Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ritwik Ghatak's 'Meghe Dhaka Tara'

If the movies of Satyajit Ray recreate reality, and portray life's grief brilliantly without a hint of melodrama – those of the idiosyncratic Ritwik Ghatak are filled with vibrant melodrama, disillusionment, trauma and sorrow of everyday life that would squeeze your heart dry and yet, it is as if you wait for that elixir becoming available to the protagonist, that hint of hope present like the shadow, everywhere. You feel the recurring tragedy (most of Ghatak's films have heavy doses of the tragic, or have a strong hint of the same) and wait eagerly for it to melt as if hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel – not exactly in the way good destroys evil in the contemporary fare of movies but more like the myth of the phoenix – the self-effacing protagonist facing and undergoing even enjoying the pain and somehow reviving from it all. Not that any of his movies directly end with a light at the end of the tunnel, but they leave chinks of hope in the patina of absolute darkness as waves of tragedy often with dashes of comedy, literally destroys that very hope. The intellectual force with which the story moves and the sensory and musical movement though sharp and jarring sounds as well as melodious classical music are riveting as well. Today I watched 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' (The Cloud Capped Star, 1960) on DD Bangla, a Ghatak masterpiece in its own right.

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Starting with the image of a big Banyan tree - one well capable of providing shade to a multitude under it; it as if serves as an allegory for the generosity of heart of the protagonist, Neeta (Supriya Choudhury); it goes on to depict with excruciating detail the pain and loss in her life - one within a displaced, poverty-struck middle class family – perhaps with an eye on the partition aspect. She is the one who fends for the whole family and is studying too. Her elder brother Shankar is a singer who is always practicing and hopes to one day become a famous classical singer/musician (Anil Chatterjee does justice to the role). Her younger brother is an upcoming footballer and her younger sister is a not-so-good student. She is in love with a person Sanat who is himself doing his higher studies. They all and this includes her parents (the underemployed but supportive father and the tongue-lashing, scathing mother) depend on her for their livelihood. As the story develops incidents and circumstances force her to leave her studies and work full time. She postpones her marriage with Sanat, so her brother can get successful. However in the meantime; Sanat is captured by the beauty of her sister Geeta and actually gets married to her. Later due to the stress of work she starts to suffer from chronic fever and illness.

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In one scene she later repents that she should not have been so simple a girl, and should have stood up for herself, instead of being mum and bearing all the pain. The ending scene leaves you feeling pathetic when Neeta now in a sanatorium recovering from Tuberculosis in the hills of Shillong breaks down and cries out to her brother Shankar; by the end of the movie a successful and famous singer; that she 'wanted to live', always wanted to live and that she does not want to die now and the cry 'I want to live' is amplified and reverberates in the peaks and rocks of the surrounding hills. Truly evocative of the painfully selfless destiny and bleakness that befall some people's lives and yet as I said the movie has an alluring and intellectually stimulating nature; like all good movies do.

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A 5/5 – truly superb cinema and great performances from everyone. Here's Part 1 of the movie from YouTube.

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