In 1984, Victor Banerjee played Nikhilesh, a rich noble caught in the aftermath of partition of Bengal in the early 20th century, in Satyajit Ray’s Ghaire Baire. The film was based on Rabrindranath Tagore’s seminal novel by the same name and Banerjee’s character had strains of Tagore’s disposition.
Now, three decades later, the actor is set to slip into the Nobel Laureate’s shoes in Thinking of Him, an Indo-Argentinian production that explores Tagore’s relationship with late Argentinian writer and critic Victoria Ocampo, to be played by Eleonora Wexler. The film is being directed by Pablo Cesar and is being produced by Suraj Kumar in India.
Banerjee, who grew up in Kolkata absorbing Tagore’s rich legacy, was excited by the fact that the film was delving into the Argentinians fascination for the poet. “It’s interesting to enter their mind and see what they thought of his poetry and how they interpreted it. I’ve been talking to the director, the cameraman and the other actors and I also plan to get to Argentina a week in advance to talk to other people and find out what they think of Tagore,” he says.
The film travels between the past and the present, and is based around an Argentinian professor who visits Shantiniketan to discover more about Tagore and spirituality. “What’s interesting is that the Argentinians discovered him through translation, including Ocampo,” adds Banerjee. Ocampo, whose close friends included Albert Camus, Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, first encountered Tagore when she read Gitanjali in French author Andre Gide’s translation. “She was absolutely bowled over by the imagery, the spirituality and abstraction of Tagore’s poetry. Gitanjali is difficult to comprehend, but the French are literary masters and the translation made it phenomenally attractive to a curious mind like Ocampo’s,” he states.
According to Banerjee, Ocampo fell in love with Tagore’s mind as a thinker. “When she first met him, she quaked in his presence and couldn’t speak. You don’t see that kind of worship in India for Tagore.” When Tagore fell sick, she offered him her villa in Buenos Aires to recuperate in. And thus began their connection. Despite the formidable age gap – Ocampo was in her 30s then, while Tagore was in his 60s – their relationship was one based on mutual admiration and support. “She was the one who saw art in his doodles. Tagore, the artists, was born in her imagination,” he says, adding that she then organized an exhibition of his paintings in Paris. Tagore wrote Puravi, a collection of poems for Ocampo, whom he lovingly addressed as Bijoya.
Banerjee feels that with the exception of Bengalis, the poet is not as revered by others in India, and perceived just as “somebody who has a beard and wrote Jana Gana Mana”. He adds that the Argentinians saw an aspect of him that no one here talks about – as a social reformer. “The Argentinians saw him as a social reformer first, then as a great educationist and finally as a poet. In fact, I did a lecture programme on his social reforms in Kolkata a few years ago. I deeply admire the man. My association with him is by default,” he says.
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