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IFFI 2017: One life not enough to study Tagore, says Argentinian director Pablo Cesar

Moon Moon Sen credits her mother Suchitra Sen and filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh with intorducing Rabindranath Tagore to her daughters.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

This year the Indo-Argentinian co-production, Thinking Of Him, had its world premiere as the closing film at the International Film Festival of India in Goa. Directed by Pablo Cesar, the film has been shot in black and white as well as in colour.

Thinking Of Him has two stories intertwined: a past that throws light on the relationship between Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (played by Victor Banerjee) and Argentinian writer Victoria Ocampo (Eleonora Wexler) and a present that tells the story of Argentinian Felix (Hector Bordoni) who visits Shantiniketan and forges a bond with Kamali (Riya Sen).

Vani Tripathi-Tikoo, actress and a member of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), moderated a session on 'Tagore in Cinema' at the festival. Her guests included Pablo Cesar, actress Moon Moon Sen and author Shoma Chatterjee. We present some excerpts from the interaction:

Vani Tripathi-Tikoo: Pablo, what was your gaze of this relationship while you were making the film? You were probably living two lives within yourself — Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo. Which life was more dominant in you?

PC: It was very difficult. I started the project in 2008 when then Indian ambassador in Argentina, Rengaraj Vishwanathan, said to me, 'Pablo, you like India, and you should start thinking about making a film on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo.' I knew a little about it, and I had only read Kabir's poems translated by Tagore. I had started reading Puravi by Tagore. I started to study a lot. You know, it’s not possible to study Tagore in one life.

Pablo Cesar (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Tagore was in my country, and it was my responsibility to say something about the visit of this master and to share the philosophy of his education. We didn’t want to make any kind of recreation. We only took the letters, the books, I don’t have the right to destroy a life. The creation was in the camera moments, and the character everything. We took this quite platonic love story.

VTT: There is also a feminist gaze. Was that the director’s gaze or Ocampo’s vision of Tagore?

PC: I prefer the public's [views] after seeing the film. I am a man but I'm a feminist. I like the strong life of Victoria Ocampo. She was one of the first women in Argentina to drive a car, to vote in elections. She was a strong woman who was married, but she received a man from another country. Argentina was conservative then, but Tagore was in the house of Victoria Ocampo. That was the house of Victoria’s cousin.

VTT: Moon Moon, when Raima and Riya Sen were growing up around you, what was their relationship with Tagore?

MMS: My daughters spent a lot of time with their grandmother, Suchitra Sen, who was turning away from films, turning into a recluse, but she never turned away from Rabindranath Tagore. So they grew up in a household full of song and poetry. They shared their scripts with my mother.

Moon Moon Sen (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

I think a very big influence in their life came from a friend of mine, Rituparno Ghosh. He was the next Renaissance poet, writer, filmmaker. He took my daughters as his own, and he put them into films, which brought them a lot of glory.

Riya with her very outgoing personality came across as someone completely different in Noukadubi (2011) and surprised us with her acting. It was Ritu having known so well what to do with all his actors. These were the two influences in my daughters' lives who introduced Tagore to them.

VTT: Shoma, is it right for every Bengali filmmaker to get attached to Tagore? Is it okay for Pablo Cesar to make a film on the relationship between Victoria Ocampo and Tagore?

SC: I think Tagore was as universal when he started as he is now. He is something that never dates. Similarly, good directors who have translated Tagore in the language of cinema like Rituparno Ghosh and Satyajit Ray, they could do it in different ways — one by sticking to the original and second by bringing him down to contemporary times, in the sense that there are certain changes they make in the script, but without distorting the original and by retaining its spirit.

In that sense I would like to open the book called The Woman in the Window, which exclusively deals with Ray’s interpretation of Tagore.

Shoma Chatterjee (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

He was roundly criticized by the Bengali intelligentsia for playing around with Tagore, especially in Charulata (1964), a film based on the book Nastanirh by Tagore. There was a big debate between Ashok Mitra and Ray which came out in the form of a book. The former went on castigating the latter for changing things in Charulata. The original story of the book saw Tagore being castigated by the Brahmins. They threw stones at him for trying to suggest an incestuous relationship between a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. 

Ray gave a slightly different interpretation. His explanation was that he was making a film in the 1960s and Tagore wrote it in 1908; thus, his perception has to be something different.

VTT: Tagore's is a complex narrative. You have to understand him before figuring out what he has written. How complex was it for Victor Banerjee to play Tagore in the film? 

PC: It was my producer who suggested I meet both Victor Banerjee and Raima. The first thing Victor showed me was the Geetanjali by hand. Immediately I understood that this man will be the best person to recreate the character of Tagore for this movie. It is difficult to tell the audience in a film of two hours the whole world of Tagore. I’m conscious of that. We only try to tell part of his story, based on the days when he visited my country.

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