Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ritwik Ghatak's 'Subarnarekha' a nice little retort to Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy and more

The little girl in the opening frames of Ritwik Ghatak's 'Subarnarekha' perforce reminds you of the little girl in Satyajit Ray's 'Pather Panchali'. The contrasting portrayals defines the approach of the two ace directors. Ghatak places his characters in the middle of the social and physical milieu. The little girl and boy dance in the rice fields as the train passes by, a near-pastoral scene. The train is not part of the scene in the Ray film. It is an alien but not an intrusive presence. For Ghatak the scene itslef becomes the character in the story. The little boy and girl - and here Ghatak is bold and shows without much ado how a Brahmin girl and outcaste boy hang toegether in the banandoned airfield in a small town. And they are aware of the background of the airfield. It is part of their imagination.

Ghatak also shows wonderfully the budding romance between the girl -- played most touchingly by the young Madhabi Mukherjee -- who shows greater grit and charm that Ray's portrayal of the Tagore heroine in 'Samaapti', played by budding Aparna Sen.  Ray was a Victorian and felt very awkward in showing innocent romance. Ghatak was intensely emotional and he could show without inhibition or unnecesary restraint the innocent love of the young people.

The other great virtue of 'Subarnarekha' is that Ghatak portrays the physical landscape as part of the emotional landscape of the story -- the slums in Calcutta, the small-town rice mill, railway station. And the banks of the river with its geological creases which echoes with the laughter, tears and song of the character.

Ghatak shows in this movie how song and music could be an intrinsic part of the storytelling, something which Ray was not too comfortable with, and he had to find extraoredinary ways of incorporating it as background score or as a soiree as required in 'Jalsaghar'. Ghatak had no such problems. In 'Subarnarekha', the song is a vehicle of etching the growing and changing face of the characters, especially that of the heroine. And it is done in the most disarming manner.

As a matter of fact, some of the serious mainstream Hindi filmmakers should watch 'Subarnarekha' to learn how to weave the song and music into the story, an art the new set of smart-alecky directors are completely incapable of pulling it off.

'Subarnarekha' really runs on an epic scale because it covers a lifecycle. Ghatak shows in some ways an imaptience to tell the story in its essentials, focusing on the greater tragedy of the generation immediately after the trauma of the Partition of the country, of the compromises made and not made, of lives battered and destroyed and distorted. And though it reaches the dead-end of bleakness towards the end, Ghatak pulls himslef back and creates hope through the child, who is the son of the heroine whose childhood marks the beginning of the film.

Ghatak also boldly and starkly poses the questions of value and does not seek to play down the inherent rhetorical nature of the confrontations and contradictions. 

One is tempted to see traces of the storyline in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 'Swayamvaram', where love is beaten to death as it were by a harsh world.

Compared to Ghatak's 'Subarnarekha;. M.S.Sathyu's 'Garm Hawa' looks amateurish.

Madhabi Mukherjee gives a scintillating performance in this film, combining the coquettishness of a Jeanne Moreau or a Catherine Deneuve with the breathtaking beauty and emotional intensity of a pure Bengali/Indian woman, which is truly awesome.

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