Ritwik Ghatak (1925 -1976) is regarded as one of the greatest figures in Indian cinema for his masterly and impactful films, which certainly rank among the most revolutionary achievment in contemporary Indian art. He was member of the Communist Party of the India and also a member of IPTA. His Political orientation got reflected in his involvement with theatre from a very early age –his radically political yet artistic expressions wed his rich radically political yet artistic expressions his rich cultural content. The majority of his works focus on a particular period during the convulsions of the 1940s –World War II, the terrible 'man –made' Bengal Famine of 1944', the emergence of the petit bourgeois, and the communal violence that came with the Partition of Bengal, among others. Apart from his masterpieces in the domain of cinema –Subarnarekha, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komolgandha, Ajantrik, and Nagarik –Ritwik was also a powerful playwright, a mastermind in theatrical expressions.
Ritwik Ghatak perhaps remains the most celebertd auteur of Partition narratives –not only has he completed eight masterly feature films before his premature death, his brilliance and eccentrics also got reflected as a film –theorist, citric, author and a literature also got reflected as a film writer –practitioner. In this collection of plays, his writings specifically act as a cultural sign bearing the remnants of one catastrophic history –the Partition of Bengal, Ritwik details the visual and aural realization of a fragmented Bengal. Ritwik details the visual and aural realization of a fragmented Bengal in such a socio –political and cultural milieu of Indian history where we can trace both dystopian and utopian features. Plays like Dalil (translated as Charter), Sanko(translated as Communications) and few more are narratives that focus on the post –Independence socio –historical observations of the Indian subcontinent with a sustained critique of the impact of Partition and functioning of political malpractices in the lives of the refuges from East Bengal. Drawing from various sources, as disparate as folk music and Indian classical music, folk theatre as well as Indian classical dramaturgy, the Vedas, the Upanishads and mythology –Ritwik has portrayed the tragic predicament of the innumerable, halpess immigrant amalgamating the cultural richness with the social reality of that time.
With his five surviving playscript and still abiding memories of his directorial work and performances in theatre, Ritwik Ghatak remains a marginal presence in Bengali theatre, in no way comparable to his formable –and controversial –iconic status in Indian cinema. With his first serious engagement with theatre, in his participation as an actor in Sombhu Mitra's revival of the IPTA classic Nabanna for his new theatre group, yet to be named Bohurupee, in 1948, Ghatak inherited and defined of Bijan Bhattacharya (1915-68) in the seminal 1944 production of Nabama, that Bhattacharya directed jointly with Sombhu Mitra for IPTA from his own text, and in subsequent works like Mora Chand (1946) and Garbhabati Janami (1969), offering his evaluation of the Bengali theatre scene in 1966, Ghatak wrote: 'Nobody seems to take the right perspective and rexognize that what we really lack is the drama. The one or two playwrights, who retain the vision of truth as it grows out of emotional intensity and the sense of commitment athat it brings along with it, are being deliberately stifled, and being told from all around, you are insignificant, you are nothing! Bijan Bhattacharya is one such figure. Right now it is only in his plays that I see the mark of genius, and the daring to reach beyond realism.'
In yet another piece, Ghatak wrote: 'Bijan Bhattacharya was the first to show us how to register in theatre one's commitment to the people, how to acheive collectively in performance, and how to create on stage the seamless totally of a slice of reality. We, who were trying at the time, will never forget those days. It was a massive turbulence that ran like an electric shock through the whole of Bengal from one end to another... I haven't read all his works since then or seen them staged, since over the years I have gradually moved away from theatre. But what I know is that he has never stopped in his tracks. All that he has had for his capital is a pristine honesty. And with that honesty for his approach. Whenever a problem stares him in the face, he immerse himself in it to the very depths. It would be a travesty of truth to claim that he suceeds every time. But I have not seen anyone else in Bengal serving theatre through a lifetime with such a clear mind. He is not concerned about the reputation. It is not in his nature to seek to set up a school with a label to it. In other words, this gentleman hasn't learnt to cheat.'2
Nabanna, and the film Chhinnamul (1951), directed by Nirmai Ghosh, in which he acted, were the immediated models for Ghatak's first forays into playwriting and direction. Both centered on displacement and migrations, the former located against the Bengal Famine of 1943-44, the latter documenting the Partition of 1947 and its aftermath. Dalil (translated as Charter in the present collection) that Ghatak wrote and directed for the IPTA (now in its second phase, after it had come out of the ban of 1948 -50, and had lost a large section of its founding generation) in 1953, bringing him national recognition at the national congress of the IPTA in Bombay, focussed more on the Partition and he divides and enduring fissures and agonies that it left behind in its wake. The same theme seems to be carried into a later phase in its wake. The same theme seems to be carried into a later phase in historical time, with the communal cleavage and a later phase in historical time, with the communal cleavage and the violence it generates continuing in both the fragments of the 'partitioned' territory, in Sanko (translated in the person collection as Communications).
