Wednesday 14 September 2011

Ajantrik (The Unmechanical/The Pathetic Fallacy) [1958]

Ritwik Ghatak, despite being one of the greatest and most iconoclastic filmmakers India has ever produced, never received due recognition for his genius during his lifetime. The fact that he was asocial in nature, an alcohol addict and a hardline communist, ensured that he died a deeply misunderstood man. Ajantrik, made 6 years after his debut movie Nagarik (often considered India’s first neorealist and arthouse film, preceding Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali by 3 years), and one of only 8 completed feature films made by him, bears ample testimony to his exceptional talents. One of the earliest movies to have an inanimate object as one of the protagonists, Ajantrik is the tale of the unique and profound attachment that Bimal, a poor Bengali taxi-driver, shares with his rickety (and hilariously anachronistic) 1920 Chevrolet jalopy which he affectionately calls Jagaddal. Kali Bannerjee gave an incredibly layered, tour-de-force performance as Bimal, a hotheaded, friendless and forever misunderstood loner (ironically, a touch of the director himself perhaps?), whose only companion is the dilapidated Jagaddal. His emotional journey, from pride through anger and devastation to peace, must be seen in order to be truly appreciated. The tragi-comic movie, which is filled with a plethora of cinematic techniques and generic conventions as also strong social commentary, might easily have been a reference point for Ray’s Abhijan, which in turn seemed to have at some level influenced Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, as noted by me sometime back in this article on Ray.

Director: Ritwik Ghatak
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Slice of Life
Language: Bengali
Country: India


Pratyush Khaitan said...

That's a wonderful poster. I happened to watch a fair few of Ghatak's films at Nandan during a festival of his they had but not the couple you mention here. Will look out for these two.

They showed a lot of his documentary short films in the festival and his last uncompleted film on a painter. The documentary films showed, more than the films themselves how tough it was for these directors as to feed themselves they had to make films for the government which had little artistic consequence as I understand.

Shubhajit said...

Yeah, this is indeed a wonderful poster, and, well, the movie is even more wonderful. Really awesome to know that you were fortunate to watch his films in big screen at Nandan. His feature films are easy to get hold of, but not so as far a number of his documentaries go - My Lenin for instance (which, by the way, I'd really want to watch).

Yes, life isn't easy for an arthouse filmmaker; and it was especially difficult for Ritwik Ghatak. Leave aside the monetary aspects, the worst punishment for an artist of Ghatak's calibre was to be denied recognition and respect during his timeline. That really killed him (both literally and figuratively).

Thanks for stopping by.

Pratyush Khaitan said...

I did watch My Lenin. It had footage of people who were followers of Lenin and the clamour of Lenin being shouted by a narrator of the film. It became repetitive after a while but I guess the idea was to capture the spirit of Lenin among followers mixing it with the footage.

Badi Theke Paliye is a personal favorite of mine for the shots of Calcutta among other things but I guess on the issue of his communist beliefs and what became of him, since we are discussing that, Jukti, Takko aur Gappo is the best film for this. Made at the fag end, it shows the sad state Ghatak was at the time. :(

Shubhajit said...

Two subjects were very close to Ritwik Ghatak's heart - partition & communism. So, it is from the that point of view that I'm really interested in watching My Lenin.

Its interesting that you mentioned Bari Theke Paliye. Even though the movie released around the time as Truffaut's 400 Blows, and though they had similar plots, the former remained an obscure film for a long time, unlike the latter which became a darling of the festival circuit.

Yes, Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, which released just 2 years before his premature death, was the most autobiographical, and consequently perhaps the most personal film of his.

Sam Juliano said...

The dark melodrama "Meghe Dhaka Tara" ("The Cloud Capped Star")is one of the greatest Indian films I have ever seen, and it's the one Ghatek that rates with the best of Ray. But I haven't seen this film, so I can corroborate what I am sure is true. Wonderful poster indeed.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Yes, Meghe Dhaka Tara remains Ritwik Ghatak's most famous films. But there are a few more of his movies that could be placed on the same pedestal, like Subarnarekha, Komol Gandhar, etc. Ajantrik, on the other hand, was a relatively underrated work, but well, I loved it.

Joel Bocko said...

One of my disappointments with abandoning the Fixing a Hole project on Wonders is that I never got to do the Indian Film month. India is probably the least represented nation (proportionately speaking at least) on my films-I've-seen-from... list. Even with Ray, I've only seen the Apu trilogy (and other than that, the only Indian classic I've seen that leaps to mind is Ankur, one of those rare movies I stumbled across on a list somewhere and, intrigued by the actress, sought out and eventually watched/bought).

What did you think of Mark Cousins' Story of Film if you saw it, given that it covered Indian cinema a bit more than most western media usually does, even casting a perhaps surprisingly favorable eye on Bollywood?

Shubhajit said...

Well, I haven't seen Story of a Film that you've mentioned - would really appreciate it if you can tell me more about it.

Anyway, Indian cinema does remain a big void in the viewings of most European/American cinephiles that I've come across. And in fact the most that they mostly tend to have seen is Pather Panchali, or Apu Trilogy at most. Hence, in that perspective, Indian Film Month that you made a mention of would be really an exercise worth undertaking.

Ritwik Ghatak was fascinating both as a filmmaker and as a person, and with time he's come to be recognized near and even at par with Ray by many. Again, from what I've seen, most Western cinephiles have, at most, seen his Cloud Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara), but the other films from his limited filmography are equally worth exploring.

Thanks Joel for eliciting this discussion.

