The Partition of Bengal looms large over the cinema of Ritwik Ghatak. Sometimes, as in his wayward masterpiece Subarnarekha (1962), he reckoned with the suffering unleashed on the refugees of Partition; in other movies he approached the subject more obliquely. “Poetry and Partition: The Films of Ritwik Ghatak,” a landmark series at Lincoln Center last fall, brought together seven films, five of them excellent new restorations, allowing us to revisit this neglected, path-breaking artist. Made in response to specific political crises, his movies retain all their urgency four decades on. For the issues Ghatak grappled with—displacement, cultural conflict, state violence—have never really gone away in India.
Shot across the country between 2013 and 2018, Vivek is a work of great ambition, really a report on Modi’s first term in power. It covers most of the big and small abominations now committed almost daily in India in the name of Hinduism: from cow vigilantism and the lynchings of Dalits, to the rewriting of history and attacks on higher education. But Patwardhan also spends time in the pockets of secular resistance that have emerged, profiling many activists (including the four murdered), journalists, students, and politicians. These are the two poles of the series, the villains and heroes. Their struggles and clashes are the highlights of an unfolding battle between faith and reason whose outcome Patwardhan believes will shape the future of Indian democracy.
National artistic vanguards tend to come in two types. Some groups, like the revolutionary muralists in Mexico, consciously set out to depict an aspect of their country: its people, its landscape, its culture. Others, like the American Abstract Expressionists, develop a novel style or approach, make an aesthetic breakthrough, which only later comes to be associated with the country of its origin. Over seventy years after its founding, it remains unclear whether India’s Progressive Artists’ Group (1947–1953) is a national vanguard of the first or second type.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is perhaps the most well-known photographer in India, or rather—an important distinction—the photographer whose work is most well-known. In “Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame,” the Rubin Museum brings together selections from his trips between 1947 and 1980. It’s hard not to detect a sense of social estrangement here. In fact, Cartier-Bresson made a style out of his outsider status.