A brief analysis of the Mother-Goddess iconography as practiced in Bengali Durga-pujas reveals a duality in signification. The traditional ekchala icon (i.e. icons presented under a framing arc) depicts the goddess gazing frontally, the features often resembling pat paintings. Surrounded by her offspring, she is on a visit to her father’s abode coming from (and after live days of staying will return to) her husband‟s. But in spite of this domestic context, she is always represented in a “frozen moment‟ of killing the Arum. Thus, two narratives overlap here: the frozen moment depicting her as Mahisasuramardini (literally; the slayer of the forces of evil, the Asuras or the demons), and the overarching moment of the pujas depicting her as Uma, the married daughter.
Thus the connotation of the demon-slayer is actually denoted within the “Uma‟ paradigm, but her frontal gaze also dissociates her face from the action the body is involved in. The face and the triad of eyes (a deity in Hindu culture is often endowed with an extra eye in her/ his forehead, symbolizing a divine vision) become the centre to which the body attributes supplementary meaning. Often a dissociated face (which often adorns the Bengali household) would be a repository of the same values even if the battling body is not depicted. The face becomes autonomous.
We propose that Ghatak’s Mother-images function in the same way. The face and the eyes — magnified and separated from the body in big close-ups or mid-close-ups —become an autonomous sign to which the body, i.e. the character posited in the narrative, attributes supplementary meaning. Thus, the autonomy of the iconic face and the eyes would be presented, often, as an excess, as a release from the body’s narrative, as a simultaneous signification of contemporary struggle and residue of a lost past. The past is the memory of the face of the Mother, when on was in a plenitudinal relation with the land, disrupted by subsequent turns of history.
It is a larger project to study the moments of close-ups in Ghatak’s films. But a question may arise: isn’t the spectation quasi-religious? Since we have already witnessed them figured in the modular form available from religious iconography, it would appear to be so. We can refer here to the concept of darsana, the spectatorial structure of Indian films previously discussed. Ghatak, obviously, frees the icon of its religious undertones and discourses of political and social authority. The feminine characters are always rooted within quotidian struggle, never “heroic‟ in the usual sense, but the spectational exchange do involve a reverential affection characterizing the Bengali culture of pratimdarsana (literally, taking a look at the deity), where the Mother is a domestic, intimate and loved entity, having more of a regional charge than a nationalist one, having more of a matriarchal, devotional warmth than a patriarchal, Brahminical grandeur. The face is never reduced to an object of the look. It is a culturally defined address which evokes a known affect, the latent emotions of one’s involvement with / alienation from one’s Motherland.