Their birthdays are separated by five days and six decades. Yet Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray forged a connection through the language of cinema that, on the 150th birthday of the Nobel Laureate (tomorrow), is still the best tribute offered in a crowd of frenzied worshippers.
Back in 1961, in Gurudev's centenary year, the celebrations were quieter and the worshippers fewer, points out Sandip Ray, explaining why his father, the legendary filmmaker Satyjit Ray, jumped into the fray. On the insistence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he was commissioned to make a documentary on Tagore, following it with a trilogy based on three of Tagore’s short stories. Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) marked the debut of actor-director Aparna Sen.
“Baba had seen Rina di (Aparna Sen) grow up in front of his eyes and approached her father, his friend Chidananda Dasgupta, to let her play Mrinmoyee in the coming-of-age Samapti (The Conclusion),” reminisces Sandipda. He admits that Ray was remarkably lucky with child actors, discovering another gem in Chandana Banerjee who played the wordless Ratan in The Postmaster, a part of Teen Kanya.
“Baba would suddenly come across these little wonders, convince their parents and start shooting with them directly. They never disappointed him.”
Three years later, Ray returned to the theatres with Charulata (The Lonely Wife) based on another Tagore short story; Nastanirh (The Broken Nest). Sandipda admits it was his baba’s favourite film and often said that if he had to remake it, he’d probably make it the same way.
“I guess this was because he got to spend a lot of time on the post production which was not the case with his other films. In the pre-digital era, post production took almost three-four months. And with the release date pre-fixed, there were times when the editing, he felt, was a little loose. But in the case of Charulata he was 100 per cent satisfied because for the first time he had the luxury of time,” says Sandipda.
It would be almost 20 years before Ray went back to Tagore. Interestingly, he’d planned to debut with Ghare Baire (Home And The World) and had planned it before Pather Panchali (Song Of The Road). “A very visual script was written in the ’40s but when baba revisited it later, he decided it was ‘khub kharap!’ (very bad) and chose to rewrite it,” smiles Sandip, recalling how the subject of Ghare Baire would crop up every few years because his baba was fascinated by the concept of emancipation that begins in the ‘antar mahal’ (inside quarters).
In 1983, while working on the film Ray suffered a heart attack and the film was completed by Sandipda. “Baba was happy with the look and performances but yes, since he was ailing, Ghare Baire wasn’t a pleasant experience like Charulata, when he was in a good physical form,” sighs Sandipda.
Maybe not, but for me Gurudev, ghare and baire, will always be associated with a Ray of light who years ago made Tagore’s three daughters my own, helped me take flight like Bimala and had me believe with one controversial hand clasp in the end that maybe Bhupati and Charu would still be together.