One was among India’s literary greats; the other carried an enslaved India to freedom on his frail shoulders. Both had critical appreciation for each other. Now, a new documentary on the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore is sure to shed more light on their political, social and cultural bonds and differences.
"The Poet and the Mahatma", a 60-minute documentary, is solely based on letters exchanged between Gandhi and Tagore for 26 years between 1915, when they first met, and 1941 when Tagore died. The documentary also cites many telegrams that were exchanged between the two. The tone of the letters and telegrams varies from respecting each other's views to being critical and angry and often witty.
For example, when Tagore turned 80, Gandhiji telegrammed him: "Four score is not enough. May you finish five." Tagore's reply was prompt: "Four score is enough. Five is intolerable," said the Calcutta-based documentary director, Debabrata Roy.
Roy began pondering over making a documentary on the correspondence of the two in 2000 when he came across a worn-out, dusty book containing some of their letters in a Shantiniketan archive. "What I found striking was the regard they had for each other. At the same time they criticised each other openly. The letters were often a platform for debate. Of course, Tagore, being a literary figure, wrote more and longer letters. In all, they exchanged about 80 letters and telegrams in 26 years," Roy said.
Roy also sourced a rare 60 seconds live footage of Gandhiji's Shantiniketan from the Gandhi Film Foundation in Mumbai. "I obtained the footage at an exorbitant price: Rs 250 per second. Much of the documentary is based on still photographs and interviews of experts on the two in context of the letters," Roy said.
Surprisingly, according to Roy, the correspondence between the two never mentions Sarla Devi, Tagore's niece with whom Gandhiji is said to have a relationship, according to Rajmohan Gandhi's new book Mohandas – A true story of man, his people and an empire.
The documentary has had two private screenings in Delhi and Calcutta. It is being telecast on DD on Tuesday morning and is also being screened tomorrow at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.