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Ritwik Ghatak
Born November 4, 1925(1925-11-04)
Dhaka, East Bengal (present day Bangladesh)
Died February 6, 1976 (aged 50)
Kolkata, India
Occupation Film maker and writer

Ritwik Ghatak (Bengali: ঋত্বিক (কুমার) ঘটক, Rittik (Kumar) Ghôţok) (4 November 1925 – 6 February 1976) was a Bengali Indian filmmaker and script writer. Ghatak's stature among Bengali film directors is comparable to that of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.


Early life

Ritwik Ghatak was born in Dhaka in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). He and his family moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal just before millions of other refugees from East Bengal began to flood into the city, fleeing the catastrophic Bengal famine of 1943 and the partition of Bengal in 1947. Identification with this tide of refugees was to define his practice, providing an overriding metaphor for cultural dismemberment and exile that unified his subsequent creative work. The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, which led to more refugees fleeing to India, was to also have a similar impact on his work.

Creative career

In 1948, Ghatak wrote his first play Kalo sayar (The Dark Lake), and participated in a revival of the landmark play Nabanna. In 1951, Ghatak joined the Indian People's Theatre Association ( IPTA ). He wrote, directed and acted in plays and translated Bertolt Brecht and Gogol into Bengali. In 1957, he wrote and directed his last play Jwala (The Burning).

Ghatak entered the film industry with Nemai Ghosh's Chinnamul (1950) as actor and assistant director. Chinnamul was followed two years later by Ghatak's first completed film Nagarik (1952), both major break-throughs for the Indian cinema.[1][2] Ghatak's early work sought theatrical and literary precedent in bringing together a documentary realism, a remarkable stylized performance often drawn from the folk theatre, and a Brechtian use of the filmic apparatus.

Ghatak's first commercial release was Ajantrik (1958), a comedy-drama film with science fiction themes. It was one of the earliest films to portray an inanimate object, in this case an automobile, as a character in the story.

Ghatak's greatest commercial success as a script writer was for Madhumati (1958), one of the earliest films to deal with the theme of reincarnation. It was a Hindi film directed by another Bengali filmmaker Bimal Roy. The film earned Ghatak his first award nomination, for the Filmfare Best Story Award.

Ritwik Ghatak directed eight full-length films. His best-known films, Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) (1960), Komal Gandhar (E-Flat) (1961), and Subarnarekha (1962), a trilogy based in Calcutta and addressing the condition of refugee-hood, proved controversial and the commercial failure of Komal Gandhar (E-Flat) and Subarnarekha prevented him from making features through the remainder of the 1960s. In all three films, he used a basic and at times starkly realistic storyline, upon which he inscribed a range of mythic references,especially of the Mother Deliverer, through a dense overlay of visual and aural registers.

Ghatak moved briefly to Pune in 1966, where he taught at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). During his year at FTII, he was involved in the making of two student films, viz., Fear and Rendezvous.

Ghatak returned to film making only in the 1970s, when a Bangladeshi producer financed the 1973 epic Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas). Making films became difficult for his poor health, due to extreme alcoholism and consequent diseases. His last film, and perhaps his most innovative, was the 'autobiographical' Jukti Takka ar Gappo (Reason, Debate And Story) (1974).He had a number of incomplete feature and short films in his credit.

He belonged to an illustrious family. His father Suresh Chandra Ghatak was a district magistrate and also a poet and playwright, mother's name was Indubala Devi. He was their 11th and youngest child. His elder brother Manish Ghatak was an acclaimed radical writer of his time, a professor of English and a social activist who was deeply involved with IPTA theatre movement in its heyday and later on headed the famous Tebhaga Andolan of North Bengal. Manish Ghatak's daughter is the legendary writer and activist Mahasweta Devi. Ritwik's wife Surama was a school teacher and his son Ritaban is a film-maker.

Impact and influence

At the time of his death (February 1976), Ghatak's primary impact would seem to have been through former students. Though his stint teaching film at FTII was brief, one-time students Mani Kaul, John Abraham, and especially Kumar Shahani (among many others), carried Ghatak's ideas and theories, which were further elaborated upon in his book Cinema And I, into the mainstream of Indian art film. Other students of his at the FTII included the acclaimed filmmakers Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.[3]

Ghatak stood entirely outside the world of Indian commercial film. None of the elements of the commercial cinema (singing and dancing, melodrama, stars, glitz) featured in his work. He was watched by students and intelligentsia, not by the masses. His students have also tended to work in the art cinema or independent cinema tradition.

