Based upon a celebrated Bengali novel by Advaita Malla Burman, A River Called Titas
was filmed in East Bengal, the childhood home of the film's writer/director, Ritwik Ghatak. The eighth of nine films that Ghatak made before his death in 1976, A River Called Titas
was made shortly after the independence of Bangladesh and dramatically shares Ghatak's own sense of overwhelming and struggle by the changes in his native land.
At its very essence, A River Called Titas
is a small-scale film about global scale issues including the inevitability of loss and change and the cyclical nature of life. Seen largely through the eyes of a couple separated by a kidnapping, A River Called Titas
is lyrical in the way it intertwines the drying up of a river with the drying up of the culture that surrounds it.
Shot in 1973 in black-and-white in India in the native Bengali tongue, A River Called Titas
is an ambitious and far reaching project that incorporates both professional and non-professional actors with noticeably mixed results. At 2 1/2 hours, A River Called Titas
is not always an easy film to view, as Ghatak wildly varies his approach to filmmaking ranging from rather straightforward drama to the more typical melodramatic style found commonly in Indian cinema to, at times, remarkably earthy and natural filmmaking. At times, the film even feels almost doc like. The actors, many inexperienced, at times seem to struggle with the film's fluctuating tone.
Ghatak, throughout his career, was known for his willingness to approach filmmaking experimentally and there's no question that he often takes this approach in A River Called Titas.
Indian cinema has always proven to be a challenge for American audiences, both because of its often melodramatic nature and because by the time the film lands in the U.S. it's often plagued by tech issues and damaged prints. It seems like even the newest Indian cinematic releases have a certain worn quality about them, but Ghatak uses that marvelously to his advantage.
D.P. Baby Islam provides complementary camera work to match Ghatak's varying styles, capturing unforgettably the obvious contrast between one's dreams and one's painful reality. Ghatak, a master of innovative sound, enhances that reputation with several scenes that are just awe-inspiring.
Certainly not a film for the inexperienced moviegoer, A River Called Titas
may at times wander too much and take the experiment a tad too far, but Ghatak's energy and conviction shine through to make it a memorable film about cultural change and, on a certain level, loss of identity personally and communally.
For more information on A River Called Titas,
visit the film's Facets Video website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic