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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Drama, 1965

Iswar (Abhi Bhattacharya) and his younger kid sister Sita, victims of the partition of Bengal stay in Nabajeeban Colony in Calcutta. While fighting for their individual survival, Iswar and his friend Haraprasad also look into the problems of the suffering refugees. A little boy Abhiram is left alone when his mother is abducted. Iswar takes him under his wing. A college friend of Ishwar offers him a job as cashier for his iron foundry in Chhatimpur on the Subarnarekha. Iswar accepts and goes there with Abhiram and Sita. Haraprasad calls Ishwar a deserter. At Chhatimpur across their house, the children discover an abandoned airstrip and find it a most attractive playground. When the manager of the foundry becomes insane since his daughter deserted him, Iswar is promoted to the post. Abhiram (Satindra Bhattacharya) comes home after his B.A. exams and Sita, a young woman now (Madhabi Mukherjee) and he fall in love. Iswar gets the news that Haraprasad's wife has committed suicide due to the suffering of their children. She implores Iswar to take care of them but Haraprasad refuses to hand them over to a deserter. Iswar wants Abhiram to go to Germany but he wants to settle down in Calcutta and write. Sita convinces Abhiram to stick to his convictions. Iswar's friend wants to make him a partner but he is not happy with Abhiram's presence and his unknown caste origins. That same day Abhiram discovers his mother, a dying low-caste woman. He now has to bear the burden of his caste identity. Iswar snubs him and looks for a match for Sita. Sita and Abhiram elope to Calcutta. They struggle to make ends meet there and have a five year old son, Binu. Abhiram unable to get a publisher for his writings, gets a bus driver's job. Haraprasad meets Iswar and in their defeat and despair the two decide to go to Calcutta and lose themselves in pleasure. Abhiram is beaten up and killed following an accident. In search for further pleasures Iswar comes to Sita's house who is waiting for her first customer. Without glasses he doesn't recognize her but on seeing him, she kills herself. Iswar recognizes her as her blood splashes on him. Two years later Iswar is released as it is proved that it was suicide rather than murder as he claimed. Haraprasad brings Binu to him but leaves without meeting Iswar. Binu and Iswar get down at Chhatimpur. Iswar is told he is fired and has lost the house as well. Binu calls him uncle and Iswar picks him up, overcome by emotion. The two trudge together on the sandy, rocky track...

Subarnarekha, made in 1962 but released in 1965 is the last in a trilogy examining the socio-economic implications of partition, the other two being Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) and Komal Ghandhar (1961). It is also perhaps Ritwik Ghatak's most complex film.

In the film Ghatak depicts the great economic and socio-political crisis eating up the very entrails of the existence of Bengal from 1948 - 1962; How the crisis has first and foremost left one bereft of one's conscience, one's moral sense. In the film, the problem of homelessness or rootlessness no more remains confined to the refugees from the partition. Ghatak extends it further as an important concept for the modern man, uprooted from his traditional moorings. The geographical sphere is thus merged into a wider generality.

The basic texture of the film is highly melodramatic. Episodes after episodes have been joined together in a dense story of fateful coincidences. To quote Ghatak himself...

"I agree that coincidences virtually overflow in Subarnarekha. And yet the logic of the biggest coincidence , the brother arriving at his sister's house provoked me to orchestrate coincidence per se in the very structuring of the film. It is a tricky but fascinating form verging on the epic. This coincidence is forceful in its logic as the brother going to any woman amounts to his going to somebody else's sister."

Ghatak endows virtually every sequence with a wealth of historical overtones through an iconography of violation, destruction, industrialism and the disasters of famine and partition. Most of the dialogues and the visuals are a patchwork of literary and cinematic quotations enhanced by Ghatak's characteristic redemptive use of music. A famous example is the sequence set on an abandoned airstrip with the wreck of a WW2 airplane where the children playfully reconstruct its violence until they come up against the frightening image of the goddess Kali (who turns out to be a rather pathetic traveling performer). Later, in dappled light, the older Sita sings a dawn raga on the airstrip. In a classic dissolve, the old Iswar throws a newspaper showing Yuri Gagarin's Space Exploration into the foundry where it bursts into flames, which then dissolve into the rainwater outside Sita's hovel. Haraprasad, who had earlier rescued Iswar from committing suicide by quoting from Tagore's Shishu Tirtha, later in the nightclub parodies an episode from the Upanishads using an East Bengal dialect. Other quotes from this extraordinary sequence includes Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and, through the music, Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960). Fellini had used the 'Patricia' music in La Dolce Vita to lash out at a degenerate, decadent western civilization. Ghatak passes a similar judgement on Bengal by using the same music for the orgy in the bar. A torn and tattered Bengal enhances the grimness of Sita and her prostitution as it is a powerful metaphor of its inner degradation.

The film is aided with fine performances from Madhabi Mukherjee and Abhi Bhattacharya and special mention must be made of Bahadur Khan's evocatively haunting musical score.

Sadly, like most of Ghatak's films, Subarnarekha was totally rejected by the public. Ironically, today the film is hailed as a classic and as an important landmark in the history of Indian Cinema.

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