The average cinema-goer is an impatient creature. He wants the images on the screen to flash by quickly. And when the images talk ceaselessly and mindlessly explain what exactly they are up to, the viewer loves it.
Yesterday, during the first screening of poet-novelist-filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Quartet 1 or Troyodoshi – made to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore -- at the ongoing ninth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival, I was shocked to see many in the audience walking out of the auditorium midway through the movie.
This seemed outrageous, because for any Bengali, Tagore is not just a national icon but a holy cow. Seventy-odd years after the poet-playwright-novelist-essayist passed away, Bengalis come to near blows if someone even remotely dares to criticise Tagore, who is first of all Bengal’s pride and only after that, a national symbol.
Dasgupta, who is himself a renowned poet-writer, apart from being a movie director, is not just well known, but adored in India, certainly in Bengal. But the audience, mostly comprising Bengalis, appeared to have little respect for not just Tagore, but also Dasgupta.
Dasgupta has made 13 shorts out of 13 of Tagore’s poems, carefully choosing those that helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature. There was another reason why Dasgupta selected these: they take the reader along a secret second world, he says.
While one is extremely familiar with prose being adapted to the screen, one has never heard of verse being scripted into a film. We have seen Shakespeare and Dickens and Margaret Mitchell and Yann Martel and Paul Zacharia and Basheer lend their brilliant literature to cinema.
But we have never come across the poetry of Wordsworth or Shelly or Byron or Keats or Bharati being transformed into moving images. Certainly, Dasgupta has done something remarkably different. “I was obviously hesitant, but, well in the end, decided to do it”, the auteur director said while introducing Quartet 1.
Admittedly, Dasgupta’s work has always had a lyrical quality about it. One could never miss a sense of poetry in many of his movies – beginning from Bagh Bahadur to Charachar to Uttara to Lal Darja to Janala. So, if at all there was someone worthy of adapting Tagore’s poems, it was undoubtedly Dasgupta.
The Festival screened four segments out of the 13: The Flutist, The Pond, The Dark Maiden and The Station, and titled them as Quartet 1. These were pure cinema, marked by a beautiful economy of words, and visualised with brilliant imagination.
If The Flutist is a study in abstract, The Pond has subtle humour, and wonderfully captures a placid day in rural Bengal. The Dark Maiden may well have had another title, The Lonely Wife, where the woman cooks and keeps house for an uncaring man. The Station takes us to a night on a lonely railway platform, where a man misses his train and is forced to spend the time with a beggar and a prostitute.
Each has a story, narrated with poetic excellence. But one needs patience and a sense of imagination to appreciate Dasgupta’s latest creation.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran in covering the Dubai International Film Festival)