Satyajit Ray, commonly held to be the greatest of the Bengali neo-realist directors, succeeded in creating an audience outside India during his lifetime and winning many prestigious international awards. Ghatak was not so fortunate. While he was alive, his films were appreciated primarily within India. Satyajit Ray did what he could to promote his colleague, but Ray's generous praise did not translate into international fame for Ghatak. For example, Ghatak's Nagarik (1952) was perhaps the earliest example of a Bengali art film, preceding Ray's Pather Panchali by three years, but was never released until after his death in 1977.[1][2] His first commercial release Ajantrik (1958) was also one of the earliest films to portray an inanimate object, in this case an automobile, as a character in the story, many years before the Herbie films.[4] Ghatak's Bari Theke Paliye (1958) had no similarity to François Truffaut's later film The 400 Blows (1959), Ghatak's film remained obscure while Truffaut's film went on to become one of the most famous films of the French New Wave. One of Ghatak's final films, A River Named Titas (1973), is one of the earliest films to be told in a hyperlink format, featuring multiple characters in a collection of interconnected stories, predating Robert Altman's Nashville (1975) by two years.

Ghatak's only major commercial success was Madhumati (1958), a Hindi film which he wrote the screenplay for. The film was one of the earliest to deal with the theme of reincarnation and is believed to have been the source of inspiration for many later works dealing with the theme of reincarnation in Indian cinema, Indian television, and perhaps world cinema. It may have been the source of inspiration for the American film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) and the Hindi film Karz (1980), both of which dealt with reincarnation and have been influential in their respective cultures.[5] Karz in particular was remade several times: as the Kannada film Yuga Purusha (1989), the Tamil film Enakkul Oruvan (1984), and more recently the Bollywood film Karzzzz (2008). Karz and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud may have also inspired the American film Chances Are (1989).[5] The most recent film to be directly inspired by Madhumati is the hit Bollywood film Om Shanti Om (2007), which led to the late Bimal Roy's daughter Rinki Bhattacharya accusing the film of plagiarism and threatening legal action against its producers.[6][7]

Ghatak's work as a director also had an impact on many later Indian filmmakers, including those from the Bengali film industry and elsewhere. For example, Mira Nair has cited Ghatak as well as Ray as the reasons she became a filmmaker.[8] Ghatak's impact as a director began to spread beyond India much later; beginning in the 1990s, a project to restore Ghatak's films was undertaken, and international exhibitions (and subsequent DVD releases) have belatedly generated an increasingly global audience. In a critics' poll of all-time greatest films conducted by the Asian film magazine Cinemaya in 1998, Subarnarekha was ranked at #11 on the list.[9] In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll for all-time greatest films, Meghe Dhaka Tara was ranked at #231 and Komal Gandhar at #346 on the list.[10] In 2007, A River Named Titas topped the list of 10 best Bangladeshi films, as chosen in the audience and critics' polls conducted by the British Film Institute.[11]



Feature films

Director & Screenwriter
  • Musafir (1957)
  • Madhumati (1958)
  • Swaralipi (1960)
  • Kumari Mon(1962)
  • Deeper Nam Tiya Rong(1963)
  • Rajkanya(1965)

Short films and documentaries

  • The Life of the Adivasis (1955)
  • Places of Historic Interest in Bihar (1955)
  • Scissors (1962)
  • Fear (1965)
  • Rendezvous (1965)
  • Civil Defence (1965)
  • Scientists of Tomorrow (1967)
  • Yeh Kyon (Why / The Question) (1970)
  • Amar Lenin (My Lenin) (1970)
  • Puruliar Chhau (The Chhau Dance of Purulia) (1970)
  • Durbar Gati Padma (The Turbulent Padma) (1971)


  • Tothapi(1950)Dir: Manoj Bhattacharya
  • Chinnamul(1951)Dir: Nimai Ghose
  • Kumari Mon(1962)Dir: Chitrarath
  • Subarnarekha(1962)
  • Titas Ekti Nadir Nam(1973)
  • Jukti,Takko, aar Gappo(1974)

Incomplete Films and docu

  • Bedeni(1951)
  • Kato Ajanare(1959)
  • Bagolar Bangodarshan(1964–65)
  • Ronger Golam(1968)


  • Ramkinkar(1975)

Screenplays aborted before shooting

  • Okal Basonto(1957)
  • Amritokumbher Sandhane(1957)
  • Arjan Sardar(1958)
  • Bolidan(1963)
  • Aronyak(1963)
  • Shyam Se Neha Lagei(1964)
  • Sansar Simante(1968)
  • Padda Nadir Majhi
  • Notun Fasol
  • Raja
  • Sei Bishnupriya
  • Princess Kalaboti
  • Lojja


