Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meghe Dhaka Thara

Director: Ritwik Ghatak
Language : Bengali
Neeta's (Supriya Choudhuri) family is one of many refugees who were displaced from Bangladesh and moved to West Bengal during the Partition. With her meagre earnings as a tuition teacher, Neeta strives to support not only her parents, but also an older brother Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) who is a struggling singer, a younger brother Montu whose passion for football she nurtures and a sister, the coquetish Gita. Neeta also financially supports her scientist fiance, Sanat, who is ultimately lured away by Gita at the behest of their mother who wants to ensure that Neeta remains unmarried to continue supporting the family.
Following her sister's deceit and mother's machinations, Neeta begins to feel suffocated by her life. Her sole source of emotional succour is her brother, Shankar whose life thereon gradually moves inverse to his sister's.
The family finally begins to thrive, but Neeta's emotional suffocation manifests at a metaphysical level as tuberculosis. Neeta is now a wasted human being and in the end, her final anguished vocalisation of her desire to live resonates in the hills that she always wanted to visit.
Ritwik Ghatak is considered one of the pathbreaking directors of Indian cinema. This movie is renowned for the way the sound and visual design communicate the emotional climate of each scene. The architecture of the scenes are also indicative of the turns that Neeta's life takes - from the vast tree-lined riverside vistas of West Bengal to the claustrophobic confines of the courtyard in the refugee village and then again, to the pinnacle of no return in the grounds of the sanitarium in the hills of Nainital.
Meghe Dhaka Tara is a tragic story, but one that highlights the Partition's socio-economic impact on immigrant families in post-Independence West Bengal.

(An edited version appeared in Culturama's September 2010 Issue)

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