Komal Gandhar (E-Flat)

While this blog is about a film, it does need to be contextualized slightly more in terms of the film maker, primarily because Ritwik Ghatak’s films are truly, absolutely, his heart’s stories. To all those who are familiar with the Parallel Cinema movement in India, the name of Ritwik Ghatak does not need to be provided with a context. His prowess as an auteur, his contribution to the art of film making and his creative social responsibility have been the cornerstones of several analyses, discussions and inspirations—however, ironically, all this has been largely posthumous. To me, he is the Van Gogh of Indian Cinema, the brilliant renegade who burnt like those famous Roman Candles, enlightening others at the cost of self- destruction. In his relatively short life span (1925-1976), he had firmly secured his position (along with the internationally acclaimed Satyajit Ray and the relatively localized Mrinal Sen) as a film maker who stands head and shoulders above the usual fare of the Indian milieu, yet he was perhaps the least fortunate among the three in terms of finding patronage. A fractured soul, battling maniacal depression and alcoholism at his worst and towering above everyone else in sheer strength of creative genius at his best, Ghatak was, in essence, a true rebel, and for him was reserved the punishment of Prometheus, for delivering fire to mankind.

Ghatak’s films, to me, are intensely personal subjects, depicting his rage, his ineffectual frustration, his corrosive contempt of manipulative power plays, his empathy with the everyday struggles of the common man—and, above all, always—his pain of being uprooted from his homeland. Ghatak was a Bengali belonging to the eastern part of Bengal before the Partition of Bengal during India’s Independence in 1947, and he never could reconcile himself to the fact that his erstwhile motherland had suddenly become a foreign land to him (since Bangladesh retained its identity as a separate nation, even after it was separated from Pakistan in 1971 following its War of Liberation). Perhaps the most evident expression of this angst occurs in ‘Komal Gandhar’, while the story really is about a totally different subject.

I took to watching the film because I these days I have been trying to fashion a project out of the same theme and needed inspiration—and—despite innumerable watches before—broke down and cried even today when the protagonist, during one occasion, standing on a decrepit train track and staring hard across the new borders between India and Bangladesh, says—“I was looking at our house. There, that is the one. It is exactly the same, still there. But I can never go back there again. It is a foreign land now. You know, earlier, before all this happened, this is where we used to change trains for home while coming back from Calcutta. This train track then used to seem like a ‘plus’ sign….connecting Calcutta to my home. Now…it has become a sign of disconnecting me from my home, forever.” The intensity of the pain is too acute to almost bear in the film, even though today, in reality, it is almost a thing of past—there are few who remember. Unlike the Jews, the East Bengalis have not brought up their future generations with a belief that we will, one day, go back to our promised land.

The narrative of Komal Gandhar, though, is packed with layers and layers of interpretation of this same grief and fury—the ‘play’ scenes, background score, songs, scenes, dialogues—all aspects of the narrative are replete with it. While the story apparently is about a theatre group and the interpersonal relationships among the group participants, it is really the ‘superstructure’ (borrowing a Marxian analogy) over the ‘base’ of this generic emotion—homelessness, exploitation, corruption, pettiness, supreme frustration. Intermingled with two sets of love stories which run into their respective crisis and emancipation, the leitmotif of Partition, of separation, of division keeps recurring throughout the narrative. The name of the film ‘Komal Gandhar’ (literal meaning—E-flat—a note in the Indian classical music) is also a derivation from one of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems which talks about a girl who, despite being wrecked by adversities, still continues to survive, continues to exist without sinking out of sight amidst the dregs of humanity. The name seems to symbolize the trauma and adversity—social, cultural, political—that Bengal and it’s people have had to face, and their odds against survival.

Unlike films like ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ which portray the brutally realistic side of Ghatak’s approach to life, Komal Gandhar is a relatively softer film where hope, laced occasionally with boisterous cheer of people interaction, is interwoven with the tragedy of separation. Despite this, the film continues to tug at your heartstrings with that particular tragedy of existence that Ghatak specializes in—the tragedy of the reality of the individual being annihilated—maybe overnight—by the reality of the society.

**************************************************************************************************************************************Important: Friends please boost the contribution for our film ‘Identity on a Palate’.  It focuses on partition of Bengal and its impact on East Bengali people and their food. The complete information is available on Indiegogo, we believe we can do it as long as you demonstrate your support with monetary contributions to our story. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/identity-on-a-palate

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