  • Achalayoton(Tagore),1943:directed and acted
  • Officer(Gogol),1953:acted
  • Ispaat(Ghatak),1954-55:wasn't staged
  • Kato Dhane Kato Chaal(Ghatak),1952:in the context of the first Election in Independent India,based on food crisis
  • Kalonko(Bijan Bhattacharya)1951:acted
  • Kalo Sayor(Ghatak),1947-48:acted and directed
  • Khorir Gondi(Brecht)
  • Galileo Chorit(Brecht)
  • Chandragupto(D.L.Roy):as a child actor
  • Jagoran(Atindra Mozumdar):acted
  • Jalonto(Ghatak)
  • Jala(Ghatak)
  • Dakghar(Tagore)
  • Dheu(Biru Mukhopadhay)
  • Dhenki Swarge geleo Dhan bhane(Ghatak/Panu Paul)
  • Dolil(Ghatak),1952:acted and directed
  • Notir Puja(Tagore)
  • Nabanna(Bijan Bhattacharya)
  • Nildarpan(Dinabandhu Mitra):acted
  • Nicher Mahal(Gorky):wasn't staged
  • Netajike nie(Ghatak)
  • Poritran(Tagore)
  • Falguni(Tagore)
  • Bidyasagar(Bonophul)
  • Bisarjan(Tagore)
  • Vangabandor(Panu Paul):acted
  • Voter vet(Panu Paul):acted
  • Musanfiro ke lie(Gorky):acted in Hindi
  • Macbeth(Shakespeare)acted as the witch
  • Raja(Tagore)
  • Sanko(Ghatak):acted
  • Sei Meye(Ghatak)directed
  • Strir Patro(Tagore)
  • Hojoborala(Sukumar Ray)

Books by Ritwik Ghatak

  • Ritwik Ghataker Galpo(Short Stories of Ritwik Ghatak)an anthology:

some of the stories in it: 1.Gaachti 2.Shikha 3.Rupkotha 4.Chokh 5.Comred 6.Prem 7.Maar 8.Raaja

  • GalileoCharit(Bengali Translation of Brecht's 'Life of Galileo'
  • Jala(play)
  • Dolil(play)
  • Meghe Dhaka Tara(screenplay)
  • Chalachitro,Manus ebong aro kichu
  • Cinema and I,Ritwik Memorial Trust,Kolkata
  • On Cultural Front
  • Rows and Rows of Fences:Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema, Seagall Books Pvt.Ltd,Kolkata
  • Ritwik Ghatak Stories.Translated from Bengali by Rani Ray,New Delhi,Shrishti Publishers and Distributors


" You could say I strayed into films down a zigzag path. If my father had had his way I should have been an income-tax officer.I got the job but left it to join the CPI...After quitting the job i tried writing poetry, but I found myself singularly incapable of it. I shifted my interests to writing short stories and won a bit of fame...literature delves deep into the soul of man, but it works slowly...I wanted to make an immediate impact...Then a miracle happened-the IPTA...I produced Tagore's Bisarjaan...But this also showed me that I could only reach a maximum of 10,000 people through such a show...Then I decided to make films."

" I am a bad cinema-goer. I rarely see films."

" In my opinion Sergei Yuktevich and Loius Buñuel are the very greatest."

" The secret of good film-making is editing. This calls for an uncanny sense of timing. Satyajit Ray is the only director in India who has it."

"It(Film-making)is veritably a matter of emotion recollected in tranquility, that is, everything is planned out before the actual process of filming."

"There can be no creation without pride.But it has to be the creator's pride, not pride in the mundane sense...you can not make a film without pride,infinite self-confidence and the stern capacity to dream infinitude."

" There are categories of motion. Firstly, the motion of visible objects and creatures in mobility. Secondly, the motion of the camera itself. Thirdly, the suspension of motion. Fourthly, the mental motion."

"Every artist somehow manages to carry his childhood with himself,tucked in his pocket,right into adulthood.Once that eludes him,he is left an old fogey.He ceases to be an artist,and becomes a theorist."

"If there is a better medium than cinema, i'll kick the cinema out to grab it.I am not in love with cinema...I don't love film..."

"Rabindranath,Rabindranath!Great artist of such stature...Rabindranath is a vast ocean."


