An Interview with Ritwik Ghatak

Our second issue looked at the legacy and the cinema of Ritwik Ghatak which has continued to thrill and find new audiences across the world.
The following Interview is from his book of essays(Cinema and I) that was later published in Rows and Rows of Fences. Both books are now out-of-print and it is a testament to the sad state of affairs of his legacy. I hope in times to come we can be instrumental in protecting, preserving and making his movies and writing accessible to a wider audiences.

Here is an excerpt from the Interview, the full Interview can be read from the link specified below.


Q. Mr. Ghatak, what inspired you to turn to film making?

R.G. You could say that I strayed into films down a zigzag path. If may father had had his way I should have been an income-tax officer. I got the job but left it to join the C.P.I. if I had stuck to it I might have become a Commissioner or Accountant General by now. But now I am only a street dog!

After quitting the job I tried writing poetry, but found myself singularly incapable of it. I shifted my interests to writing short stories and won a bit of fame. More than a hundred of them were published in ‘Desh’, ‘Parichay’, ‘Shanibarer Chithi’ and other leading magazines of Bengal.
That was when I found that literature delves deep into the soul of man, but it works slowly. It takes a long time to grow roots inside. With typical adolescent impatience I wanted to make an immediate impact, because I felt the people should be roused instantly.

Then a miracle happened – the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). First came Jabanbandi, then Bijon Bhattacharya’s bombshell Nabanna. They showed me that, in terms of immediate and spontaneous communication, theatre is much more effective than literature. So I gave up writing stories and turned to writing plays and organizing theatrical groups.

Then came another bit of heart searching. It was after my greatest success on stage – a prestige performance staged in the Jadavpur University campus in 1950, to coincide with the convocation inaugurated by President Radhakrishnan. I produced Tagore’s Bisharjan in which I also played the leading role. More than 8,000 persons attended the show. It was fantastic!

But this also showed me that I could only reach a maximum of 10,000 people through such a show. And so much collective labour had to be expended just for that! Then I decided to make films.

Q. Did you realize your ambition through the film medium?

R.G. Looking back I can say that I have no love lost with the film medium. I just want to convey whatever I feel about the reality around me and I want to shout. Cinema still seems to be the ideal medium for this because it can reach umpteen billions once the work is done. That is why I produce films – not for their own sake but for the sake of my people. They say that television may soon take its place. It may reach out to millions more. Then I will kick the cinema over and turn to T.V.

Q. Can you recall any particular influence that inspired you to be a film-maker?

R.G. Well, there were films like Eisentein’s Battleship Potemkin, Pudovkin’s Mother, Krakatit the Czechoslovakian film Nema Barikada by Otakar Vavra and books like Eisenstein’s Film Form, and The Film Sense, Pudovkin’s Film Technique and Film Acting. Ivor Montagu’s collection of film articles in the Penguin series, and Bela Balasz’s Theory of the film, all of which threw up a completely new world before my eyes.

Most of the films which I have mentioned were banned in India at that time. We could only see them clandestinely. That also gave a romantic aura to the whole experience. And then came the first Film Festival in India which introduced us to the Italian neo-realists. This was yet another completely new and fascinating world.All these films and books helped to develop my tastes, but they did not influence me directly. I did not become a part of any school.

Q. These persons you have mentioned, are they the greatest cineastes in your opinion?

R.G. They are not cineastes and they are not dilettantes. They are more or less pioneers in exploring this exciting medium. Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and, in a way, Dovshenko discovered a new artistic language in films. The first two were not only film makers, but were also among the first film theorists of the world. Film makers anywhere owe a debt especially to Eistentein. He have us a whole new medium of expression.

Q. Films are still perhaps the most exciting mass medium in the world today. But few directors have cared to explore its vast possibilities. Which directors or schools of film-making, in your opinion, have been exceptionally successful?

R.G. In my opnion Sergei Yuktevich and Louis Bunuel are the very greatest. But Yuktevich died recently and Bunuel, in disgust, has stopped making films as a protest against the

commercialization of this great art from. Jean-Luc Godard says that as long as film-making is not as cheap as pen and paper in this bourgeois world, good flims cannot be made. I last heard about him a few months ago from a French journalist. He has stopped making films and whiles away his time on the boulevards of Paris and in doing party-work.

Then there is a Japanese school. I am not talking about export quality film directions such as Akira Kurosawa but of directors like Mizoguchi, Ozu and Tanaka. Now there are some promising young directors among them, such as Nagisa Oshima.

In South America we have Leopold Torre Nilson; in Greece there is Michael Cacoyannis and, of course, in Sweden there is Ingmar Bergman. I don’t set much stoer by the so-called underground cinema of America, or by the British school, or by the clinically disinfected realism of poverty produced by directors such as Satyajit Ray. There is also a wave of pornographic films, which makes me furious. There may be other notable film makers but since the scope for seeing the latest works from abroad is almost non-existent in our country, I may have missed many remarkable works of art.

Q. I notice that you have not included the Italian school or the controversial ‘nouvelle vague’ movement.

R.G. Well, the Italian school seems to me be a spent force. After the Italian spark of neo-realism, which ultimately turned into fantastic realism in the hands of great masters like Federico Fellini, Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and others, it has very little else to officer. The same is true of the Polish school led by Andrej Wajda and others. In the ands of people like Roman Polanski, it tended to go towards s ort of new-existentialism. Polanksi has rightly found his heaven in Hollywood.

About the nouvelle vague, the French have a peculiar fascination for giving a label and a name to anything and everything. To me the term nouvelle vague, is a very vague and fuzzy label to attach to films like Truffaut’s ‘Quatre Cents Coups’ and the Resnais-Robbe-Grillet production l’annee Derniere a Marienbad both in the same breath. They are as different as can be. So I cannot accept this as a school. But many of these film makers are most powerful, there is no doubt about that. I do nto know what the East-European countries are doing.

Download the Interview.

- Issue no-1
- Issue no-2
- A translated Interview with the master
- Iranian Cine Experience.



Noni said…
very and really great to have a "Rwitick Ghatak" issue on "Indian auteur".

it necessary ...
nitesh said…
Thanks for the comment Noni. I hope we can contribute in our own little way informing and taking to places his cinema.
Yayaver said…
I have never read anything like this.Straight and depicting great hold of RG on cinema.Fantastic....

Popular posts from this blog

Satyajit Ray, 'What's wrong with Indian Films?

Narrative Style of Satyajit Ray- in context Godard, Eisenstein and others.

Kumar Shahani- a portrait