A River Called Titas (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #687 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 12, 2013 by  


A wonderful addition to the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray and DVD box set, Ritwak Ghatak’s “A River Called Titas” may not be fully comprehended in one’s first viewing, but this complex melodrama is a great starting point in discovering this filmmaker’s work.  And one can only hope we see more of Ritwak Ghatak’s oeuvre from the Criterion Collection in the near future.

Image courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A River Called Titas (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #687


DURATION: 156 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, black and white, Monaural, in Bengali with English subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Film Foundation/World Cinema Project/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: December 10, 2013

Directed by Ritwik Ghatak

Story by Advaita Malla Burman

Script by Ritwik Ghatak

Produced by Habibur Rhaman Khan

Music by Ustad Bahadur Khan

Cinematography by Baby Islam

Edited by Basheer Hussain


Fakrul Hasan Bairagi as Nibaran

Narain Chakraborty as Moral

Banani Choudhury as Moral ginni

Kabari Choudhury as Rajar Jhi

Ritwik Ghatak  as Tilakchand

Shafikul Islam as Ananta

Sirajul Islam as Magan Sardar

Roushan Jamil as Mother

A RIVER CALLED TITAS The Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s stunningly beautiful, elegiac saga concerns the tumultuous lives of people in fishing villages along the banks of the Titas River in pre-Partition East Bengal. Focusing on the tragic intertwining fates of a series of fascinating characters, in particular the indomitable widow Basanti, Ghatak tells the poignant story of an entire community’s vanishing way of life. Made soon after Bangladesh became an independent nation, the elliptical, stylized, painterly A River Called Titas is a grand epic from a director who has had a devoted following for decades.

When it comes to Bengali Indian filmmakers, the most popular name that most cineaste may be familiar with is Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.

But in the last few decades, one filmmaker whose work is gaining more attention is the work of Ritwik Ghatak.

Unlike other filmmakers who have stories of inspiration of how they became filmmakers, for director Ritwik Ghatak, his life was not so happy.

He was a man that was seen as a rebel, exiled from Bangladesh during the partition, bouts with depression and alcoholism, but if one stepped into Ghatak’s shoes, they would understand why he has harbored an anger towards the struggle of society, the partition of India.  His cinema was not to only pursue an artform, his cinema was to show the world of how he felt and an outlet to express his emotions of how people are suffering.

Unfortunately, while Ritwik Ghatak was alive, he would not achieve major commercial success as his counterparts, but after his death, it is when people learned how his films, unlike traditional Indian commercial films that revolve around music, melodrama are seen in his films.

He remained dedicated through his oeuvre to showcase human suffering but later on in his career for reincarnation.  But his films would make an impact and would be featured in cinema polls from the ’90s through the present.

His work would be a major influence in the career of later Indian filmmakers despite only making eight full-length feature films.  But he left behind a work which included poetry, essays, short films and more.

And one of this films that continue to inspire many people is his film “Titash Ekti Nadir Naam” (A River Called Titas).  A film that was restored and preserved courtesy of the World Cinema Project and will once again receive exposure in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray+DVD box set release of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.

The film is based on a novel by Advaita Malla Burman, a biographical work that features the experience that Burman had to endure.  The film was shot during a time when Ghatak was suffering from tuberculosis but he still kept at it, despite being very sick and was able to create a film that resembled hyperlink cinema, which features multiple characters in a collection of interconnected storylines.  Especially storylines that tends to shift quite a bit, so for some viewers, it’s a film that you probably will want to watch several times or at least discover something new each time you are watching it.

It’s important to note that the film revolves around the Titas River in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh.  The river is a lifeline to millions of people who live near it as it supplies fish and water to the people.  Many people who are living in the area are not wealthy, many are poor and people come from various different villages and each village is ran by a village elder.

“A River Called Titas” begins with the film introducing the audience to a young Basanti who wants to grow up so she can marry Kilshore, who is always out fishing with his friend Subol.

