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Revisiting Natir Puja, the only film directed by Rabindranath Tagore

The 1932 film was an adaptation of Tagore’s own all-woman dance drama. On his 156th birth anniversary today (he was born 7 May 1861), we take a look at the Nobel Laureate's only directorial venture.

Sonal Pandya

Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s works have been turned into films countless times since the inception of the medium in India. New Theatres studios in Kolkata became the first to adapt a Tagore story into film with the Bengali feature Chirakumar Sabha (1932). However, that same year, Tagore himself sat in the director’s chair to bring his dance drama, Natir Puja (1932), to the big screen.

The all-woman play was a dramatisation of Tagore’s poem Poojarini. His daughter-in-law Pratima Devi asked him to write the play from his poem as she wanted to stage it. The story is based on an ancient Buddhist legend in which a danseuse sacrifices herself due to her devotion to Buddha.

Natir Puja (The dancing girl’s worship) was first performed at Jorasanko Thakur Bari in 1927. Later shows were performed for charity in Kolkata and at Tagore’s ashram Shantiniketan in Birbhum. The founder and head of New Theatres, BN Sircar, who caught the performance in Kolkata asked Tagore to turn the film into a feature under his fledgling banner.

The title card of Natir Puja

Tagore agreed. The play was filmed within four days at NT Studio’s floor number one in 1932 where crowds gathered to see the great man in action. Besides directing and composing the music, Tagore is said to have acted in the film in a role that was added for the feature version. However, there is no print that exists of this historical film as the prints were destroyed in a fire at New Theatres. Only hazy recordings of stage play, without audio, exist and have been preserved for archival purposes.

Natir Puja, the film, was released in March 1932. It had been shot by Nitin Bose [who later turned Tagore’s short story Nouka Dubi into Milan (1946) starring Dilip Kumar] and edited by Subodh Mitra but it was filmed as a stage drama rather than a feature film. About 10,577 feet of footage was said to have been filmed for the film. Unfortunately, the film was not a success, despite Tagore's name attached to it.

Tagore did not work with any other film after this despite his close association with actor-filmmaker PC Barua and New Theatres. His poems, stories, novels continued to be prove inspiration for artistes and filmmakers from Bimal Roy to Gulzar to Rituparno Ghosh from the 1930s till the new millennium.