If we know Rabindranath Tagore only for his collection Gitanjali or only for having penned the National Anthem, we’re missing a great deal. He was not just a poet, but also a painter, a novelist, an educationist and philosopher. Besides being a nationalist (who gave up his knighthood to protest British policies in colonial India after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre), Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is a man Bengalis and non-Bengalis have been obsessed with, and his works being universal – in time, human relationships and emotions – have inspired filmmakers time and again, to re-create them in cinema.
We thought it might be worth looking at some films that are adaptations of Tagore’s texts.
Directed by Satyajit Ray, Charulata (1964) is based on Tagore's Nastaneer (The Broken Nest, 1901). It is set in late 19th century Bengal, when women's liberation was being talked of. This film is the most debated and discussed among Ray's films. Most of these debates are with respect to Ray's fidelity to the text. Charulata is about a lonely wife, Charu, who spends her time reading Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's work and doing embroidery, while her husband Bhupati is busy working. She finds a companion in her husband's cousin Amal and this begins to bloom into love. By the end of the film, her husband returns home to realize her feelings for his cousin.
2. Chokher Bali
In Chokher Bali, Rituporno Ghosh explores lives behind closed doors. It deals with infidelity within the institution of marriage. The film set in pre-Partition Bengal, is about an educated widow, Binodini, who refuses to give in to norms and subverts the system. She is not only jealous and remorseful, but also aspires for the domestic joys of her friend Asha. Changing Tagore's end, Ghosh's overturning of sexual politics, gives us a film that explores the female gaze.
Tapan Sinha, the director of Kabuliwala, remained faithful to the source. The story revolves around the bond between Adbur Rahmat Khan, a dry fruit seller and Mini, a girl he imagines as his child, in memory of his daughter. In the film, the view of the hilly terrain of Afghanistan, the moving camels and the earthy music reflect the tones of his relationship with his daughter, Rabeya. His arrest leads to a parting of ways with both his children. However, Mini's father helps him return to his homeland.
4. Ghare Baire
The film released in 1984, is set in 20th century India. Ghare Baire raises questions about gender roles, freedom and the Swadeshi Movement. It is the story of a rich Bengali nobleman, Nikhil, who lives happily with his wife Bimala, until the arrival of Sandip who attracts Bimala, creating a love triangle. It is only after her husband's death that she realizes Sandip has no interest in her, and she was merely used for political and financial motives.