Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay at the talk on Saturday. Picture by Arnab Mondal
When art meets cinema, the result is often a masterpiece. The topic inspired a stimulating discussion at Studio 21 on Saturday evening.
Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay, who teaches film studies at Jadavpur University, illustrated how Satyajit Ray’s film, The Inner Eye, on painter and muralist Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ritwik Ghatak’s unfinished documentary, Ramkinkar, on sculptor and painter Ramkinkar Baij were also autobiographical because of the enormous influence the artists’ works had on the directors.
The talk, titled The Artist Before A Mirror, was interspersed with clips from both films, which Mukhopadhyay feels are akin to Pablo Picasso’s painting Girl Before a Mirror.
“Ray and Ghatak may be very different from each other as film-makers, but in their works, especially Pather Panchali and Subarnarekha, both have displayed traces of Benode Behari and Ramkinkar. So The Inner Eye and Ramkinkar become extensions of the autobiographical account of the film-makers’ works. The portrayal of the self is very evident,” explained Mukhopadhyay.
Ray, who was Benode Behari’s student in Santiniketan, made the film in 1972, when the muralist was 54 and had lost his eyesight totally following a cataract operation but was still creating wonderful art.
“Ray liked the simplicity of Benode Behari’s works. The latter had to feel space to work after his blindness. Since he could not see, all his images were static. Ray imbibed the painter’s deft use of space and replicated it in moving images in Pather Panchali. Thus through The Inner Eye, Ray is ultimately trying to defend his own art form,” said Mukhopadhyay.
Ghatak, through the unfinished Ramkinkar, was trying to hold on to the sculptor’s art tradition. Several of his frames bore influences of Ramkinkar’s works and offer viewers his interpretation of the sculptor’s art.
The documentary shows Ghatak in conversation with Ramkinkar amid his works. Ramkinkar’s interest in the surreal — he depicted a creature that is a cross between a buffalo and fish — had fired the film-maker’s imagination and inspired some of the unusual compositions in his films.
“Benode Behari’s compositions have a serenity about them. But Baij was known for eccentricity in composition. Both film-makers have at times imbibed this quality,” said Mukhopadhyay.
The teacher dwelt on a macro shot of the sculptor in Ramkinkar. “Ghatak is one of the few Indian film-makers who could take such a perfect shot of his subject from so close. He shot Madhabi Mukherjee too using the same technique in Subarnarekha. In Ramkinkar, he almost froze the sculptor into a sculpture and immortalised him,” said Mukhopadhyay.
He also spoke about Ramkinkar’s unique take on Tagore. The sculptor showed Tagore as lonely and somewhat broken, lost amid all the attention and admiration.