Komal Gandhar

Komal Gandhar
A Soft Note on a Sharp Scale

“Why should I leave my home? Tell me, why should I forsake my country, my river, Padma?”

Bhrigu on stage with his troupe Niriksha


« On peut supposer que c’est du théâtre qu’il a pratiqué si longtemps, comme acteur, écrivain et metteur en scène, qu’est venu d’abord à Ghatak cette passion des contrastes de jeu, des violences d’éclairages et de sons que le cinéma, art du montage et de l’image rapprochée, permet de traiter plus intensément. Dès son premier plan, Komal Gandhar en impose l’effet : face à nous, d’un gros plan étendu aux épaules, un œil dans l’ombre, l’autre à demi éclairé, les mains jointes au bord du cadre, un homme âgé nous fixe d’un regard immense en proférant son texte (enjeu de la scène, début de l’acte II du drame, avertit un carton : quitter ou non la terre-mère fertile de la rivière Padma pour acquérir le statut de réfugié et s’en aller à Calcutta). »

Raymond Bellour1


“To date, four films of mine have satisfied me most: The Mechanical Man (1958), The Golden Thread (1965), A River Called Titas (1973) and Komal Gandhar because in it I have tried to discard the normal story line and to propound my proposition on multiple levels at the same time... In Komal Gandhar, I had to face the problem of operating at three different levels. I had wanted to draw simultaneously upon Anasuya’s divided mind, the divided leadership of the People’s Theatre movement of Bengal, and the pain of a divided Bengal... In my humble opinion, Komal Gandhar probably tried to break the shackles that strait-jackets our cinema. It has a pattern and an approach which may be tentatively called ‘experimental’... On the soundtrack, I brought together words and tunes that were centuries old, in an attempt to establish a new metaphor. The central theme for Komal Gandhar was the unification of the two Bengals: this accounts for the persistent use of old marriage songs: even during the scenes of pain and separation the music sings of marriage.”

Ritwik Ghatak2


“The disintegration of the IPTA [Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association] and the ideals it had once stood for, had forever left its mark on Ghatak. In Komal Gandhar he merges the motif of fragmentation of a revolutionary cultural movement with a broader motif, the fragmentation of a people. Bhrigu and Anasuya are both victims of the forces of history, exiled from the land of their birth. They are both struggling to find their own identity in a fast-changing environment where old values crumble, faced with the growing complexities of urban existence in post-independence Bengal. Within the microcosmic world of Bhrigu’s group of players, is daily enacted the dissensions of the world outside. The struggle for survival in the new environment frustrates some, embitters others, vitiating the atmosphere within the group. But a subterranean tenacity yet holds them together. Confrontations and recriminations are defused with one succesful show. Moments of disaster are averted with renewed faith in their comradeship. And amidst it all, with immense patience, Bhrigu builds his relationship with Anasuya, a little bit of solid ground to stand on in the shifting sands of their lives. Komal Gandhar brought with it an overwhelming nostalgia for the IPTA days – the isolated comradeship, the ephemeral hopes, the faith and trust on which the movement had developed. It also brought a romantic determination to fight for that faith, those values, in a hostile environment.”

Shampa Banerjee3


“Ghatak’s innovatively filmed critique of both the IPTA style of radical theatre and of Partition caused a major political controversy in Bengal, apparently prompting the director to look for work outside the state. (...) As in Ghatak’s earlier The Cloud-Capped Star (1960), the story is interrupted by sound effects including ancient marriage songs, sounds of gunshots and sirens. Music and sound effects mark particularly emotive political moments, as in one of the film’s classic shots: a tracking movement along a disused railway ending abruptly at the national border with a fishermen’s chant rising to a powerful crescendo. Appropriately for a film dealing with both political and geographical division, the most intense interactions of sound and image occur in spaces which simultaneously divide and connect, as in the aforementioned tracking shot or in the 360–degree camera pans showing a theatre group singing in boats on the river Padma which marks the border between India and Bangladesh. Spatial divisions are further elaborated as a critque of the theatre groups with their cramped and fragmented proscenium spaces and cavernous rehearsal rooms and the claustrophobic, expressionistically lit urban scenes. The overall effect, as noted by [filmmaker and former student of Ghatak] Kumar Shahani, is the creation of a space–in–formation, a dynamic though static–looking space animated by history.”

Paul Willemen & Ashish Rajadhyaksha4


“All motion emanate from a certain place. The movement of camera, the movement of people, stillness in everything – or the mutual coexistence of all these that creates a wholesome experience – are derived from dreams. The tools are no longer just mere tools, they transform into weapons for an artist, like the Sarode (a stringed musical instrument) in the hand of a Sarode-player or hammer in the hand of a sculptor. [...] In my film Komal Gandhar on the banks of the river Padma the dialogue between Bhrishnu and Anusuya with songs etc. in the background is followed by the symbolic gesture of separation where the camera runs on the rail tracks and tumbles on the buffer-stop. Immediately darkness descends. This can be referred to as the subjective use of camera, but if it were not accompanied by the sound of everything being torn apart, would the effect be so satisfying or my argument lucid?

Be it movement or composition, the two are indispensable to reveal something. In a commercial film the set-up and angle best suited to capture the faces of the main characters catering to an adequate visual appeal is something that keeps directors awake at nights. The same is true for more experimental filmmakers who try to radiate their feelings through the expressive faces of the characters. In Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita the young girl by the seaside café is framed from a peculiar elevation time and again – one can think of the ‘Umbrian Angel’ by Michelangelo in a similar vein. In my film Komal Gandhar, I have tried to evoke some of Botticelli’s work through a few close-ups of Anasuya. Again the thought process related to the subsequent changes of shots directs the set-up, for example the expressionist lighting on the face of a woman is accompanied by a very big close-up, a quick transformation from low set-up to extreme long top shot. These practices are commonplace in worthwhile films.”

Ritwik Ghatak5

  • 1Raymond Bellour, « Reprise et variations (Komal Gandhar, Ritwik Ghatak), » Pensées du Cinéma (Paris: P.O.L., 2016): 75.
  • 2Ritwik Ghatak in the magazine Movie Montage, 1967. And Ritwik Ghatak, Cinema and I (Calcutta: Ritwik Memorial Trust, 1987): 39, 45 and 72.
  • 3Shampa Banerjee, “Ritwik Ghatak,” Profiles: Five Filmmakers From India (New Delhi: Directorate of Film Festivals, 1985): 112–113.
  • 4Paul Willemen & Ashish Rajadhyaksha, “Komal Gandhar,” Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema (new revised edition) (London: BFI, 1999): 369.
  • 5Ritwik Ghatak, “The Eye: Movement in Film,” MUBI Notebook, February 6, 2018. First published in Chalachitra (Sept.–Oct. issue 1969). Translated from Bengali by Arindam Sen.
UPDATED ON 09.03.2018