Re-reading Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Ajantrik’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 30, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, July 30, 2019

Re-reading Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Ajantrik’

 “What does Ajantrik mean? I don’t know, and I believe no one at the Venice Film Festival knew either. I cannot tell the whole story of the film. There was no subtitle for the film. But I saw the film spellbound till the very end,” film critic Georges Sadoul had said these words after watching Ajantrik. I had a déjà vu moment as I walked into the Subir Choudhury Exhibition Hall of Bengal Shilpalay.

From Subodh Ghosh’s formidable literature, Ritwik Ghatak’s reels to the white space of the gallery, the man-machine relationship has always been a bewildering concept. Curator Zihan Karim intended to experiment with the unprejudiced affair, and reread the film from multiple angles. He shared his concept with a group of artists, architects, theater artistes, and the resultant is a beautiful conversation on the walls of the gallery. An understanding of the human condition where logic meets imagination and judgement meets sentiment was, therefore, a captivating experience.

Ghatak’s Ajantrik is a popular film among most Bengali families. However, the concept of rereading a film within a gallery space, is rather unheard of. Much like the absence of the subtitle, the names of the artists and the artwork could not be found, other than on the gallery map. The subtle treatments made the exhibition a perfect tribute to the master filmmaker.

The gallery is a wonderland with the smallest theater performance by Fame, an interactive video installation by Fahim Hasin Sahan, a monumental installation by Eshita Mita Tonni, Three Channel Video, photo montage, and installation by Razib Datta, Video installation by Palash Bhattacharjee, One Channel Videos by Hassan Mamun, Kumar Biswas and Munem Wasif.

My personal favourite, however, was Munem Wasif’s Machine Matter. A One Channel  Video set in an abandoned jute factory. The close shot of the thumping chest of the man while the machines stood still readily, reminded me of the scene from the film where Bimal loads stones and has a heated conversation with Jogoddal in the rickety 1920’s vintage Chevrolet Jalopy. The machine, instead of going forward, runs back. Bimal, with utmost anger, calls the car Lohar Bachha. Munem Wasif’s film expressed similar conversation through silence. The dichotomy is, however, seen in Razib Datta’s work. The pixelated characters were the way emphasise that logic and emotions maybe separate entities. He juxtaposes the oriental Boraq with Gogh’s Starry Night giving a third concept. It is from a series where the artist practices cinematic montage concept.

As a whole, the concept of film reading in this manner was an interesting experience. Just like the master filmmaker would say, “Bhabo bhabo, bhabar practice koro” (Think, rethink, and practice thinking). A visit to the exhibition, which runs till August 3, will certainly be worthwhile. 

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