Naxal Resistance

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Ritwik Ghatak and Naxal Movement (Red Star – April, 2007)

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 3, 2007


‘Everyday I become more red – my one ambition to be able to sing the ‘International’.

Naxalbari is, perhaps, the most momentous episode of our time. At one hand, it freed the ideology from the shackles of revisionism, and on the other, it incited a large section of the art-workers and intelligentsia in taking the minutes of the red turbulence. Progressive creators like Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and John Abraham served the cause by portraying the glimpses of peasant rebellions. But politically analyzing, probably, Ghatak’s “Jukti Takko o Goppo” (Arguments and a Tale) provides the most concrete interpretation of the movement. Ghatak’s interest and affinity for the “leftist” genre is most profound in his autobiographical last.

The Story of Jukti Takko o Goppo (henceforth JTG) revolves round Nilkantha Bagchi (Ritwik Ghatak), a broken intellectual, and his journey to innocence. He is a quite well known man but sunk in the fumes of alcohol. He believes that his generation has nothing to offer to the society. It has lost its nerves. He openly attacks himself as a humbug and escapist. But still, his finer feelings are alive. He reacts sharply to the inhuman man slaughter in east-Pakistan and condemns the traitors of the Mountbatten Pact and even defies the so-called independence. He utters, “…take the massive betrayal of 1947, stabbing the national liberation movement in the back. It’s the bourgeoisies’ 15th August! Great betrayal! Freedom! Independence! Fooh!!”

JTG is a travelogue of an individual (Nilkantha), who belongs to the topmost stratum of the society, but for his iconoclastic nature, travels on foot from Calcutta to the interiors of the Birbhum-Puruliya frontiers to integrate with the revolutionaries, and finally gets shot by the state tyrants. The film bears shades of Ghatak’s autobiographical elements; though, not in a very strict sense of the term. JTG brings out to surface the socio-political paradox of the rotten society.

JTG expresses its strong hatred for the so-called literates and intellectuals. It even goes to the extent of blaming them as fakes and escapists. It also delineates the restlessness of people like Nilkantha Bagchi, who drink the “holy water” for avoiding the self torturous confusion, “…which deduction can guide India and Bengal in a right course?”

Through several metaphors Ghatak shows that the anarchic nature of the seventies was a direct outcome of the “great betrayal”. JTG is a significative of the crumbling down of the old system and the birth of a new one. He hails the revolutionaries as the only capital, but at the same time criticizes them for pursuing the ‘infantile disorder’, puerile indigestion! Confused Nilkantha pronounces, “I have got everything jumbled up. It (activities of the young revolutionaries) seems as if nihilism, terrorism, and adventurism! In Lenin’s terminology infantile disorder!”

Throughout his life, Ghatak practiced the complex way of seeing. In JTG he points out the crisis of the new in denouncing the old and ancient. While arguing with the young absconder naxalite, the spent up intellectual explains the evolution of Marxism, which is quite “personal” and subjective, and explains the problems of negating the past. He emphasizes on the importance of the history of thought and pronounces, “…the history of India is four thousand years old. And as many bad names, we may call it, the brightest philosophical thought has been born in this country. Therefore, this country has delivered enough weapons into the hands of the most cunning rascals. These are the arms of roguery. But one has to understand them, grasp them firmly and then uproot them. They wouldn’t disappear just if we say they are not there. To uproot them, one has to know their strength and weakness properly.” Probably this was a critique of the statue breaking movement, that rocked the cities and suburbs in early seventies.

From a formalist point of view, JTG successfully brings out the phase of decadence and turbulence through its eccentric camera angles and frames and the erratic pattern of editing. Cerebral use of background music adds an extra flavour to the political content. Conscious use of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (Attack Bastille) helps to understand the class base and psychology of Nilkantha Bagchi, the last generation of the progressive bourgeois. Juxtaposition of ideas of French Revolution with that of the Naxal Movement is indeed a special thing to realize. Like it or not, a part of history!

In this context it should be mentioned, Ghatak was very much critical of Naxalism. He believed, though the naxalites were the only positive force in this opportunist society, they were misguided. They were successful, and at the same time failure, like the revolutionaries of the Agni Yug. In an interview he said, “I don’t support them politically. But how can I control my feelings for them? I’m bound to get sentimental. They are the only positives in this society.”

JTG throws light on the fact that since the age of primitive communism each age is class divided. But finally the protagonist fails to understand, class-struggle is the law of life. Instead, he holds the concept of existentialism. Out of his load of frustration, Nilkantha utters, “everything is burning. The world is burning. I’m burning…” Although he strongly condemns the prostitution of the inner-eye, but at the same time, preaches the theory of Jungian psychoanalysis, which is quite unusual for a person who strongly upholds that any change in the society should proceed through a Marxist path.

Unlike other so-called progressive films, JTG refuses to provide any concrete way-out. To Ghatak, society is a complicated organization having lots of currents and cross-currents flowing into it. He even threw an open question, “where is the solution?” knowing fully well, that the phase we are passing through is that of neo-colonialism, Ghatak alienated it from his film. He feared if he had showed this angle, his film would have been a political propaganda.

JTG exposes the diabolic wounds of the society and brings it to light. It dissects and analyses the paradoxes of the prevailing course and its counter, the anarchist politics, and carries it through till the end. Proper identification of problems precedes the course of healing. And here lies the socio-political importance of Ritwik Ghatak and his Jukti Takko o Goppo. He might have indulged in numerous ideological loopholes, but the undaunted spirit that he imbibed in his last completed film is a thing to be hailed.

