“l tried to make a film with such a theme in such a country which, on reflection, l consider to be an act of suicide. Only, a lunatic or an ass would try to make a film like that in that country and I was both – a lunatic and an ass.”
“With the liberation of Bangladesh there were renewed hopes of a cultural unity between the two Bengals. Bangladesh, fiercely proud of its language and culture, suddenly became the new frontiers of Bengalihood. But the euphoria arising out of this victorious struggle for ethnic identity was soon lost in a maze of political suspicion, and Ghatak found that his dreams were far removed from the reality. ‘I did not realize that whatever ideas I had about Bengal, the two Bengals together, were thirty years out of date,’ he said. ‘My childhood and my early youth were spent in East Bengal. The memories of those days, the nostalgia, maddened me and drew me towards Titas, to make a film on it. The period covered in the original novel is forty years old, a time I was familiar with... Consequently, Titas has become a kind of commemoration of the past that I left behind long ago... When I was making the film, it occurred to me that nothing of the past survives today, nothing can survive. History is ruthless. No, it is all lost. Nothing remains.’
Based on a Bengali novel of the same title by Advaita Malla Barman, Titas Ekti Nadir Naam revolves around the life of a fishing community on the banks of the river Titas, of which Malla Barman was himself a member. The river that gives life to the community, steadily dries up, but Basanti, dying of thirst on its sandy bed, dreams of a new life, where a child playing on a leaf whistle runs through a field of golden paddy. This assertion of life in the midst of exploitation, betrayal and deprivation has been a recurring motif in Ghatak’s works. In Titas Ekti Nadir Naam it expresses itself throughout the film in the simple joys and sorrows of a people living in daily communion with the river. The mendicant poet of a previous century, Lalan Shah's song sets the rhythm of the film. It ebbs and flows with the waters of the Titash, investing the protagonists, the Malos, with a poetic and sentient realism. Ghatak had an attack of tuberculosis before the film was completed. A version of the film was edited in Bangladesh while he was lying in hospital. Though later Ghatak went back to re-edit the film, the definitive version of Titash Ekti Nadir Naam has yet to cross the borders.”
Ritwik Ghatak: To date, four films of mine have satisfied me most: The Mechanical Man (1958), The Golden Thread (1965), A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale (1961), and A River Called Titas (1973) – which is an essay on the lyricism of the Bengali countryside, specially its monsoons – because I think I have been able to portray certain hefty labour-class characters who are intensely Bengali.
The refugee problem has been a recurring theme in most of your films. Do you think this problem has a direct relevance to the film you have made in Bangladesh called A River Called Titas?
Ghatak: It does in a broader sense, in an indirect way, in a subliminal way. Filmmaking is a question of your subconscious, your feeling of reality. I have tackled the refugee “problem”, as you have used the term, not as a refugee problem. To me it was the division of a culture and I was shocked. During the partition period I hated these pretentious people who clamoured about our independence, our freedom. You kids are finished, you have not seen that Bengal of mine. I just kept on watching what was happening, how the behaviour pattern was changing due to this great betrayal of national liberation. And I probably gave vent to what I felt. Today I am not happy, and whatever I have seen unconsciously or consciously comes out in my films. My films may have been ridden with expressive slogan-mongering or they may be remote. But the cardinal point remains: that I am frustrated with what I see all around me, I am tired of it.
“[Indian filmmaker, critic and one of Ghatak’s foremost adherents,] Kumar Shahani devoted an essay to the film, The Passion of a Resurrected Spring (1985), suggesting that the tightly cut beginning of the abduction sequence has the closed structure of a myth which the film gradually opens out into history, especially through the archetypally constructed male and female spaces. Kishore represents an unprecedented amalgamation of Christ and Shiva, usually regarded as contradictory figures, while the thrice-born female figure, associated with the motif of the nurturing river, constitutes a movement of both historical displacement and deliverance. For Shahani the only precedent for such a construction is classical Indian sculpture’s use of volume: the film works entirely through planar rather than perspectival depth while condensing opposites such as ‘natural’ and highly evolved cultural forms into the same image. The film, which works according to an iconographic rather than a narrative logic, places those hybrid images at the end of a civilisation (the drying up of the river), anticipating a future overshadowed by industrial encroachments on nature.”
Paul Willemen & Ashish Rajadhyaksha4
“What, precisely, is the theme? It is a river – Titas. Our East Bengal has a river-based civilization. I do not know how much of East Bengal you have actually seen, or into what depths of its life you have really entered, but I went deep into its life. Titas is a river, it is a sustaining force. The river is dying – and one day it dried up and the island that raised its head belonged no more to the fishermen. The peasants then came to the forefront ... [The novellist Adwaita Mallabarman] ends the story in ruins; everything is shattered down. My hint at the end is at the new order, the new life that is struggling to be born. You may call it Marxism, or you may not see any political view in it.
