Poetry on the big screen

Rabindranath Tagore  

Satyajit Ray once famously said: “Rabindranath Tagore's works are a challenge for any director to film, as their literary values are eternal.”

Tagorean literature has inspired many filmmakers in Hindi and Bengali to take them to celluloid. Yet, only a handful of them have succeeded. On the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore, we present five trend-setting films based on his works.


Tagore's Four Chapters inspired renowned German documentary filmmaker Paul Zils to make a feature film on the novel. He prepared a script in Hindi, and sought the help of B.R. Chopra, the then editor of Cine Herald for the cast. Dev Anand and Geeta Bali were signed for the leads, along with Kishore Sahu for a profound parallel character.

Dev Anand was, apparently, inspired by the novel and the script, and sought time to fathom the depths of Atanu, the character he was to play. Similarly, Geeta Bali too had asked for time to understand Ela, her character. However, B.R. Chopra convinced them into doing it right then. And, Geeta Bali is said to have rendered her famous dialogue “Chait Mahine Ki Us Din Maine Tumhari Aankhon Mein Mera Barbadi Dekha” (I saw my doomsday in your eyes that very day of the month of Chaitra) with such conviction that Dev Anand had tears rolling down his eyes. “Zalzala” had a brilliant score by maestro Pankaj Mullick. The entire cast's performance was mature and sensitive. It released on January 1, 1952. Though it flopped, “Zalzala” was a brilliant effort in filming Four Chapters.


A gifted director, Hemen Gupta was passing through a lean phase in his career when Bimal Roy signed him to direct “Kabuliwala”, based on Tagore's immortal short story. Hemen Gupta opted for Balraj Sahni, who looked a Kabuliwala, due to his Lahore upbringing. Balraj Sahni recommended Jayant for the central character. But, both Bimal Roy and Hemen Gupta insisted Balraj Sahni play it. In one of his memorable performances, Balraj Sahni proved he was more convincing as the Kabuliwala than Chhabi Biswas, the Bengali icon in Tapan Sinha's Bengali version of the film.

The scene where Balraj Sahni prays for Mini's recovery is an exemplary lesson in acting. The film had haunting melodies by Salil Chowdhury — ‘Ganga Aye Kahan Se' and ‘Aye Mere Pyare Watan'. It must have been a real challenge to create a Tagorean atmosphere without using Tagore's melodies. The film was an average success.

“Khudito Pashan”

This Tapan Sinha classic of 1960, in Bengali starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Arundhati Sinha, was “Hungry Stones” in English. Tapan Sinha was at his altruistic best in “Khudito Pashan” with a taut screenplay that had sketches of Fatehpur Sikri by Satyajit Ray. He created the haunting mystery of the theme with subtlety and excellence, backed by soft natural lighting. Soumitra Chatterjee and Arundhuti Sinha performed with rare excellence, and the background score by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was its asset.

The way he lent music to Tagore's song ‘Saghana Gahano Ratri' rendered by the inimitable Hemant Mukherjee is amazing. “Khudito Pashan” was better than “Kabuliwala”, and it won a National Award in 1960. It was clear that Tagore's creations stood out cinematically in Bengali.

“Teen Kanya”

The inimitable Satyajit Ray's first tryst with Tagore stories in 1961. He adopted three short stories of the maestro, Postmaster, Manihara and Samapti for filming. Ray's accurate scripting, casting and editing, along with Dulal Dutta, supported by the internationally-acclaimed Subrata Mitra's cinematography, made “Teen Kanya” both a viewer's and critic's delight.

Ray worked wonders with actors Anil Chatterjee, Kali Banerjee and Soumitra Chatterjee, and introduced Aparna Sen as Mrinmoye in “Samapti”. It remains Aparna Sen's most acclaimed and uninhibited performance. The scene where Soumitra Chatterjee takes a liking for Aparna Sen's spontaneity and innocence is a cinematic landmark in expressions.

Ray started composing for his own films since “Teen Kanya”, a Sir David Lean and Francois Truffaunt favourite.


This is Ray's technically most-perfect film based on Tagore's Nashtanir, in 1964. Though rejected at the Cannes Film Festival, it won accolades the same year at Berlin. “Charulata” is most well-known for the first ever usage of the freeze shot by Subrata Mitra. It was Madhabi Mukherjee's most memorable performance, inspiring Richard Burton to term her “an actress who haunts”.

Kishore Kumar rendered his first Tagore melody with resounding success sans instrumental support. Soumitra Chatterjee and Sailen Mukherjee also gave commendable performances in the film that, sadly, marked the end of the exemplary Satyajit Ray-Madhabi Mukherjee duo.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 5:24:05 PM |

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