{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara

I was reading about Ritwik Ghatak the previous week and became very interested in his themes and films. Fortunately one of my Bengali friend was visiting Calcutta so I thought of asking him to bring some of the Ghatak's movies for me. I was quite surprised that he had not heard of him, let alone some of the movies I asked for. One of those movies was Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star), which is part of the trilogy that Ghatak made on the socio-political impacts of partition. The others in the trilogy are Komal Gandhar (The Gandhar Sublime or E-Flat) and Subarnarekha (The Golden Line). Quite expectedly he wasn't able to find any of the films. Its ironical that Ghatak's films are not easily available in Calcutta, let alone India.

This Saturday, I went to my DVD library for a routine check for any new movies, and to my surprise and happiness, they have just bought some of the Bengali classics and the list included Meghe Dhaka Tara. I was overly rejoiced. I saw Meghe Dhaka Tara late at night. Before watching the movie I knew that it is going to be an emotional drama and I might require a handkerchief or two. After reading about the themes of Ghatak's movies, it looked like his themes and style have something common with Ozu, Bresson and Sirk. His movies are sentimental, sad and melodramatic at times. Ghatak, who is said to have developed his own style of cinema, saw very little commercial success and little critical acclaim in his life time. He died of tuberculosis and alcoholism. Meghe Dhaka Tara was one of his few commercial successes and is considered one of his best works.

Meghe Dhaka Tara is the story of Neeta, the sole breadwinner in an expatriated family. There are many Hindi movies made on this concept, but they solely try to generate fake emotions from the pain of the victim till the viewer feel sorry for her. Although Meghe Dhaka Tara has a huge emotional impact, but it never employs any cheap trick to drain emotions. The film starts with the struggle of Neeta to fulfill the demands of all her siblings and help her lover, Sanat to continue his studies and her elder brother, Shankar to continue his riyaaz. As the film progresses, other problems cast their shadow on our heroine. The first of all is an indication by her mother that if she marries, who is going to look after them all. In hands of other filmmakers, this episode could have been a huge melodramatic scene, but Ghatak rations emotions. Although there are indirect references from her mother but Neeta herself decides not to marry for the benefit of her family. When she tells her decision to Sanat, he protests. In the meanwhile Neetu finds a job for her younger brother in a factory but as the salary starts coming he decides to move on. The second blow comes to her when Sanat gets married to her younger sister. In one of her previous conversations with Sanat, she had told him about her future hopes on him and her elder brother. In a final blow, her loving elder brother decides to leave the household as a protest of continuous bickering of her mother on him being a non-earning member of the family. In a very sublime scene, on the night of his leaving, he and Neeta sings a piece of Rabindra Sangeet which said 'Probably the storm is pennant of my ship, but I will never know'. Still working and giving money to the family, Neeta learns that she is suffering from a fatal ailment, she decides to stay in a separate room in the house making her own kitchen. Later Neeta's younger brother meets an accident and this incident lets her met Sanat again, where he proposes to starts their life again, but she refuses. The condition of Neeta keeps on deteriorating with no medication, till her elder brother comes and decides to put her in a sanitarium where she can at least die in some peace.

There are so many plot twists in Meghe Dhaka Tara, but it never looses the focus on the scrutiny of human nature, our fate to be a victim or a victimizer. All the pains Neeta took for her ungrateful family and friends were out of hope and love but later she realize that her biggest fault was not to protest of her exploitation and now she has to penance all her life for her being so stupid and so ordinary. Meghe Dhaka Tara has some pioneering and experimental sound effects. As Neeta and Sanat sit by the river bank, a train passes whose whistle completely sweeps away the conversation and there are whipping sounds when Neeta leaves Sanat for the last time. When Shankar and Neeta are singing the song, in the last stanza whipping sound starts and Neeta starts weeping inconsolably. Apart from it movie has four songs basically taken from folk music, and are used very beautifully and seamlessly in the narrative. There is ample use of close-ups in the movie, the most popular one is Neeta looks up in grief and suffocation while returning from Sanat's house. The name of the movie comes from one of the love letters Sanat has written to Neeta earlier in the movie which she was reading in the last reels of the movie when Shankar comes to meet her. In her very last wishes she expresses her desire to be alive.

For me their were two points where movie could have finished giving me full satisfaction. The first one come with the piece of Rabindra Sangeet that Neeta sings with her brother. This scene is particularly dear as Neeta finds some solace with her brother and his music but later when she thinks of her hopeless future she bursts out with whipping sounds in the background. The second scene is Neeta last meeting with Sanat at the same place where they used to meet in happy days and Neeta's refusal to comeback. This episode is particularly important with the fact that Neeta now understand that she has been exploited and it is she who has to pay for her exploitation. But the ending that Ghatak chose is equally heartbreaking, puts things in perspective, seems to suggest that life has taken a full circle and now new pathos will evolve.

Meghe Dhaka Tara is a film that manages to say things subtly than a typical melodrama usually does. This movie makes a strong statement under the plight of our heroine, that every one wants to live or to simply survive. In the reverberating penultimate scene Neeta cries out 'I want to live..' and the shot moves to the stills of empty mountains, hills and roads giving us a deep feeling that nobody is listening, and probably because they too want to 'just' live and are busy with it. This scene and the whole movie seems to speak volumes about our tiny existence in this big world. Meghe Dhaka Tara works as a sad ballad, brooding with emotions and melancholy.


Alok said...

looks really interesting. I wasn't expecting the film to have much plot or narrative, but looks like I was wrong.

Haven't read much about Ghatak or even seen any of his films. I think I will have to do something about it very soon!

Subhamoy said...

Grt to see a review of this wonderful movie..just to add, the visuals (refugee colonies) shown in the film were taken from a real colony (not set up in the studio)..their plight was too deep.

btw, howz ur photography going on? :)

anurag said...

Thanks Subha,

I am waiting for my camera to come, then Photography will kick-start :)

Also, next time you go to Calcutta, please find some Ghatak's DVDs for me, I am really impressed by Meghe Dhaka Tara.

Subhamoy Chakraborti said...

Sure will..lets go out for one more outing..

shamik said...

ghtaks films are widely avialable in kolkata in plces like music world /landmark/melody/symphony .and they are priced from rs 199 to rs 299

anurag said...

Thanks for the info Shamik. I will try to get some.