অযান্ত্রিক. IN 1957. D+SC: Ritwik Ghatak. DP: Dinen Gupta. ED: Ramesh Joshi. AD: Robi Chattopadhyaya. M: Ali Akbar Khan. C: Kali Bannerjee (Bimal), Kajal Gupta (giovane donna), Shriman Deepak, Gyanesh Mukherjee (meccanico), Keshto Mukherjee, Gangapada Basu. P: Promode Lahiry per L.B. Films International. [DCP was announced]. 102'. B&w. Bengali version. From: National Archive of India
Introduced by Shinvendra Singh Dungarpur.
A dvd or bluray was screened.
INDIAN NEWS REVIEW N° 721 (India/1962) D.: 8'. V. inglese
Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English at Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 1 July 2014 - starting with views of a train crash - includes a meeting of Nehru and Mikoyan.
Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "'One of the few truly original talents in the cinema this country has produced' was how Satyajit Ray described his contemporary, Ritwik Ghatak. Ajantrik, Ghatak's first released feature, proposes 'an emotional integration with the machine age' through the story of an ecentric taxi-driver named Bimal and a battered old Chevrolet called Jagaddal. The wheezing, honking, rattling car has a mind of its own, and Bimal too treats it as a human being. As he plies his trade in small-town Bihar and the regions of the Oraon tribe, the film explores the comical and philosophical aspects of the strange bond between man and machine."
Freedom from Fetishes
"A refugee of India's Partition, Ritwik Ghatak first thought of Ajantrik when the fledgling nation had been pulled apart into warring states repressing their own varied people, impoverishing themselves through repeated crises of identity. The original inhabitants of India live along its central forests and have been truly independent of any colonization. Ghatak had lived amongst the Oraons at the eastern end of these forests, where perhaps the plough was first perfected. The inhabitants of Central India have always had access to the finest iron ore in the world, from which other people have made weapons and machines that speed up organic tasks to lethal limits."
"But Ghatak knew that the Oraons - and even those who lived on the periphery of their cosmos, such as himself - could counterpoint the violent waves of civilization's upheavals through collective compassion, born of eros and its epistemes. Dance, movement and fluttering banners are forms that have grown from mere fetishes of individuals to alankaras, or figures of speech and music. They in turn can yield the abstractions to approximate signs. The notations, then, can create realizations of science and art, narrative beyond chronologies."
"That is how Ritwik Ghatak arrived at the bizarre structure - if it be so called - of Pathetic Fallacy. Imagine giving a film a title as historically abstract as that! Literally, the title Ajantrik extends the word jantrik (mechanical) to suggest its antithesis. We have seen the end of the era that hegemonized the mechanical over the organic and the self-transformative. In this film of episodes that leads to mutivalent interpretations, having no end or targeted object as it were, Ghatak wants to restore to us the signs that the Oraons and others like them (spread all over the earth) sought to find in their experience."
"It seems to me that the movement of dance frees the fetish from its otherworldly awe, making us both ecstatic and attentive. The fresh tribal air that wafts through the film gives us a promise of primeval freedom, from enclosing ourselves in any garb of stitched habit. The magical can never be levelled to a linear narrative with a beginning, middle and end. It is 'episodic', iterative, moves in curves and spirals that seem to open up and impel expression, contain and liberate from its grasp inner feeling, the secret of energy, desire, of ornament forever being stolen from the divine bride." Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)
AA: During the screening I was thinking about car films from Méliès till today - Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en deux heures - In jenen Tagen - Two-Lane Blacktop - The Love Bug - Ein Käfer gibt vollgas - Abbas Kiarostami and Ten - Flåklypa Grand Prix - Zhivyot takoi paren - A Jitney Elopement - Big Business - A Day's Pleasure - Lizzies of the Field - the Hal Roach comedies where a shower of water makes cars disintegrate, their parts disappearing into the sewer - Cosmopolis - Holy Motors - Taxi Driver - Limousine Love - Death Proof - Kustom Kar Kommandos - Katsastus - Christine - La Croisière jaune - Something New - Steve McQueen - Ryan Gosling - Michael Mann - John Frankenheimer - Trafic - Week-End - Bensaa suonissa - the Ilppo Pohjola motor trilogy - Crash - Breakdown (Hitchcock) - The Fast and the Furious - Mad Max... Satyajit Ray's Abhijaan (1962), inspired by Ajantrik...
... and kept realizing better and better that Ritwik Ghatak has created something unique here. The film is a love story between the mad rural taxi driver Bimal and his car (called Jagatdal or Jagaddal) which was ancient already when he purchased it 15 year ago. But he has lovingly maintained it, and his patience is endless despite the fact that the car keeps breaking down. The footboard is out of order. The car needs to be pushed every now and then. It has to be hand-cranked to start. It is a convertible through the torn cloth ceiling of which one can see the sky. There is a constant issue with the cooler whose epic steam clouds are a part of the film's main imagery. It looks not much different than the jalopies so popular during the Golden Age of comedy in the 1910s and the 1920s. - P.S. according to Wikipedia it's a 1920 Chevrolet.
The taxi driver's quixotic journey is a vehicle for some epic scenes of Indian society and reality. The hopeless roads, the rain and the mud, the floods. The hustle and the bustle of the city streets. The children at play. The abandoned young woman who needs to catch a train. The ceremonies of music and dance, modern and ancient. The forest people on the mountain who come to the rescue.
The car is actually quite ready for the cemetery, but Bimal repairs it thoroughly one last time, and to the amazement of all it looks splendid and is in working condition... for a while. After the last ride it is only fit for the metal junkyard. But a child is still playing with its horn.
A farcical celebration of the vigour and life-force of the people against all odds.
The image is full of dynamics and electricity from the start. The talent for mise-en-scène and blocking is innate for Ritwik Ghatak. The rhythm is relaxed and spontaneous.
The visual quality: a home digital format, with some pixelated breaks, based on a mostly healthy source, with occasional scratches and other signs of use.