Tagore on Celluloid

Year 2010 was the 150 year of Gurudeb Rabindranath’s birthday. Celebrations were conducted all over India and still continuing.  Many works of Rabindranath Tagore has been made into films. In fact his works seem to the most favored subjects for film adaptations. Many films were made in the initial phase of beginning of talkies based on his works. The examples are notable adaptations like Chirakumar Sabha (1932), Sodh Bodh (1942), Gora (1938), Choker Bali (1938) and Naukadubi (1947) for which prints are not available and restoration is urgently required.

During the second half of the 20th century, many more films based on his novels and stories were mounted on the celluloid. Notable are Khokhababur Pratyabartan in 1960, Megh O Roudra in 1970, Malyadaan in 1971, Nishithey in 1963, Streer Patra in 1972, Mrinal Sen’s Ichhapuran in 1970, Rabibar in 1996 and Rituparno Ghosh‘s Chokher Bali in 2003.

Not only in Bengali, but films were made in Hindi, Malyalam and Indo-Frech. In Hindi Nitin Bose made Milan (1947) starring Dilip Kumar, Sudhendu Roy adapted Samapti in the Malayalam film Upaharam (1972) while Kumar Shahani made Char Adhyay in 1997. Tagore’s lyrical novel Sesher Kobita was improvised as a contemporary fictional drama in filmmaker Subrajit Mitra’s Indo-French production Mon Amour (2008).

Besides these, scores of other films in different languages and at different times have been based on Tagore’s works; not just his novels, novellas, plays and short stories, but even his poems and songs. An example can be given of Debaki Bose who in an instance of rare cinematic inspiration took four poems of Tagore to make the documentary film Arghya in 1961. Many of Tagore’s stories have been adapted and readapted multiple times like his story Naukadubi & Chokher Bali.

Great Master Ray made ample use of Rabindra Sangeet as the background music to convey the essence and mileu of that time. In addition, he adapted quite a few of Tagore’s stories into four films and also made a documentary on the Nobel Laureate. In 1961, Ray made Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), on three Tagore short stories – Postmaster, Monihara and Samapti. Interestingly all these three stories have been made into individual films, before and since this film. Charulata (1964) based on Tagore’s short story Noshtonir won Ray his second Silver Bear for Best Director in the Berlin International Film Festival while Ghare Baire made in 1984 won him a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes International Film Festival.

In 1932, on the occasion of Tagore’s 70th birth anniversary, New Theatres, one of the prominent filmmaking studios, arranged the filming of Natir Puja – an adaptation of Tagore’s poem Pujarini, which the poet had staged in 1927. This was the only time that Tagore was so closely associated with cinema with the screenplay being written under his guidance by nephew Dinendranath ‘Dinu’ Tagore and the master composing the background music, with students of Santiniketan acting in the film. Tagore not only directed this dance-drama shot over four days, but also played an important role in the film. Though the film in its entirety has been lost, a portion has been found and restored.

Over the years, close to a 100 films, more than half in Bengali, have been made on Tagore’s works, making him one of the most adapted writers of all times. This number would have been bigger if many films had not been lost forever. Also many don’t even mention Tagore. Adaptations of Tagore’s work just don’t seem to stop with many more projects being announced in the last few years, ever since Tagore’s work came into public domain.

Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to cinema thus demands a more serious attention from scholars of cinema, literature and history itself.

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