Of roots and rootlessness: music, partition and Ghatak

  • Priyanka Shah maulana azad college, university of calcutta


At a time when the ‘commercial’ Bengali film directors were busy caricaturing the language and the mannerisms of the East-Bengal refugees, specifically in Calcutta, using them as nothing but mere butts of ridicule, Ritwik Ghatak’s films portrayed these ‘refugees’, who formed the lower middle class of the society, as essentially torn between a nostalgia for an utopian motherland and the traumatic present of the post-partition world of an apocalyptic stupor. Ghatak himself was a victim of the Partition of India in 1947. He had to leave his homeland for a life in Calcutta where for the rest of his life he could not rip off the label of being a ‘refugee’, which the natives of the ‘West’ Bengal had labeled upon the homeless East Bengal masses. The melancholic longing for the estranged homeland forms the basis of most of Ghatak’s films, especially the trilogy: Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), Komol Gondhar (1960) and Subarnarekha (1961). Ghatak’s running obsession with the post-partition trauma acts as one of the predominant themes in the plots of his films. To bring out the tragedy of the situation more vividly, he deploys music and melodrama as essential tropes. Ghatak brilliantly juxtaposes different genres of music , from Indian Classical Music and Rabindra Sangeet to Folk songs, to carve out the trauma of a soul striving for recognition in a new land while, at the same time, trying hard to cope with the loss of its ‘motherland’. This article will show how Ghatak, in Komol Gandhar, uses music and songs to portray the dilemma that goes on in the mind of his protagonists and other important characters estranged from their motherland, which could have otherwise become very difficult to portray using the traditional methods of art-film making. I would also attempt to show how the different genres of music not only contribute to the portrayal of the cultural differences of ‘East’ and ‘West’ Bengal but also enforce and validate the diasporic identities of the refugees while in the process paradoxically point out the unity and oneness of both the ‘countries’ as well. It would also elaborate on Ghatak’s own complex notion regarding the Nation-State which reiterates itself in all his films. In discussing about Komol Gondhar, the paper would also contain an elaboration on the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) around which the plot of the film revolves.

Author Biography

Priyanka Shah, maulana azad college, university of calcutta
English department, student.


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How to Cite
Shah, P. (2014). Of roots and rootlessness: music, partition and Ghatak. The South Asianist Journal, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.southasianist.ed.ac.uk/article/view/705