Ghatak’s women rarely confront his uncannily mobile camera in Titas Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas, 1973), they suffer patiently, are violently put asunder, and die. On that fateful day of the Dolyatra,1 the fool/madman (Prabir Mitra as Kishore) meets the long-lost estranged wife under the expanse of an enormous sky. As characteristic of Ghatak, the humans occupy only a fraction of the frame while an azure canopy of the sky, Titas and the boats on a distant horizon form the mise-en-scène, as if they are straight out of a Dovzhenko.2 Exchanging gazes, Rajar Jhi (Kabori Sarwar), the victim of mistaken identity, faces the camera frontally. An extreme close-up of the adolescent son (Shafikul Islam as Ananta) is followed by the impassioned, tumultuous, wild celebration of the fool on the heath. Silhouetted against the “river of no return”3 and accompanied by the irresistible melancholia of the Kirtan, the fool and his woman move towards their tragic end that almost always awaits Ghatak’s men and especially, his women. Eros and Thanatos, drives towards life and death accompany these doomed cinematic mortals against the background of a passionately indifferent nature. Many years later in España, such cinematic siblings as Diego Montes (Nacho Martinez) and Maria Cardenal (Assumpta Serna) will choose the melancholy paleness of a solar eclipse to put an end to their lives and lovemaking in Pedro Almodóvar’s Matador (1986).
After Subarnarekha (The Golden Line, 1962, released in 1965), Ghatak took a long hiatus before Titas (1973). In between he made a number of shorts and documentaries including Fear (1964-65), Rendezvous (1965), Amar Lenin (My Lenin, 1970) and left two fictional films unfinished. Titas was released on 27 July 1973 in select theatres in Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong, and, thanks to the diplomatic red tape, travelled to Kolkata only on 11 May 1991.
Like most of Ghatak’s films, Titas was not blessed with box office success, and it was not welcomed by its critics either. In one of his most influential articles on cinema, Gautam Bhadra, the historian once associated with the subaltern studies collective as well as with film societies like the ‘Cine Club of Calcutta’, objected to Ghatak’s way of translating the Advaita Mallabarman classic for screen.4 For Bhadra, Ghatak’s film rarely recognises the economic upheavals and resultant transformations in the Malo society that characterise Mallabarman’s novel. Ghatak looks at human relationships alone, as his individuals and the larger social forces run parallel, they remain dissociated within the diegetic space. Bhadra writes:
In Ritwik’s Titas, the existence of the Malo society is apparently without its temporality, having little association with the economic structures working in the wider world.5
For Bhadra, it is Ghatak’s middle class urban Hindu Bengali existence that exoticise the Malo life, especially when coupled with his nostalgia for the country that is lost due to the Partition of Bengal in 1947.6 Ghatak was far removed from the vision of Mallabarman who hailed from that impoverished community of fishermen known as the Malos. Ghatak’s Malos are no different from his middle-class characters in the films that preceded Titas, namely Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star, 1960) and Subarnarekha.
In defence of Ghatak and Titas, I would like to consider a few other things. Utpal Dutt, the renowned Bengali thespian and Marxist intellectual, adapted Titas for stage.7 At Minerva Theatre, herds of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) assembled to see the representation of a Brahmanbaria they used to know. 8 Ghatak, on the contrary, did not ‘represent’ the lost plenitude. 9 His obsession with the catastrophe that the capitalist-industrial modernity is associated with manifests in every film in his oeuvre. In Subarnarekha, the film that preceded Titas, this catastrophe is more allegorical in the disguise of a morality play. In Titas, it is more literal in his interpretation of the loss of a pre-industrial way of life. Like Subarnarekha, here too his micro-history runs parallel with its macro counterpart, with subsequent not-so-literal overlapping(s), something which troubled a historian like Bhadra.
Like Siegfried Kracauer whose Theory of Film: A Redemption of Physical Reality (1960) he reviewed, Ghatak too was concerned less with the “representational authority” and more with a “mode of experiencing and encountering the world.” 10 Titas is one of his very few literary adaptations, as he often found his source texts malleable, as he alone decided what he would film and what he wouldn’t. And, as Alexander Kluge reminds us, film history is where “the not-filmed criticises that which is filmed”.11
Titas Ekti Nadir Naam/A River Called Titas (1973 Bangladesh 159 mins)
Prod. Co: Purbapran Kathachitra Prod: Habibur Rahman Khan Dir: Ritwik Ghatak Scr: Ritwik Ghatak from a novel by Advaita Mallabarman Phot: Baby Islam Mus: Ustad Bahadur Khan Ed: Bashir Hossain Art Dir: Munshi Mahiuddin
Cast: Prabir Mitra, Rosy Samad, Kabori Sarwar, Shafikul Islam, Golam Mustafa, Rawshan Zamil, Ritwik Ghatak
- A Bengali counterpart of the North Indian Holi, but with profound indigenous overtones and an intense association with the tradition of Romantic poetry in Bengal. ↩
- Satyajit Ray once referred to Ghatak’s disengagement with classical Hollywood and affinity with Soviet cinema. ↩
- Adrian Martin, “A River Called Titas: River of No Return,” 12 December 2013, https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2990-a-river-called-titas-river-of-no-return ↩
- Gautam Bhadra, “Titas Ekti Nadir Naam: Malor Chokhe: Titas Ekti Nadir Naam: Madhyabitter Chokhe” in Ritwik Ghatak, Rajat Ray, ed. (Kolkata: Srishti, 2001), p. 180-190. In Bengali. ↩
- Bhadra, Titas, 187, translation mine. ↩
- The Partition of British India gave birth to the Hindu majority secular India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, resulting in the violent uprooting and subsequent deaths of millions in the subcontinent. ↩
- Dutt was one of Ghatak’s comrades during their days in Indian People’s Theatre Association/IPTA ↩
- Achintya Biswas, Advaita Mallabarman (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006), p. 56. In Bengali. ↩
- Interestingly, the novel itself goes back into history before the cataclysmic Partition, even though Titas is a story of cataclysm published in 1956. ↩
- Miriam Hansen, Cinema of Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 279. ↩
- Alexander Kluge, “Foreword”, in The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos, Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven, eds. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), p. X. ↩