Joel Bocko said...

Story of Film was a BBC series that, rather ambitiously, tackled the entire history of the cinema - and from an idiosyncratic perspective to boot. I loved it, as did Allan Fish (who sent it to me). I believe it's available in multiple regions now, though don't quote me on that. It was aired about a year ago.

Here's Allan's more detailed review:

And here's my own capsule:

Highly recommended.

Joel Bocko said...

Actually, I think it was Channel 4, not BBC. Either way - it was a British miniseries. Ran about 15 hours I believe.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Joel for the info. I went through Allan's as well as you reviews, and from what I've gathered the series seems to be really interesting & worth a watch. I'm not sure how I can get hold of it, but I'll do look out for it on the off chance that I manage to get hold of a copy of the series.

Joel Bocko said...

Finally started catching up on Indian films a few months ago, slowly making their way through my Netflix queue. So far I've watched: Mughal-E-Azam, Charulata, Pyaasa, Mahanagar, Kaagaz Ke Phool, and Nayak, with more on the way. I've liked them all, and especially enjoyed Mahanagar and Pyaasa, the latter of which I reviewed here:

Do you have any plans to write up Guru Dutt on your site? I'm fascinated by him now and hope to see a documentary on him soon, which I've bookmarked on You Tube.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Joel for sharing your venture into Indian cinema.

You've already managed to watched a few interesting ones. Among the ones you've mentioned, Charulata & Nayak are my favourites. I did notice that you've reviewed Pyasa. I saw the film a long time back, so I need to revisit it sometime.

I haven't seen much of Guru Dutt's films, to be honest. But yes, he is a filmmaker worth exploring. He had a tragic personal life though - committed suicide if I'm not wrong. He had an unrequited love affair with Waheeda Rehman, his favourite leading lady, which had apparently affected him deeply.

Satyajit Ray being one of my favourite filmmakers, I'd love to read your take on his films that you've watched and plan to watch. I'd also suggest films of Ritwik Ghatak, arguably the greatest contemporary of Ray - some even rate him higher than Ray. That reminds me, I still need to watch a couple of Ghatak's films.

Joel Bocko said...

Awara arrives today. The rest of the preliminary titles added to my queue are as follows: Pakeezah, Mahapurush, Kanchanjangha, Sholay, Kapurush, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya, Joi Baba Felunath, The Chess Players, and Hirak Rajar Deshe. I'm sure more will come along eventually, but those at the ones lined up at present. I know little about any of them other than Sholay (which was featured prominently in Story of Film), so it will be exciting.

Shubhajit said...

Pakeeza, unfortunately, I haven't yet watched, though I'm aware of the Kamal Amrohi film. The rest I've seen, though I watched Awara a long time back. Speaking of Awara, I watched Jia Zhang Ke's Zhantai (Platform) recently, and the title song of Awara was briefly shown in it.

I noticed that Hirak Rajar Deshe is there in your list. Have you watched Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy & Bagha)? If not, I'd strongly suggest you watch that first, as Hirak Rajar Deshe is a sequel to it. Thouogh the storylines are different, the 2 central protagonists of the film, viz. Goopy & Bagha, are introduced in the 1st film. Moreover, there are certain fantasy elements in it which too had their origins & explanations in the 1st film. So, just to reiterate, watch in that order only. Interestingly, these 2 films were musicals as well, and Ray himself wrote & composed all the songs in them.

Noticed that both Mahapurush & Kapurush are their in your list. Interestingly, they were released as a double bill, though of course they are not just different storylines altogether, their tones too are almost opposite to each other - thus making them fine complementary pieces.

Also noticed that Seemabaddha & Jana Aranya are there in your list, but Pratidwandi is missing. Do watch the latter at some point of time as, not only is it a very good film, the three constitute a thematically linked trilogy referred to as "Calcutta Trilogy".

Satyajit Ray wasn't just a filmmaker, scriptwriter, music director, poster designer, etc. in the film world, he was also a very popular author (he wrote number of novels & short stories). One of his most enduring creations, in popular Bengali fiction, was the character of Pradosh C. Mitter aka "Feluda", a chain-smoking sleuth modelled on himself, along with Topshe, Feluda's cousin & sidekick, and Lal Mohan Ganguly, a bumbling adventure story writer who writes under the moniker "Jatayu" and accompanies Feluda in his adventures & cases. Ray also adapted 2 of those stories into film - Joi Baba Felunath, which is there in your list, was one of them, and the other being, Sonar Kella. Since you'll be watching the former, I'd recommend that you watch the latter as well at some point of time.

Ramesh Sippy's Sholay remains among the most popular Indian films of all time. It is sometimes, humorously, referred to as a 'Curry Western' - curry being a general/stereotypical term used to refer to spicy Indian food. I've watched this entertainer multiple times. I'm not sure, though, which version you'd be watching as the theatrical version & the director's cut had very different endings. Once you've watched it perhaps I'll get to know :)

Chess Player, too, is a fine film - its a humorous socio-political satire, and one of only 2 films that Ray made in Hindi, the other being the made-for-TV film Sadgati.

Joel Bocko said...

Unfortunately, neither of those movies are available on Netflix. :( Thanks for the recommendations though. I may hold off on the sequel until I've seen #1, though I guess I'll go ahead with the first two films of that trilogy.

Shubhajit said...

Yes, "Calcutta Trilogy" is a thematically-linked trilogy, so you needn't wait for the third film. But as for Hirak Rajar Deshe, put it on hold until you've watched the 1st part.