The Cloud-Capped Star
(India, 1960, 120 minutes, b&w, DVD)
One of the "ten best films of all time." – John Powers, LA Weekly.
Ghatak’s love for his characters, his crisp visual compositions, and his assured grasp of editing techniques (just what you’d expect from a man who idealized Eisenstein) make this an enduring and compassionate work. – Ryan Gilbey, The Independent (London).
The following is a description that appears on the website of the British Film Institute, the national film archive of the United Kingdom:
Arguably Ghatak’s finest work, The Cloud-Capped Star is a dark melodrama set in late Fifties Calcutta about a refugee family and the struggle of Nita, the oldest daughter, to keep them afloat and together. It is a bitter critique of the family as institution and also of the harsh social and economic conditions arising from Partition - the trauma that defined Ghatak as an artist. With its sparse script, audacious expressionist soundtrack and a startling cinematic elegance, The Cloud-Capped Star is undoubtedly a modern masterpiece - infinitely compassionate and humane while remaining resolutely unsentimental.
The following is taken from a review that appears in the e-zine Strictly Film School:
Ritwik Ghatak presents a visually sublime, provocative and deeply personal account of poverty, disillusionment, and exile in The Cloud-Capped Star. By interplaying light and shadows and incorporating evocative, aggressive sounds that underscore emotional impact and comedic tone, Ghatak creates a unique, sensorial experience that chronicles the systematic demoralization of the human soul: the surreal, foreboding shot of Nita descending a staircase after she is compelled to leave her studies in order to support the family; the overemphasized sounds of cooking as the mother spies on Nita and Sanat that aurally conveys her anger and fear at losing their primary source of income; the contrasted image of Nita—first, illuminated in front of a latticed window as she reads Sanat’s letter and later, concealed behind the window after Shankar’s return; the sound of lashing as Nita and Shankar sing a melancholic Rabindranath Tagore song (evoking Raskolnikov’s dream of burden and responsibility in Fyodor Doestoevsky’s Crime and Punishment). An allegory for the traumatic consequences of the partition of Bengal, The Cloud-Capped Star captures the disintegration of a Bengali middle class family as a result of dislocation, poverty, self-interest, and petty, internal division. Note the repeated imagery of a passing train bisecting the horizon that alludes to the physical division of the family’s ancestral homeland. Inevitably, as Nita attempts to recuperate from the ravages of self-denial, want, and exploitation, her cry of anguish becomes an indistinguishable, resonant echo from the lost and irredeemable soul of a displaced and uprooted people.
The following is a biography written for the British Film Institute by film critic Derek Malcom of the Guardian (UK):
Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) was one of the greatest and most innovative filmmakers India has produced. He was also one of the most self-destructive. Born in Dacca in 1925, he died a confirmed alcoholic in Calcutta in 1976. His work was uneven but remarkable for its passion and flashes of brilliance and, to this day, he is a legend not only in the eyes of those who knew him, and especially those who were taught by him, but also for those who know only his work and the many tales about his character and life.
Everything about this Marxist sympathizer — he was in his early days a member of the Indian Communist Party and wrote and performed plays for their travelling theatre — provoked the most violent of reactions, for and against. You were, as one Indian cineast has said, ‘either touched by his genius, overwhelmed by his passionate humanism and amazed by his childlike simplicity, or simply repulsed by the arrogant manners, crass speech and melodramatic posturings of a would-be prophet’.
He made only eight feature films but abandoned half a dozen others before they were complete. If it was sometimes his fault that projects were cancelled, it was as often due to the desperate times in which he lived and worked. Ghatak once said: ‘Cinema is no art form for me. It is a means of serving my people’. He witnessed the tragedy of Partition, which cut his beloved homeland in half. Almost all his work, and almost every character in his films, bears the scars of that devastating upheaval. He felt he was recording and commenting upon a passage of history he could not change, even if he deeply regretted it. Ghatak’s drinking was largely the result of his despair as he sensed that Partition was not just a political calamity, but a social and cultural one too.
The following is taken from a profile of actress Supriya Devi [Supriya Choudhury] by Shoma A. Chatterji, which appeared in the magazine, Screen India, August 1, 2003:
"I want to live," cried Nita in Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara many years ago. . . . the girl who played Nita lived on, to give 50 years of her life to some of the best cinema Bengal has produced. . . .
Born in Michkina in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) in 1933, Supriya belongs to a family deeply rooted in culture, art and theatre. Her father, Gopal Chandra Banerjee was a noted lawyer and she is the youngest among eight sisters and three brothers. Her debut in acting happened when, as a seven-year-old, her father made her step in to play two roles in two plays directed by him. The plays were Shah Jehan and Nar Narayan and Supriya played male roles in both. During the Second World War, when there was a great influx of Indians back to India from Burma, Supriya, then a little girl, walked to Calcutta with her entire family, eventually settling in the southern parts of Calcutta.
Her pairing in countless films with the two best-known male stars of Bengali cinema [Soumitra Chatterjee and Uttam Kumar] ushered in a new genre in mainstream Bengali cinema that reflects the golden era of Bengal, a cinema that defined and shaped itself with a fine blend of strong storylines, rich music, beautiful songs and controlled direction….
[More recently], she has also given a marvellous performance as the strong grandmother in Raja Sen’s National Award-winning film Atmiyo Swajan in 1999. But her work for television also goes on unabated. She has also been roped in for a cookery show called Benu-dir Rannaghar on Tara Bangla that is making optimum use of Supriya Devi’s culinary talents. Today, switch on any Bangla channel and you will find Supriya Devi gracing the screen with her big screen colleagues Soumitra Chatterjee and Subhendu Chatterjee. Maturity has given her performance an edge, a touch of naturalness, one did not always encounter when she was young.
The Writers Institute would like to thank Ritaban Ghatak and the Ritwik Memorial Trust of Calcutta, India for permission to screen this film.
NOTE: Anita Pratap, considered one of India’s finest journalists, will read from her book Island of Blood: Frontline Reports From Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Other South Asian Flashpoints on Tuesday, September 23rd at 8:00 p.m. in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the UAlbany uptown campus. Earlier that afternoon Pratap will hold an informal seminar at 4:15 p.m. in the Standish Room, New Library, on the UAlbany uptown campus. Pratap has worked for leading Indian and American newspapers and magazines. Until 1999, she was the New Delhi Bureau Chief for CNN, covering all the major stories in the region including nuclear tests, the ethnic war in Sri Lanka, and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.