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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Tagore and the Talkies

Rabindranath Tagore never liked to stay in the same house,or even the same room,for too many days.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published: March 17, 2012 1:45:51 am

* Tagore Stories on Film

* NFDC

* Six-DVD Set,Rs 399

Rabindranath Tagore never liked to stay in the same house,or even the same room,for too many days. In Santiniketan,he spent his time in a series of small houses. “It was symbolic of his refusal to get into a rut,” says Satyajit Ray in his short film Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore seemed just as uncomfortable to be restricted to a single genre: he wrote poetry,short stories,novels,plays and songs. He even painted. But cinema? Tagore’s relationship with the medium could be described as a brief acquaintance. Yet,cinema has taken the relationship forward and further than even Tagore could have guessed — his song Ekla chalo re makes a guest appearance in Kahaani.

Now a set of six DVDs celebrates Tagore and the talkies. The DVD set,brought out by NFDC and the ministry of culture,to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore,includes Tapan Sinha’s 1960 classic Khudito Pashan (Hungry Stones),Hemen Gupta’s Hindi take on Kabuliwala in 1961 and Kumar Shahani’s 1997 movie Char Adhyay. Ray’s fascination with Tagore is evident in the fact that two of the five films in the set are his — Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) and Ghare Baire (Home and the World). For a film lover,the most exciting DVD is the sixth one. It has Rabindranath Tagore,an hour-long cinematic biography by Ray,and Natir Puja (The Dancing Girls’ Worship),which Tagore directed — his last major involvement with cinema.

Ray balances dramatic storytelling with an academic acumen in Rabindranath Tagore. Narrated in his baritone,he begins,“On August 2,1941,in the city of Calcutta,a man died.” And then he unspools the life — the story of the Tagore family and the history of Bengal and India. Ray goes back to the day of the partition of Bengal,when the poet celebrated Raksha Bandhan,in an attempt to tie Hindus and Muslims in the thread of brotherhood. Ray tells us how the young Rabindranath changed school four times and “hated them all”. When the time came to build Santiniketan,he was clear that he did not want it to be the “nightmare” his own schools had been. He had to sell the copyright of his books and his wife her jewellery,to build Santiniketan. It is a must-watch.

Natir Puja is based on Tagore’s poem “Pujarini” and he supervised the writing of the screenplay by his nephew Dinendranath Tagore. It is filmed like a play,and we catch some gestures and movements by the Santiniketan students in the cast making up for the lack of words in this silent film. The film itself was destroyed in a fire and what the 20-minute DVD offers is mostly the making of Natir Puja as it shows Tagore and the actors during filmmaking. A voice-over introduces us to the history and significance of this work,before the film takes over,aided only by the score of Rabindrasangeet in the background.

Unfortunately,none of the other DVDs in the set includes “making of” sections,interviews with directors or deleted scenes. What they do offer is a chance to revisit some fascinating stories. In Khudito Pashan,a young tax collector moves into a haunted mansion and falls in love with a beautiful ghost. Kabuliwala has actor Balraj Sahni in one of his most powerful roles,as an Afghan who misses his daughter and consoles himself by indulging a young Mini with dry fruit. Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) is one of the most experimental films in Indian cinema. It expresses Tagore’s suspicion of blind faith in any belief system,including nationalism and patriotism. The film revolves around Ela,a symbol of armed revolution. When one member of the group,Atin,resists the ideology,she too finds herself questioning her beliefs. Will the group of revolutionaries,who blindly swear by ideology,allow Ela and Atin’s love to grow?

Ghare Baire,nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes and among Ray’s best works,is a powerful story set against the nationalist movement of the early 20th century,when intellectuals such as Tagore found themselves opposing the Empire’s attempt to divide Bengal on religion grounds. Victor Banerjee plays the idealistic zamindar Nikhil who insists that his wife Bimala (Swatilekha Chatterjee) learn English and step out of purdah. Enter Soumitro Chatterjee as the charismatic nationalistic leader Sandip who can give the cry of Vande Mataram an edge that’s both rousing and threatening. As Bimala falls for Sandip’s magnetic appeal,how does home and the world affect each other? Get hold of this.

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