Satyajit Ray made two full length feature film on two of Rabindranath Tagore's stories. First he made 'Charulata' (1964) based on 42 page Tagore story 'Nashto Neer' written in the year 1901, and then he made 'Ghare Baire' (1984) based on the novel of the same name written in the year 1915. Both of the films were set inside an orthodox palace, and both deal with a triangle in which a childless woman emerges from traditional constraints into unfulfilled sadness.
Satyajit Ray made two full length feature film on two of Rabindranath Tagores stories. First he made Charulata (1964) based on 42 page Tagore story Nashto Neer written in the year 1901, and then he made Ghare Baire (1984) based on the novel of the same name written in the year 1915.
Both of the films were set inside an orthodox palace, and both deal with a triangle in which a childless woman emerges from traditional constraints into unfulfilled sadness.
According to Ray, “…Charulata recalls Mozarts Operas; the Ghare Baire might bring to mind late Beethoven. It is the movement and growth of character and relationships thats more important that whats happening on the surface. But even so theres a king of musical structure and development.”
Satyajits first film Pather Panchali was released in 1955. In 1948 he wanted to make Ghare Baire as his first film. But it could not be made for several reasons. Ray in one lecture in 1982 mentioned that since then Ghare Baire remained as a pin-prick. He also stated that the film not being made at that time was a blessing in disguise. Ultimately he was released from the pain of the after long 36 years when it was released in 1984.
Much has already been written in the last 44 years, on the similarities, the symphonic musical structure, the failure of Ray as a Tagore interpreter and the deviation from the original theme of both the films.
But rarely somebody has discussed about the gender politics in both the films. It is the deception of how intelligent woman were suppressed by the enlightened Bengali male in the late 19th and early 20th century Bengal, even when the woman concerned was either a wife or a fiancé.
The Tagore family was the most enlightened family of that period. The talent and the voice of the female members of the family could be seen or heard due to the liberal attitude of the male members of the family. A nice example of this was Gyanadanandini Tagore. But inspite of this the death of Kadambini Tagore, wife of Jyotindranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore, led Rabindranath to write Nashto Neer in 1901. The suicide of Kadambini made Rabindranath so sick that he could never erase his memories. He was forced to protest against the male oppression of the enlightened Bengali of that period. Now it is well known that Rabindranath had roaring affair with his bou-than Kadambini and after Jyotindranath came to know about this affair of his wife with his younger brother, he created a distance with his wife and started an affair with an actress. By that time Rabindranath was also married to Mrinalini Debi. Whether Kadambinis suicide was due to Jyotindranaths detachment from her or due to Rabindranaths marriage still remains a subject to study. But Rabindranath was quite bold enough to criticize not only Jyotindranath but also himself of the tragic end of his beloved bou-than in real life. This self criticism is kept hidden in the disguise of a love story titled Nashto Neer.
Tagore wrote Nashto Neer in 1901. He placed his bou-than in the background. But what would happen if there is a exception of his bou-than in the perspective of 1901? While Nashto Neer was evolved from a personal pain, Ghare Baire evolved from a experiment. In Ghare Baire Bimala was an extension of Charu in Nashto Neer; we can easily guess that in the mean time Charu had already started learning English from one Mrs. Gilby for the sake of joint editorship of the English News Paper Sentinel jointly published by Bhupati and Nishikanta, about which they were discussing in the Puri Sea Beach in Charulata by Ray. Satyajits Ghare Baire is actually the extension of his earlier one Charulata.
Satyajit was aware about the hidden thoughts of Tagore about his two literary works. Tagore tried to hide his basic theme about the gender politics in the disguise of love in both of his works. He wrote it in such a subtle and different manner in two literary works that ever body considered both the works from the point of view of either Charu (in Nashto Neer) or Bimala (in Ghare Baire). If we look at the literary works from the point of view of these two women, anybody will find the stories are about waste love of either Charu or Bimala. Anybody will find the husbands Bhupati or Nishikanta as the learned liberals and the second man. Amal or Sandip as the learned but flamboyant opportunists.
But if we change the perspective, if we look at the stories from the four different male points of view, we will find that the four characters are somehow trying to pose their dominating characters on either Charu or Bimala. They had no other alternative to accept the decision of either Bhupati or Amal or Nikhilesh or Sandip. Both Charu and Bimala are mere pawns in the chess game between Bhupati and Amal or Nikhilesh or Sandip.
In both the stories in two different real political perspectives of 1979 and 1901 of British Government in India, Tagore wanted to show that the same politics of oppression was prevailing in the domestic corners of enlightened Bengali house hold. The Bengalis were enlightened by the European Education system. So the thoughts of oppression will be the same. But that oppression should be hidden as they were learned. That was the key tone in both the literary works by Tagore.
Satyajit Ray took the same stance in both his films. As Satyajit was a learned man like Tagore, he tried to hide the basic theme of his films. He always described his two films as love-story. But that was an utter lie. He never made a love-story in that sense. The structure of the films, the suggestions, and the treatment - everything goes against his statement of Love Story. He actually made a gender politics statement in both of his films.
