, I think there is no protest at all. They want to take people in a completely different direction. I would request you to read Münsterberg -- I don't know if you have read his work -- Thoughts on Film. Nothing else compares with his work which supports "the dream factor" and has the last word on it -- the ultimate deception. No one here probably reads these books, but I do. I have to. I don't think anyone in our country has the courage to talk about protest. Only Mrinal Sen has tried a little, but I do not think any of his works has penetrated deep enough either. The primary objective of films -- not only just films, of any art -- is to portray contemporary misery and struggles of our countrymen. I don't know how much of that Mrinal has been able to express. Although I have no right to talk about this because all of them are my friends. But the fact remains that I can not name a single artist who has been able to do this in a significant way. I myself have not worked in a long time, so I don't think I should say any more than this.

In your opinion, what should be the principle behind FFC's loan schemes? Should new directors receive it, or should the veterans who have already done some good work be preferred?

I think there is a need for combining both. We must support the new kids and FFC must do whatever they can. "That is one part". But the older directors who want to do serious work need support as well. All of them have the same goal, so we can not discard any of them.

How is the current state of production in India hurting our films?

Production and distribution are not hurting us as much as exhibition is. You must become more aware about the film exhibition process. You must try to understand how filthy and broken the exhibition trade is in our country. I have talked about it a lot and tried to convince everyone starting from businessmen to bureaucrats. We need to manage the exhibition system better. You would not believe how depraved and crooked these people are and there is no point in talking about my experiences because nothing will come out of it. There are problems in distribution business too, but the situation is not as bad as the exhibition trade. They are murderers -- art and this and that in the end do not matter at all -- and they are destroying everything in the entire country.

Are you optimistic about the current state of Bengali films, from an artistic perspective?

That is a very difficult question. I really can not answer this in a direct manner. From what I know about Bengali films, I am positive that there are a lot of young boys and girls who want to work seriously. But no one will give them any work, or will pay them anything for their work. And unfortunately, we are in such a business that you need lakhs of rupees to do anything. We (the old-timers) can squeeze by somehow, by manipulating and scheming. "Somehow or other we manage". "But these kids" -- they can not. Do you get it? (laughing). I do not know who among them will emerge successfully out of this, but I do have a lot of hope because I have a natural confidence in future. I very strongly believe that one or more of these kids will do better work than me, but no one gives them a chance. They do not make enough to eat well. Come with me to the studio para (neighborhood) and you will see how deprived these kids are. I do not know how they will make films. But if one of them can manage to do it, they will go way past us and beat us all. All of us -- myself, Satyajit, Mrinal Sen -- will lose and I want to lose. I want them to do it.

Generally speaking, the diversity we see in foreign films is sadly absent in our films. What do you think about it?

I do not think there is a whole lot of difference between our films and their films, in general. But Mizoguchi, Ozu, Tarkovsky, Kakoyannis -- their films make me crazy. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson and Dreyer make me go nuts. I do not want to mention Kurosawa because I think he has become a sell-out now. Among the Italian directors, I respect Antonioni, Fellini especially, Visconti and Rossellini the most. But among all the living directors, Luis Buñuel is my greatest guru.

There were a few worthy fellows in Russia. Kozintsev has done some immortal work. Hamlet - can you believe it? And the last one I saw -- Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood -- drove me crazy. The face of the mother in the first scene -- I will never be able to forget that. His use of camera has made me think a lot. I have seen very few things as beautiful as his judicious use of slow motion.

I could say a lot more, but not in such a short time. In my whole goddamn life, I will never forget the scene in Buñuel's Viridiana where he satirizes Last Supper. A girl, the lead character, brings a bunch of rogues home and hosts a supper. All of a sudden, he fuses it together with the framing of Da Vinci's Last Supper and in a single shot, makes it crystal clear that the whole Roman Catholic dogma is bogus. "This is Buñuel". I do not think there is a greater artist living at present.

How much of the potential of applying music to Indian films has been realized, in your opinion?

The first film where the use of music moved me was Shantaram's Shakuntala (music by Vasant Desai) and then Kadambari (music by Hari Prasanna Das). Among Bengali films, I liked quite a few of Debakibabu's films. I enjoyed Pather Panchali's music a lot, but the theme music Ravi Shankar copied from a black American folk song named Swan's River. Other than that, his work in that film was excellent.

I do not watch a whole lot of Bengali and Hindi films, so I do not know what is currently happening and talking about my own films is impudent, of course. Still among my own films, the one which gave me most pleasure from a musical perspective is Komol Gandhar. Jyotirindra Moitra, my music director, soulfully used Bengal's - both West and East Bengal's -- classical and folk music. His work was so beautiful that I can watch this film with my eyes closed.

Could you say a few words about Pramathesh Barua's contribution to Bengali films?

Pramathesh opened Barua-Studio in 1928. Then he started New Theatres along with Mr. B.N.Sircar and started making films -- one after another. Some of them were absolutely brilliant in the context of his time. A few of his films were hits, a few bombed big time and that is inevitable in any artist's career. His greatest film is Grihadaha. I remember that on the third day of exhibition at Chitra theatre, the spectators tore the screen down. At that day and age, the montage he created to depict Achala's transition from town to village is incredible. He was the first in India to introduce the use of subjective camera. You will notice that when you watch Uttarayan. No one remembers these films any more. Everyone just thinks of his cheap sentimental films such as Mukti and Debdas. Now some pundits ridicule him by calling him Prince P.C. Barua. They should know better. In those days of closed-mindedness, he at least tried to do something different. We can never glorify ourselves by denying and making fun of our predecessors.

(to be continued ...)


som said...

Hi Dipanjan,
please keep posting these interviews. Is there any more?


Dipanjan said...

Yes. I am at around the halfway point -- it is a long interview.

Holden Caulfield said...


Thanks for the translation. Ghatak is phenomenal. I watched Titash Ekti Nadir Nam few days ago. I don't know what made him lean towards Marxism. Probably that was the trend those days. But that's a separate debate. I just wish to soak in the passion of the 'unmechanical'. I really wish Ghatak had made Aranyak into a movie.

Dipanjan said...

HC, in the second half of the interview, he does talk about IPTA, Marxism, undivided communist party and his complex relation with it. It is an important discussion -- with what's going on in West Bengal, it is probably more important than ever -- and you are right in that his views need to be debated in the context of contemporary Indian and global political reality and ideology. There is always a big risk of post facto (ir)rationalization. I believe Sudhi Pradhan's book on IPTA is an important document, but I have not read it.

dipesh said...

Great job Dipanjan. Keep them coming. What interviews. I feel that ironic that whatever he said about the movie business is so valid today. We have progressively become the worst film making country today because of the nexus between businessmen, distributors and exhibitors, who have destroyed art completely.

Somak said...

Great!!!Please Continue

Ritwik said...

Thanx Dipanjan...

U've done a monumental work by translating it.

kudos to u...