True, I am a romantic. [W]hat I’ve tried to convey is that human civilization is deathless. Only individual man is mortal but humanity is immortal. You may call it romanticism or may use any language you like. [Y]ou’ll find the same note of optimism in all my films. In Titas paddy fields raise their heads and a new stage of civilization starts. Civilization has no death; it is subject to change but it goes on. It only goes on advancing from one stage to another, I’ve tried to say this in my film. I cannot end in a pessimitic mood, that would be rather professing lies.”
“A River Called Titas, Ghatak’s penultimate and most fondly remembered film, begins with a dedication to ‘the myriad of toilers of everlasting Bengal.’ But is there anything everlasting in Ghatak’s cinema? His films track the slow, painful deterioration of places, communities, personal relationships; his characters separate (less by choice than circumstance), wander, go mad. Even the mighty Titas River begins ‘behaving strangely’ (as an observer in the film comments), as if in response to the general disintegration of all things; in haunting, indelible images, Ghatak shows us its increasingly visible, drying-up bed...
Partition: the word itself has come to symbolize Ghatak’s cinema. Has there ever been a filmmaker so intensely, single-mindedly focused on every conceivable variation of rupture, abandonment, fragmentation? And not only on the level of overarching sociohistorical context or immediate plot; Ghatak also enacted the tearing sensation of schism formally, in his highly composed frames, in his radical use of music and sound, and above all in his rigorous, ultramodern editing style. How often does a scene of high drama seem to end too soon in Ghatak’s work, the picture, music, and gesture suddenly terminated, rudely snatched away from our contemplation?
The film is, in line with Ghatak’s Brechtian orientation, a broken, deliberately disjointed melodrama, arranged in two starkly distinct halves, and gives itself the freedom to hop from one character’s story thread to another’s – an uncommon technique in world cinema of the time. [...] Ghatak was fond of using great leaps forward, ellipses in time, to shape his stories. The powerful, overarching rhymes – such as the words that the young Basanti hears at the start of the film about the ‘last drop’ of the Titas, ‘without which our soul cannot depart,’ words that return to her in the final scene – are more crucial than plodding through every detail of the action. In fact, Ghatak’s stated aim was to heighten the devices of melodrama – the outrageous developments and agonizing coincidences – and bend them in the direction of Brecht’s epic theater. Everything in melodrama that removed events from the conscious will and power of the characters – that delivered them over to the infernal cycles of chance or fate – had a potential political significance for Ghatak; he was interested in forces larger than the individual consciousness – forces that are, at the same time, graspable only through these human intermediaries, these long-suffering victims of history.
Thanks to the work of the Ritwik Memorial Trust (and especially the tireless efforts of Ghatak’s son, Ritaban), the original but incomplete camera and sound negatives for A River Called Titas, held by the National Film Archive of India, plus a complete positive print provided by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Berlin, were passed along to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, which used them to create a restored version of the film at the Cineteca di Bologna’s L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, completed in May 2010. This digital restoration – which includes a re-creation of the opening credits – produced a new 35 mm internegative for preservation.”
- 1Kabir Alamgir, “Ritwik Ghatak – A View from Bangladesh,” Celluloid, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, 1997.
- 2Shampa Banerjee, “Ritwik Ghatak,” Profiles: Five Filmmakers From India (New Delhi: Directorate of Film Festivals, 1985): 115.
- 3Ritwik Ghatak, Cinema and I (Calcutta: Ritwik Memorial Trust, 1987): 72 and 80. The interview originally appeared in 1976 in Film Mischellany (Pune: Film & Television Institute of India). The name of the interviewer is not mentioned.
- 4Paul Willemen & Ashish Rajadhyaksha, “Titash Ekti Nadir Naam,” Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema (new revised edition) (London: BFI, 1999): 419. Shahani’s full essay can be found in Ashish Rajadhyaksha & Amrit Gangar (eds. ), Ritwik Ghatak – Arguments/Stories (Bombay: Screen Unit, 1985), 111-115.
- 5Ritwik Ghatak & Chitra-Bikshan, “Interview with Ghatak” (1975), In: Ashish Rajadhyaksha & Amrit Gangar (eds. ), Ritwik Ghatak – Arguments/Stories (Bombay: Screen Unit, 1985), 100.
- 6Adrian Martin, “A River Called Titas: River of No Return,” The Criterion Collection, December 12, 2013.