But why Tagore and Ray wanted to hide their basic themes? Because both of them were afraid of criticism. Tagore was aware of that he was only criticizing himself but Jyotindranath too. Ray was aware of that he was criticizing Rabindranath and Jyotindranath. But it is pity that both Ray and Tagore cared less about the revelation of truth.
I mentioned that to Tagore Ghare Baire was an experiment. He wanted to explore what would happen to Charu if the character was extended by further 11yrs. He created Bimala in the midst of Banga Bhanga Andolon and Hindu Muslim misunderstanding as an extension of Charu in 1979.
Satyajit also did the same experiment. But he was not as fluid, as at ease in Charulata. Whether Ghare Baire was also at par of Nashto Neer as a literary work is a question of debate but as a film Charulata was far superior then Ghare Baire. I think Ray missed the essence of experimentation. He considered it as real as Charulata he considered. Bimala as a real extension of Charu. He failed because it wasnt.
But Ray also knew that he failed in Ghare Baire. He never expressed his failure. In Ghare Baire, Bimala become widow. Tagore went on experimenting further with his most beloved character Charu, alias Kadambini. Then he imagined if his beloved bou-than became a widow. He created an enlightened widow, Damini in his literary work Chaturanga. This time Satyajit clearly expressed his inability to create Tagore character Damini again in between two enlightened male characters. He carefully evaded the possibility of most expecting trilogy. Where angels fear to trade devils enter. So Chaturanga, the most difficult work by Tagore, is being made in films by a theatre personality Suman Mukhopadhyay.
After the failure of Ghare Baire Satyajit wanted to create a myth around him. He wanted to be clean enough about his justification on the limitation as a creative person. He might not be as talented as a painter of the Altamira Caves the Kupamandook fear trade.
Agantuk was almost like a bio-pic.
1] Actually Ray made three films from Tagore story and one from Bio-pic on Rabindranath. Apart from Charulata and Ghare Baire, the third one is Teen Kanya which consists three story of Tagore: Mani Hara, Post Master and Sampati. Each of them is short feature films.
Certain stories of Tagore are quite Victorian in their feelings. Take the Post Master: At the end of the original story, the postmaster is supposed to leave and the little servant falls at his feet and says, Please take me with you. This struck me as being sentimental. I could not express because it was an emotion I dont feel, being a man of 20th century, being bought up in certain surroundings, being exposed to certain influences. So, I made the ending of the story more dry, yet moving in its own way. I made it into the opposite of what it is. The girl of in the film hides her grief instead of displaying it. She ignores the postmaster. She is so hurt that she does not even want to tell his man that she is unhappy. You see her weeping by the well from which she is drawing water. But the moment he calls her she wipes her tears. She walks past him carrying the bucket of water and ignores the tip that he was about to offer her. That was my interpretation as a 20th century artist working in 1960. The purists object to these changes. Well, I made them because I am an artist with my own feelings. Im using Tagores rendering of a story on the basis, and this was my interpretation of it.2] Rays comment on Charulata concept of a beautiful woman:
Kenneth Tynan, I think, criticized my best film Charulata in one in one of his reviews. The film is based on a Tagore story dealing with a 19th century intellectual family. The wife falls in love with her husbands cousin. Tynan wanted to know why they didnt kiss. Why keep it under the surface, he wrote. Why not show them kissing, embracing and what not. But in those days such a thing would not happen as quickly or as easily as it would happen now in the West or now here in the East! Even now, out in the streets of Calcutta, boys and girls dont hold hands, let alone kiss. When one makes period piece one must depict things as they truly were in that period.
I have generally tended to avoid stories which would require explicit scenes of loving making because dilution would spoil it. Because of censorship, such scenes in Indian Films have therefore been reduced to a formula of clasping hands, longing looks and vapid, supposedly amorous verbal exchanges - not to speak of love duets sung against artificial romantic backdrops.
The best thing would be to look for the answer in my films. Well, I like a kind of intellectual beauty, if you know what I mean. Or, may itd better to say, a kind of intelligent beauty. What I want to say is that for me a womans beauty is more than intellectual emanation then physical appeal. What I admire in woman is grace, sophistication and intelligence. Not that my entire woman are educated, or even respectable. Think of Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman), for Abhijan for instance and of that tribal woman (Simi) in Aranyer Din Ratri. They arent educated and they less sophistication but their responses are so genuine and they have a marked sensibility to kindness, love and hatred. Thats what I find beautiful.
A womans beauty I think also lies in her patience and endurance in a world where men are generally more vulnerable and in need of guidance.
The beauty of a woman like Charulata is largely the beauty of her mind. What I tried to bring out is the richness of that mind. That comes out through her responses to the world especially through her growing attachment to Amal, her young brother-in-law. It was an illicit relationship, but its beautiful, since it reveals the nuances of the sensitive person.