Ghatak’s Nagarik: A Testament of Hope and Leftism (Red Star: June 2006)


Years before my foray to the film world, I was fortunate to see Nagarik (The Citizen), the debut creation of the iconoclastic Indian master Ritwik Ghatak in television. It is needless to mention that I was simply captivated by the subject and also the mode of presentation. The hammering of a locksmith at the time of its start and end simply evoked the flame proletarian revolution in me. Even today, with some preliminary film knowledge, when I see it, still an uncanny feeling mesmerizes me. And that’s the purity of the ideology of the toiling people; the x-factor!

In those days (early fifties) there was a deep scarcity of realistic films in the Indian cinema industry. Standing on this point (of course by then Nemai Ghosh had also completed his Chhinnamool – The Uprooted) we can say that Nagarik is the pioneer; the pathfinder. It is a testament of the partition stricken uprooted and unemployed lower-middleclass, who struggled each day and each night for shelter, identity and existence. The trauma and devastation of the refugee life, which Ghatak himself experienced, with all its bitterness, prevails in all of his theatrical and cinematic creations. Once he stated, “Being a Bengali from East Bengal, I have seen the untold miseries inflicted on my people in the name of independence—which is a fake and a sham. I have reacted violently towards this and I have tried to portray different aspects of this [in my films]”. The Citizen was also hugely influenced by the sectarian line of the BTR era that rocked India in the late forties with its dynamics of left adventurism. The impact of the BTR line is very much dominant throughout the film.

The whole narrative centres round Ramu, the jobless graduate son of a poor retired school teacher Mr. Sen, who lives with his family in an unknown lane in Kolkata. Each day Ramu goes in search of jobs and returns by dusk with a load of dissatisfaction. Day by day the situation gets worse and the family sinks in all sorts of economic hazards. But Ramu never rests from dreaming that around the corner a lucky good turn is waiting. But gradually he discovers no good turn is awaiting him. Adverse circumstances compel him and his family members to shift to a slum. But the hope for a better life continues. At the final stage Ramu realizes the importance of struggle and scraps his petty bourgeois conceptions of “happy life”. He tries to boost-up the psychological condition of Sagar, the unemployed paying guest, totally sunk in pessimism, and proclaims, “Just think, at the time of conceiving the mother faints in pain and feels that death is near. But does death appear? Life appears! A new tender life! All of us are giving birth to a new child. We are struggling in pain. Through this path of agony and pain a new life will come. The era is changing! … We shall not cry today. We’ll wait with patience. Someday the newborn will arrive, whose path of arrival is being created today. Let’s announce firmly that we’ll not die!”

The transfer of power in 47 gave birth to massive refugee problems. The so-called independence and a number of other issues emerged as chief subjects to the then communist party leadership. Most of the party members were against Puran Joshi’s understanding of Congress-Communist unity. In that situation BT Ranadive came-up with a new theory of revolutionary struggle. In the 2nd Party Congress in 1948 the “leftist” leadership mercilessly criticized the Joshi line and pointed it as a class collaborationist one. Entering into the shoes of Marshal Tito and Kardelj, Ranadive advocated the theory of Intertwined Revolution and asked the party cadres and fellow travellers to pursue a path of full-scale revolutionary war against the bourgeois state machinery. The party members and cultural activists got carried away by the attractive contents of the BTR Thesis. Moreover, the raging flame of Telangana and Tebhaga gave them a vast amount of cerebral support. Though very close to Joshi, young Ghatak was heavily inspired by the adventurist nature of the BTR thesis.

Completed in 1952, Nagarik possesses all the characteristics of the Intertwined thesis in spite of a great deal of positive aspects. A general movie-goer can easily make out that the flicker of left adventurism was well prevalent in Ghatak’s mind and he was more eager to provoke the people, rather than doing justification to his aesthetic qualities. Later he said, “…an eminent filmmaker after watching Nagarik told me ‘your film is very much inclined to politics’. I also think so. That was BTR’s era, i.e. the party was within the clutches of leftism…political dominance was too much in that film…but the very content of the film is yet a valid one to me.”

A cooperative venture, Nagarik was completed under heavy odds. A number of IPTA members gave their little savings to Ghatak for completing the film. But due to some unknown reasons it was not able to see the daylight for two and a half decades! After a great deal of labour it finally reached the screens after the passing away of its creator in 1976! What an irony! It is an undeniable fact, that Nagarik does suffer from proper technical qualities and also the overdose of leftism, but at the same time reveals the undaunted spirit of optimism that the maker imbibed from his IPTA experience.

To Ghatak, life was an ongoing phenomenon. Even in decay he visualized the birth of future. Shattered by all odds, the citizen shifts to a slum but does not abandon his hope. Ramu, in spite of all mounting pressures, does not succumb or submit to it, but remains mobile in struggle for the hunt of a better life. Once comrade Mao said, “we should rid our ranks of all impotent thinking…and put daring over everything”. Ramu’s zeal confirms this very truth and points out – though happy times do not follow as morning follows a night’s sleep, but we shall overcome someday. It gives a clear message, in spite of all hindrances and obstacles a new life will come, which will wash away the injuries and dirt of the decayed system. And here lies the central essence of not only Nagarik, but all Ghataks’s creations.

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