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Subarnarekha

Ritwik Ghatak's Subarnarekha (1962)
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Subarnarekha (1962) is often described as Ritwik Ghatak's critique of Partition but that is just an understatement. There is a lot more actually happening in the film. A lot more that is said without being said. The film is in fact Ghatak's meditation on human beings and their condition under cyclic churning wheels of history. It about people going through same deceptive loops over and over again. According to the film, the wheel of history is mechanised, predictable. People would go through the same story over and over again. Failures leading to hopes, false hopes and fallen hopeless people getting up and and running again towards the golden shore, beyond which lies a paradise. We only make fresh mistakes with every fresh beginning. The cycles forever going.

In the first few minutes of the film the directors lays before us the process by which the film will emphasis this cyclic churning of history. We hear about Gandhi's death, an unseen man exclaims, 'Hai Ram', and a man reading the news declares, 'We have been cheated. Somewhere we have been cheated'. The allusion here is to the promises of 'Independence' transform into lies. As the protagonists, the refugees, begin their new live, a new lie is told, a man promises a child that the 'new home' is a fairy land. Iswar Chakraborty, the symbol of broken promises in the film, takes offense to the lie and commands that a child should never be told lies. We are also introduced to a half-mad man whose daughter has run away. As if a fragment from some other cycle, a cycle that completes when this man disappears and slowly Iswar Chakraborty turns half-man after his sister runs away.

At the start of this cycle, Iswar Chakraborty, stands accused of being a 'deserter' by a former comrade for turning his back to the cause of 'suffering masses' and deciding to tend to his own affairs. In an ironic twist, when the comrade returns, he brings in 'knowledge' from the failures of previous cycle. For the new cycle, he recommends a life of 'indulgence', suggests 'letting go' and 'flowing with the current'. Iswar Chakraborty (the 'God' in these cycles whose decisions have a bearing on the outcome on the experiments) takes the advise and thus triggers the event that lead to the tragic end of this cycle of experimentation.

Towards the end of this cycle, when Iswar Chakraborty's sister Sita commits suicide, we again hear a 'Hai Ram'. The scene too marks the gory end of one cycle and beginning of a new cycle.

It is as if all human efforts have to end with tragedy. The reason: The comrade of Iswar Chakraborty, blames 'Knowledge' itself. The film point across subtly, we see that in the new cycle that begins after Sita's death, Iswar Chakraborty loses his job to a man of no knowledge, a man who isn't even conscious, a man who is far removed from the concern of the film, a crass man who probably doesn't lose sleep over matter like 'human condition'. A man who would casually lie to a child without thinking much.

In the beginning, the story of legendary Sita is explained as someone who was not born to the man who raised her, but as someone who came out of Mother Earth and then returned to it. The Sita of the film is also not born to the man who raised her, in this case her brother, and then like Sita of legends has a tragic end. And as a character in the film explains, 'in between these two events, lies the entire story of Ramayan.'

In all this tragedy, this Ramayan of Sita, what about idealism? In Ramayan, 'Ram' is the ideal man. But in the film, we have 'Abhiram' and the idealism is symbolised by love of orphan outcaste Abhiram and Sita. This idealism is something that dies in the aftermath of events like a random traffic accident and the senseless mob violence that follows. This again is an allusion to the violent events of partition.

Towards the end of the film, as Iswar Chakraborty takes in his sister's young child, hoping to make a new beginning, the question of lies again crops up. When the child asks him is their 'new home' is a fairy land, Iswar Chakraborty, as if making a fresh mistake in a new cycle, choses to lie and answers yes. We realize, again, a child will grow up in a war battered playground, a former battleground. A new cycle of history for perennial refugees has begun. 

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