Fastforward and everyone has grown up and Kilshore (portrayed by Prabir Mitra) has been paired with Rajar Jhi (portrayed by Kabari Choudhury) after the village is attacked and he was the man that stood with her.   Her  parents have him marry Rajar and the night they are to have sex, she can’t really see his face but that she becomes pregnant.  As she is to meet the people of his village, she would have to ride by boat.

But while everyone is sleeping, a boat of bandits kidnap Rajar and while she is able to escape, she falls off and by the time Kilshore wakes up, he sees her floating and believes his wife is now dead.  But she ends up on the banks near the Titas river and being discovered.  Meanwhile, the guilt of Kilshore has left him mad.

We are then introduced to Basanti, who befriends Rajar who comes along with a boy named Ananta who has no mother.

Basanti is often criticized by the women for not being with a man and the same with Rajar.   Their lives are interconnected by loneliness, sadness and the idea that one must be with a man, will need a man in order to survive and raise a family to be happy in their world.

Meanwhile, Basanti remembers a story that her father told her about the river and how one day it will dry up and sure enough, the river that brings life via water and food to those living near it, is disappearing.

And with the death of the river, will also mean the death of life.


“A River Called Titas” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 ) and in black and white. Of the films featured in “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, it’s important to note that the original negative for teh film was incomplete and some reels were severely damaged.  You can expect to see some vertical lines, some white specks and certain reels to look better than others.  But for the most part, despite the poor condition of the source material, the digital restoration for this film was able to make a big difference.  For a film of its age, the film looks good on Blu-ray with contrast levels looking sharp and the picture quality is quite clean considering the films age.  It’s not the most pristine film in the box set but considering its original source, it does look better than it probably has prior to restoration.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera and sound negatives and a positive print provided by the Ritwik Memorial Trust and held at the National Film Archive of India.  Because the original negative is incomplete and some reels severely damaged, a fine-grain master and a positive print provided by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Berlin were also used.  The opening credits have been digitally re-created due to the extremely poor condition of all known surviving elements.  The digital restoration was completed in May 2010 and produced a new 35 mm internegative for long term preservation.  Special thanks go to Ritwik Ghatak’s son, Ritaban Ghatak”.


“A River Called Titas” is presented in Bengali LPCM 1.0 with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and I didn’t notice any significant hiss, crackle or any major issues with audio during my viewing of the film.


“A River Called Titas” (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #687″ comes with the following special features:

  • Martin Scorsese – (2:40) Filmmaker Martin Scorsese talks about Ritwik Ghatak and his film “A River Called Titas”.
  • Kumar Shahani on a River Called Titas – (15:33) Interview with filmmaker Kumar Shahani about Ritwik Ghatak’s 1973 film.


“Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690″ comes with a 66-page booklet featuring the following essays: “Recalled to Life” a foreword by Kent Jones, “Mambety and Modernity” by Richard Porton on “Touki Bouki”, “El cine mexicano” by Charles Ramirez on “Redes”, “River of No Return” by Adrian Martin on “A River Called Titas”, “The Law of Nature” by Bilge Ebiri on “Dry Summer”, “Power to the People” by Sally Shafto on “Trances” and “Crossing Borders” by Kyung Hyun Kim on “The Housemaid”. Each Blu-ray and DVD are housed in cases that come with a slipcase.

Of the films featured in the Criterion Collection box set “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, “A River Called Titas” is the longest film in the set and it’s also a film that may require several viewings to full get a grasp what is happening because of its many characters and interconnected stories.

During my first viewing, I got confused as certain women I thought was the same person to realize later that the women I was watching were actually quite different from each other.  So, it require another viewing and even then, I feel I need to watch it again to get a better grasp on as I was so focused on the character of Bashanti, there were other characters that lend something to the film.

The first half of the film was no doubt the connection between the characters of Rajar and Bashanti, two women who are quite saddened by their life.  Rajar who was married wakes up in another village after an attempted kidnapping and she doesn’t know her husband’s name as she was just arranged to marry him, let alone doesn’t remember how he looks like because when they were together, it was always in the dark.

She can’t just tell people that she was kidnapped and so, she is made to think by others as just a wanderer.  But Rajar and Bashanti are able to connect with each other because despite not knowing each other’s pasts, they are like sisters who have similar lives and similar thoughts and thus they become friends.

