Poetry, novel, drama, dance-drama and several other forms of creation and expression which are incorporated in Tagore’s massive body of work, are well known and well read. But, his works were not expressed in celluloid in his lifetime. The interesting point is that however, in the post-Tagore period his works became the raw material for a number of great films through the hands of some of the most brilliant filmmakers of the country. Tagore had said that the flow of images constitute cinema. This flow he wrote should be used so that it can communicate with the help of words. Tagore has left an indelible imprint on the psyche of the Indian ‘serious movie’ audience, helped along by ace directors. His stories were endowed with natural cinematic potential because they were rich in visual metaphor and dramatic intensity. In Tagore’s huge canvas he experimented with and analysed his fictional characters to bring out their identity and the complex social circumstances and relationships they were entangled in. As the world celebrates Tagore’s hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary this year, let’s peep into this part of his work.
Satyajit Ray made three Tagore short stories into movies namely- “Charulata” (the lonely wife), “Teen Kanya” and “Ghare Baire”. “Charulata” released in 1964 was based on Tagore’s short story ‘Noshtonir’. It captures the conflict between freedom, conventions and the intellectual awakening of the 19th and 20th century youth. The story takes place in 1879, at a time when Bengal Renaissance is climbing towards its peak; western thoughts of freedom and individuality are ruffling the age old calm of a feudal society. Madhabi Mukherjee plays the role of Charu and Amal her husband is played by Ray’s favourite Soumitra Chatterjee. It is the story of an upper middle class housewife who was trapped in the constraints of her circumstances. It stunted her creative growth and as a mean to escape this impending doom she befriended her husband’s cousin Amal in whom she sought her personal freedom and redemption, but unknowingly their sweet relationship gave away to complicated sexual love. On one hand there is Charu’s strive for finding her own identity and freedom and on the other there is Amal’s ego and his youthful narcissism. When Amal’s ego is satisfied he flees into a marriage in a distant city on hearing about which Charu breaks down. The last scene of the Tagore short story finds Charu’s husband departing, without consoling her. But Satyajit Ray opts for a more realistic and compassionate ending of bringing this troubled couple together.
Another of Ray’s iconic movies was ‘Teen Kanya’ based on three of Tagore’s short stories. The year 1961 marked the birth-centenary of Rabindranath Tagore. Ray celebrated it with a long documentary titled “Rabindranath Tagore” and he also made Teen Kanya. It comprises of three stories- Monihara, Postmaster and Samapti. Monihara is the story of an affluent young wife’s obsession with jewellery. It had Kanika Majumdar as the jewel crazy wife. Postmaster explores the relationship between a servant girl played by Chandana Bannerjee and the village postmaster. Even have Satyajit Ray changes the ending of the story. In the original short story the little girl begs the postmaster to take her with him and he refuses. In the film, Ray prefers to use the wordless expressive power of the cinema and enhances the girl’s emotional maturity by making her run away from him in her wounded pride. ‘Samapti’ is the third story in the film. The theme is of a rebellious young girl who refuses to give up her tomboy life but matures after marriage is forced on her. The story dwells on how Mrinmoyee, played by Aparna Sen, transforms herself into a grown up and adjusts to that life. The film was ‘Ghare Baire’ which has a striking resemblance in the plot with ‘Charulata’ as far as the quest for emancipation of women is considered. Ray explored Tagore’s saga of a lonely elite Bengali woman Bimala’s journey to the world outside the confines of her palace with a new panache and a subtle allusion to the complex physical love. Starring Victor Bannerjee, Swatilekha and Soumitra, this movie was released to a critical acclaim in 1984, and stands tall in Ray’s body of work, with its deep characters and complex emotional conflicts.
These are the Satyajit Ray films made out of Tagore stories. Several other established Bengali filmmakers have also crafted out brilliant movies with plots based on Tagore’s stories and novels. Tapan Sinha, made three of Tagore’s stories into films- ‘Atithi’, ‘Kabuliwala’ and ‘The Hungry Stones’ (Khudito Pashan). ‘Atithi’ was released in 1965 and is the story of a young Brahmin boy and his longing for freedom. ‘Kabuliwala’ got its plot from the famous story of the same title and Tagore visualised an entire 19th century Bengali society under the veneer of a simple friendship between the little girl and the Kabuliwala. ‘Hungry Stones’ was released in 1960. Tagore’s most acclaimed lyrical novel ‘Sesher Kobita’ was improvised as a contemporary fictional drama in young filmmaker Subrajit Mitra’s ‘Mon Amour’ an Indo French production in 2008. To mark this hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary of Tagore, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Rituporno Ghosh has announced the release of his next film ‘Noukadubi’ based on a Tagore short story.
Tagore was a master of his art and his works go into the depths of emotions, characterisation and plot and this body of work is obviously an ocean of thoughts of raw material for anyone in the creative field, and there is no end to the extent to which he can be explored and explained and re-explained.