150 years: Tagore magic still alive on screen

Updated: May 04, 2010, 16:52 PM IST

New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) Rabindranath Tagore`s words will once again cast a spell when his "Noukadubi", a tale of four cross-wired lovers, gets a contemporary makeover in director Rituparno Ghosh`s film, 150 years after the Nobel laureate`s birth.

A rather progressive Bollywood-style story from "Galpa Guccha" (Collection of Stories published in 1912), "Noukadubi" had raised eyebrows during the bard`s lifetime for its "freewheeling slant".

Ghosh said he has completed work on the movie starring Prosenjit Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta, Raima and Riya Sen. It will be released this year. It was first made into a movie in 1947 by Nitin Bose and produced by Bombay Talkies.

Tagore said the flow of images constitutes cinema. This flow, he wrote, should be used so that it can communicate with the help of words. "This cinema is still enslaved to literature," he wrote in a letter to a long time friend, the brother of late theatre legend Sisir Kumar Bhaduri in 1929.

Tagore, whose birth anniversary falls on May 9, has left an indelible imprint on the psyche of the Indian movie audience, helped along by ace directors like Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and Rituparno Ghosh. His stories were endowed with natural cinematic potential because they were rich in visual metaphors and dramatic intensity.

The Nobel laureate`s works are finding new segments of readers worldwide and a fresh surge of appreciation. On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the sentiments of thousands of Americans of Indian origin when she acknowledged Tagore`s contribution to world literature.

"This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore, whose writing has enriched our common humanity and brought pride to Bengali people around the world"," the US state secretary said.

"Charulata" (The Lonely Wife), the iconic movie by maestro Satyajit Ray based on Tagore`s short story "Nashtanir" (The Broken Nest), captures the conflict between freedom, conventions and the intellectual awakening of 19th and 20th century Bengali youth.

The movie, released in 1964, loosely stuck to the story, says Satyajit Ray`s son Sandip Ray. "We had to change the idiom and visual potential to make the story more cinematic. But the plot was untouched," the younger Ray recalled.

"Charulata", central to the eponymous movie, was an upper middle class housewife of the late 19th century, who was trapped in the constraints of her circumstances. It stunted her creative growth. She befriended her editor husband Bhupati`s cousin Amal, a young visionary, in whom she sought her personal freedom and redemption.

"Ghare Baire" (Home and The World) is much like "Charulata" in its quest for emancipation of women. Satyajit Ray explored Tagore`s saga of an elite Bengali woman Bimala`s journey to the world outside from the confines of her palace with a new panache - and a subtle allusion to complex adult love.

Starring Victor Banerjee, Swatilekha Chatterjee and Soumitra Chatterjee, the movie was released to critical acclaim in 1984. Another of Ray`s iconic movies was "Teen Kanya", based on three of Tagore`s short stories, which also dealt with the complexities of human relationships.

"Shesher Kavita" (The Last Poem) was improvised as a contemporary fictional drama in young filmmaker Subhrajit Mitra`s "Mon Amour: Sesher Kavita Revisited" - an Indo-French production in 2008.

Filmmakar Tapan Sinha, who was placed on par with Ray in his cinematic interpretations of Tagore, however, remained faithful to the textbook conventionalism of the medium and storytelling. He made three movies - "Athiti", "Kabuliwallah" and "The Hungry Stones" - based on the Nobel laureate`s short stories.

"Atithi", released in 1965, was based on the life of a young Brahmin boy who finds himself on the same boat as the village zamindar when he runs away from home.

The landlord adopts him and anoints him as his daughter`s prospective groom, but a day before his wedding, the boy flees. The movie - as in the story - was a poignant comment on the eternal human quest for freedom that Tagore was obsessed with.

"Kabuliwallah" was a window to the rigid milieu of 19th century Bengal and a telling comment on mores such as child marriage - told through a novel friendship between a little girl Mini and an itinerant Afghan hawker.

"The Hungry Stones" (Khudito Pashan), released as a movie in 1960, was inspired by the Shah Jahan Palace, now Sardar Patel Memorial, in Ahmedabad overlooking the Sabarmati river in Gujarat where the bard stayed for a brief period.

Tagore`s secret craving for a bit of mystery to lend spice to life made for the most exciting cinema.

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