100 Years of Rabindranath Tagore in Cinema

Dipankar Mukhopadhyay

Tagore, the Frustrated Scriptwriter

The popularity of Tagore’s works as base material for films continued into the talkies’ era. From 1931, when the first talkie film was made to the present, there have been more than 60 film adaptations of Tagore’s works. There are also television serials and web series.

A Literary Icon, But Not a Director

Tagore himself became more cautious about cinema after the late 1920s. When his British biographer, Edward Thompson, recommended Tagore’s dance drama “Chitrangada” to director Alexander Korda, Tagore was not particularly excited. After some initial overtures, Korda too backed off, saying the drama lacked conflict.

Enter: Satyajit Ray

The director who would revive interest in Tagore’s writing from the perspective of cinema was Satyajit Ray. While contemporaries like Mrinal Sen were less interested in Tagore’s work, Ray showed that interpretation could turn the Nobel laureate author’s works into modern, cinematic masterpieces.

Bringing Tagore into the Present

Between 1960 and 2000, many films drew upon Tagore’s stories and novels and some succeeded in capturing the lyrical quality of his work. However, Ray still stands out for his daring. His interpretations transformed the original stories and are a reminder of how much in storytelling depends on perspective.

The Radical Lyricism of Rituparno Ghosh

The most imaginative reinterpretation of Tagore’s work since Ray has come from director Rituparno Ghosh. An ardent reader of Tagore’s literature, Rituparno made three films based on Tagore’s writings: Chokher Bali (2003), Noukadubi (2011) and Chitrangada (2012).

Tagore As A Part Of Cultural Discourse

Tagore’s writing makes up the canon of Bengali literature, epitomising a classical tradition, and you would expect his works to be a favourite with filmmakers who are interested in lavish works of historical fiction.