Bashanti is often criticized for not marrying and being like the other women and until tragedy strikes, she is left with the boy that wandered alongside with Rajar, named Ananta.

Ananta is the son that Bashanti will never have. She feels like a mother with him but with Rajar gone, the connection and concern she once had towards Ananta started to change and when Ananta is reunited with his real mother, the loneliness of Bashanti begins to grow.

And the storyline would feature the drying up of the lake and how it affects the villagers who depend on the food and water for survival and as many people move away, Bashanti decides to stay.

The films is a theme of human suffering to the dependance on the lake but also to poverty.  The film’s use of jumping storylines, many characters featured and going to connected storylines of various people, it’s a complex melodrama that even I feel one must watch several times to understand the plight of the characters.  With my first watch of the film, I was too focused on the suffering of the women, but the film ended up becoming more than the suffering of women, it’s a suffering of people along the Titas river.

The challenges faced by people of different villages who don’t have enough to take in other people, let alone feed them but we see how the women become the strength of the characters in the film, no matter how stern and cold they can be at times.  And this is where  filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s Brechtian style of polemic and satirical situations come into play, while featuring human suffering in stories that jump around.  Pacing may not be too simple for some people to follow because the story jumps from character to character, despite some people featured are not the protagonist, but they show a mindset of people around Titas.

But the fact is that while the film is based on Advaita Malla Barman’s autobiographical novel, filmmaker Ghatak has already suffered during the famine, during the partition and he has seen people barely surviving with what they are able to catch on the river.  He saw poverty, he saw the best and worse of humanity and with the worse, plenty of human suffering.

And I can only imagine how Ghatak would feel today knowing that the Titas river is literally dying due to siltation (pollution due to silt or clay) and lack of dredging (picking up those bad elements and disposing of them).

The river that we see Bashanti’s father talking about the river disappearing has now become a reality and what is surprising is that this issue was discussed heavily in the film and not until 2013, are studies being done to figure out how to save the river.

But the problem of losing the river is important but that is just a small part of it.  Like we see in the film of people starving or in need of water, imagine how bad things are now in 2013 with thousands of fisherman and farmers deprived of water and food because the Titas had dried up.  The human suffering continues at an alarming rate and the more relevant this film is today because it was a problem then and “A River Called Titas” was an important film that Ritwik Ghatak wanted people to probably do something and make a difference.  And that’s why I feel that this film was so ahead of its time.

As cinema, people were looking to be entertained my music, glitzy dance numbers and clothing while other films were artistic and complex.

“A River Called Titas” was not a film that was happy nor was the focal point on music or dancing.  The storyline is very sad, a melodramatic film about people who depend on that river which is slowly disappearing.  But there is also an artistic side towards the film, maybe not considered artistic at the time and more as unusual non-traditional filmmaking but just to see the camera work of emotional closeups, interesting camera work as one scene featuring young Ananta pushing a boat and the camera is behind him as the boat of people sail away and he is left behind.  It’s a beautiful and memorable image from the film.

But the prime factor as we see the things he has experienced, the deterioration of a river, a deterioration of villages, community, unions, friendships and families being ripped apart almost devoid of any hope, people suffer from hunger, thirst and where will they go?  What will become of them?

I really do feel that Ritwik Ghatak was a filmmaker ahead of his time and that’s what makes his work so special today as many cineaste are discovering Ghatak’s work decades after these films were released in theaters.  And the fact that he is becoming more popular today, as more and more people are discovering his work.

And as Martin Scorsese’s organization World Cinema Project has dedicated in providing the funds for restoration and preservation, together with the Criterion Collection to give more exposure of Ghatak’s work and make you wanting to see more.

A wonderful addition to the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray and DVD box set, Ritwak Ghatak’s “A River Called Titas” may not be fully comprehended in one’s first viewing, but this complex melodrama is a great starting point in discovering this filmmaker’s work.  And one can only hope we see more of Ritwak Ghatak’s oeuvre from the Criterion Collection in the near future.

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