Dalil has obvious reverberations of both Nabanna and Chhinnamul, and what I call the 'new realism' associated with Bhattacharya (as a matter of fact, the core of the Chhinnamul cast were actors trained by Bhattacharya for his stage production of Nabanna). Bhattacharya, unlike his co –director Sombhu Mitra in Nabanna, did not come to theatre along the colonial Bengali theatre route, a theatre dominated by over theatrical historicans, projections of star/'heroic' performers at the cost of psychological realism or physical/ spatial objectivity, and sentimented flights. Moved by the horror of the Famine and the migrants from the starving villages dying on the street of Kolkata, Bhattacharya in his plays sought to capture the authentic reality of Bengal in its villages or tribal margin, as he saw it (as roving Communist journalist crumbling, distintegrating, and losing its rich verbal idiom and the genetic physically of its lifestyle, both its voice and body, under the onslaught and with the inroads of a fast expanding, brutally exploitative urban economy. Both Sova Sen and Tripti Mitra, the lead actresses of Nabanna, in their conversations with me, recalled the care, sensitivity and concern for authentic detail with which Bhattacharya had trained them in the dialectal speech, and taught them how to make their bodies –their actorial physically –tune themselves to the rhythem of the speech. Ghatak had a taste of this when working with Bhattacharya on the stage in the second Nabanna. The direct charge of this experience and the powerfully committed collectively of the new generation of IPTA activist –actors (with Sova Sen from the original Nabanna serving as a continuity with the tradition) gave Dalil a scale that Gahtak would not touch again in his later work in theatre as playwright and director.
Creatively, Ghatak was already moving away into cinema, when he was writing his first plays, and was moving away from the breeding/ burgeoning space of theotric creativity, the actor's ensemble. Cut off from that space and with the long gaps between his work in cinema and his short flirtations with theatre, his theatre imagination suffered. As a matter of fact, later in life, whenever he returned to theatre, he brought to it the burden and pain of his frustations in his cinematic career, his sense of unrealized potentials and the constrictions that cribbed and confirmed him in the film 'industry, and his desperation and rage burst forth in plays like Jwalanta (translated as Ablaze in the present collection) that had lost perforamatively altogether. And them there was of course the inadquately recorded and documented phase of his creativity in the spell he spent in the mental asylum.
In his films, the more earthy immediacy and reality of the Partition and the migrations that followed, in Dalil or Sanko, gave way to a more mythical evocation of that slice of history,now engrafted in a state of mind that had turned it all into a continuing sense of homelessness, restlessness, and nostalgia for the lost home, sometimes even a quest for it, as at the close of Subarnarekha; the rugged realism breaking into great moments of poetry in speech and an almost dancing body, so characteristic of Bijan Bhattacharya's theatre, transmutted into a cinematic expressionism far away from theatre.
Born and raised in Kolkata. Amrita Nilanjana obtained a Master's degree and an MPhil in English Literature as a visiting faculty at the post graduate level in Delhi University. She is also a theatre critic and a short story writer. An avid reader and a restless traveller, Amrita NIlanjana is particularly fascinated by artisan communities, living in remote areas, and has launched a silent campaign to return to these artisans their and pride and their rightful place in society.
Dalil (translated as Charter in the present collection) that Ghatak write and directed for the stage focused more on the Partition and the divides and enduring fissures and agonis that it left behind in its wake... The same theme seems to be carried into a later phase in historical time, wiht the communal cleavage and the violence it generates continuing in both fragements of the 'partitional' territory, in Sanko (translated in the present collection as communications).
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