The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Special chemistry with Ghatak
- Nobel laureate takes time off schedule for Subarnarekha

It’s not often that a Nobel laureate in chemistry — born in Poland and teaching at Cornell University in the US — wants to see a Ritwik Ghatak film while in Calcutta to speak on molecules and electrons. The Jadavpur University film studies department, at least, has never screened Subarnarekha for a Nobel laureate before.

Then, again, you don’t meet people like Roald Hoffmann very often. A post-World War Polish emigrant to the United States, now famous for the Woodward-Hoffman rules governing chemical reactions, he is poet, dramatist, essayist and, of course, film buff rolled into one. Hoffman, who won the Nobel Prize in 1981, is in the city to attend a seminar — part of the industry-academic world interface — being hosted at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS).

He arrived on Tuesday— sans his luggage, that is still in Paris, and was forced to buy the shirt he wore on Wednesday — to address the issue of “electron-rich multi-centre bonding in molecules”. One of the first things Hoffman, however, inquired about was the possibility of catching a Ghatak masterpiece in the director’s city.

“The IACS director (Debasis Mukherjee) rang me up on Tuesday and requested us to do the needful,” JU film studies departmental head Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay said on Wednesday.

So, on Wednesday afternoon, the Nobel laureate arrived at JU, accompanied by IACS director Mukherjee. Hoffmann was “pleasantly surprised” to find an independent department devoted to the study of films. “Most varsities elsewhere amalgamate the study of films with some allied department like English,” he observed. Having bought a Ritwik Ghatak biography on Wednesday itself, Hoffmann then sat through the JU faculty’s brief presentation on Ghatak’s journey through films. Hoffmann then went into the man-woman relationship depicted in Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar, which he said he was “fortunate” enough to see. The discussion could have gone on had Subarnarekha not intervened.

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