Ritwik Ghatak - A man ahead of his time | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 04, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:59 PM, November 05, 2015

Ritwik Ghatak - A man ahead of his time

On this day 90 years ago, Ritwik Kumar Ghatak was born in Dhaka, to Suresh Chandra Ghatak -- a magistrate by day and poet-playwright by night -- and Indubala Devi. While still in his teens, Ghatak and his family moved to Kolkata, just before the devastating famine of 1943 and the partition of 1947 when millions migrated from the erstwhile East Bengal to the West. This flood of refugees, the cultural dismemberment and exile shaped the volume of the creative works of the director and screenwriter.

After moving to Kolkata, Ritwik Ghatak wrote his first stage play “Kalo Sayar” in 1948, and continued to work for the Indian People's Theatre Association till the 1970s, where he wrote, translated, directed and acted in numerous plays. His first venture in films was as an actor and assistant director in “Chhinnamul” in 1950, followed by his first own directorial work “Nagorik” in 1952.

Ghatak's first commercial release was “Ajantrik” in 1958, a breakthrough comedy-drama with science fiction themes. Ritwik Ghatak remained stagnant as a filmmaker through the later part of the 1960s after his epic trilogy of “Meghe Dhaka Tara” (1960), “Komal Gandhar” (1961) and “Subarnarekha” (1962) -- based in Kolkata and addressing the condition of refugee-hood -- proved controversial, and commercially unsuccessful.

He returned to filmmaking in the 1970s, with “Titash Ekti Nodir Naam” in Bangladesh and the autobiographical “Jukti Takko Aar Gappo”.

Ghwatak moved briefly to Pune to teach at the Film and Television Institute of India, and in a year of teaching left a league of students who would carry his ideals forward. He kept a clear distance from Indian commercial films, and as a result, remained an unknown name outside India until his death. “Nagarik”, despite being one of the first instances of Bangla art films, was not released until after his death in 1977. His film “Bari Theke Paliye” (1958) had a similar plot to François Truffaut later film “The 400 Blows” (1959), but Ghatak's film remained obscure while Truffaut's film went on to become one of the most famous films of the French New Wave. One of Ghatak's final films, “Titash Ekti Nodir Naam”, is one of the earliest films to be told in a hyperlink format, featuring multiple characters in a collection of interconnected stories, predating Robert Altman's “Nashville”, globally considered a pioneer of the style, by two years.

His poor health forced him to leave many short and feature films incomplete. He passed away on February 6, 1976.

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