" Ritwik for some mysterious reason was free from the Hollywood influence...The most charactersitic feature of Ritwik was his originality and he maintained that till the end...He was quinessentially a Bengali film-maker, Bengali artist -- more Bengali than me." -- Satyajit Ray

" Riwik happened to be the biggest Bohemian among us." -- Mrinal Sen

" At 83, I am still trying hard to protect whatever remains of his work and keep his memory alive. Despite being so unwell, he never lost focus of his work or his creative urge. He lives on in my memories." -- Surama Ghatak.

" Of all India's many comparatively unsung directors, Ritwik Ghatak(1926–76)was possibly the most obviously talented...The first occasion a group of Western critics was abe to look at the body of his works was at the Madras Festival in January 1978. The prints were tattered, the subtitles virtually unreadable...the projection...below even Indian standards.But the impact of the films on all present was considerable. Here, we all felt, was a passionate and intensely national film-maker who seemed to have found his way without much access to the works of others but who most certainly of international calibre." -- Derek Malcolm

" Five years after his death Ritwik is beginning to relive. His films are being claimed by the people again. The people are resurrecting what an entire generation of his enemies could not destroy." -- Safder Hasmi.

" I remember him on the days when he stalked down the Institute corridors, and we addressed him as the Tiger from Blake's poem that he loved to quote. In Jukti Takko ar Gappo, he seemed to remember it too—only with a change of meaning: 'I am burning everyone is burning...the universe is burning...' -- Kumar Sahani

" Almost forty-forty five years have elapsed—the value system of Bengalis was dying down fast...India,Bangladesh were sacrificed on the guillotine of European great wars.How much could men confront against the starvation,epidemic,death?But they tried.Some of the young men and women stood up;built organisations and declared 'We won't die,won't let our brothers and sisters either'.They made their declarations through songs on bus,tram,street;poets in their poetry;litterateurs in stories,fictions...Amidst them came the indefatigable artist Ritwik Ghatak—whose emergence was as bright and end as fleeting as a comet—yet the world of cinema he lit up in that short period." -- Gopal Haldar

Books on Riwik Ghatak

  • Ritwik: Surama Ghatak, Calcutta, Asha Prakasani
  • Ritwik and His Films: in two volumes:edited by Rajat Ray
  • Ritwik Kumar Ghatak:edited by Rajat Ray, Shristi Prakasan
  • Ritwikke Sesh Valobasa:Pratiti Devi,Bangladesh,Sahitya Prakas
  • Ritwiktantra:Sanjay Mukhopadhaya,Kolkata Ritwik Cine Society
  • Riwik Kumar Ghatak:(a monograph)Haimanti Banerjee,National Film Archive, Pune


  1. ^ a b Ghatak, Ritwik (2000), Rows and Rows of Fences: Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema, Ritwik Memorial & Trust Seagull Books, pp. ix & 134–36, ISBN 8170461782 
  2. ^ a b Hood, John (2000), The Essential Mystery: The Major Filmmakers of Indian Art Cinema, Orient Longman Limited, pp. 21–4, ISBN 8125018700 
  3. ^ Chitra Parayath (08/11/2004). "Summer Viewing - The Brilliance Of Ritwik Ghatak". Lokvani. http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=1899. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  4. ^ Carrigy, Megan (October 2003), "Ritwik Ghatak", Senses of Cinema, http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/ghatak.html, retrieved 2009-05-03 
  5. ^ a b Doniger, Wendy (2005), "Chapter 6: Reincarnation", The woman who pretended to be who she was: myths of self-imitation, Oxford University Press, pp. 112–136 [135], ISBN 0195160169 
  6. ^ Ashanti nags Om Shanti Om Mumbai Mirror, 7 August 2008.
  7. ^ Shah Rukh, Farah Sued: Writer Claims SRK stole his script for Om Shanti Om
  8. ^ "Why we admire Ray so much". Naachgana. 14 April 2009. http://www.naachgaana.com/2009/04/14/why-we-admire-satyajit-ray-so-much. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  9. ^ Totaro, Donato (31 January 2003), "The “Sight & Sound” of Canons", Offscreen Journal (Canada Council for the Arts), http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/canon.html, retrieved 2009-04-19 
  10. ^ "2002 Sight & Sound Top Films Survey of 253 International Critics & Film Directors". Cinemacom. 2002. http://www.cinemacom.com/2002-sight-sound.html. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  11. ^ "Top 10 Bangladesh Films". British Film Institute. 17 July 2007. http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/imagineasia/guide/poll/bangladesh/index.html. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 


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