Tagore's works – poetry, prose, music and song – offer all possibilities to the creative artist – the filmmaker - to translate, narrate, interpret, relocate, contemporize through and within the framework of cinema. Tagore’s works are universal – in terms of time, space, emotions and human relationships. In a certain sense, the universal language of cinema makes it possible to render a Tagore literary piece for the consumption of an international audience ideally through the medium of film.
Mon Amour Shesher Kobita Revisited is soaked in a culture that seems to have got lost in the world of MTV and technically polished mainstream films, love affairs that are limited to one-night stands and marriages that can break with a cell-phone forgotten in the car. Filmmaker Shubrojit Mitra is not only an avid fan of Tagore and all that the great bard stands for – his poetry, his songs, his music, but mainly, the essence of his philosophy of love. The concept is based on Tagore’s philosophy of the infinity of love that never dies even if it gets lost, or is hidden under the world of materialistic and physical pleasures.
He brings this love across on screen through the character of Rajarshi who not only is an internationally celebrated filmmaker with a string of awards to his name, but can sing beautifully, adores the works of Rembrandt, play the piano, listens to Bach, his favourite composer, recites Jibananda Das, John Keats and John Donne. He also carries a heavy chip on his shoulder about his intellectual superiority and laughs at his girlfriend’s apparent intellectual ignorance. Till, one day, she recites some lines from Tagore’s Shesher Kobita and his world changes forever. Is he for real? One wonders.
Brishti is a happy-go-lucky beauty who has no compunctions about going with the boyfriend for a trip to Shankarpur when she is young, enjoying Rajarshi’s company through every pore of her skin. But when she steps into his drawing room as a married woman with a daughter, she has changed to a soppy, sentimental, thoroughly pessimistic woman who keeps crying right through the second half of the film. Why? Because she continues to love Rajarshi. Poor Shovanlal is the thorn in the love story. As the two men get sozzled over drinks, the past catches up with them, setting out why this eternal love story had to have an unhappy ending.
Lavanya of Shesher Kobita (1928) is a distinctive contribution of Tagore to modern Bengali literature. Through Lavanya, Tagore introduces into Bengali literature, the figure of the ‘beloved as friend.’ When women characters, especially heroines, belonged to set types drawn from the cultural/religious reservoir, Lavanya ushers in a change that erstwhile Bengali literature was desperately in need of. She breaks the mould in many senses. She is not the heroine who the hero marries in the end to live happily ever after with. Nor is she the quintessentially modern romantic heroine. She defies being cast in the mould of any fixed Indian stereotype or archetype. In fact, the meaning and significance of love deepens and acquires greater resonance through the character of Lavanya. In the role of the beloved as friend, a soul mate, Lavanya adds a new dimension to the novel and to women characters in Bengali literature, including Tagore’s creations. Lavanya proves that the beloved can be a genuine companion, an intimate friend with whom one can drop all inhibitions and be liberated. It is Lavanya alone who can see through the maze of Amit’s self-projections and grasp his slippery, private self. In fact, Lavanya stands out as a unique woman even in the company of Tagore’s other powerful heroines from Chokher Bali to Char Adhyaya. Shubrojit Mitra’s Brishti/Tilottama does not carry even a whiff of this character. But that is not Rituparna’s fault. The fault lies with the script and the direction.
Some famous director once said that a debutant director is desperate to pour everything he knows into his first film. Mitra, just 27, seems to have fallen into this deadly trap. His script and structure are quite confusing despite the use of Black-and-White for the imaginations of Rajarshi and colour for the real – both the past and the present. The opening frames showing Rajarshi waking up from a terrible nightmare are excellent. The next shot sshow him wandering about aimlessly among the woods, beautiful in their browns and ambers, but not really serving much purpose in the script save for offering beautiful visuals. And as the film moves on, the rambling script gets lost somewhere especially from the point when Shovanlal goes to fetch his cell-phone forgotten in the car. It then rapidly goes downhill till it collapses completely towards the drab and seemingly unending anti-climax.
The three main actors have tried their best to rise above what turns out to be a weak script, but even they cannot collectively save the film from disaster. Rituparna needs to tone down her hard and heavy make-up a bit. She is beautiful as she is and looks prettier in the Black-and-White frames shot in the sea than in the colour scenes. Saheb is too young to play such a complex role for his first big venture. Tota’s character needed a bit of fleshing out. The dialogue uses the word ‘flesh’ all too often as synonymous with women. Most women will not like this at all. Dialogues in English and in classical English can hardly be heard so it does not matter whether they reach the audience or not. Was there a smattering of French too? Difficult to say. The title has all the three languages– French, Bengali and English.
But there is reason to celebrate the film too. It gives the audience one of the most brilliant musical scores and soundt tracks Bengali cinema has experienced in a long, long time. You get to hear a little of Bach. Poetry is sprinkled all over the narrative like silver dust in a darkened room. You get to hear John Keats, John Donne, Tagore, and Jibananda Das. The credit goes to the director for the choice of the songs and their positioning within the film, and music director Kalyan Sen Barat’s choice to go with some of the best voices in the Bengali music scenario today. There are music tracks from Tagore’s compositions from songs that are left unsung, investing the film with a poetic spirit and a lyrical mood that sucks you into the love-soaked ambience. Till the interval, it is music that carries the film squarely on its shoulders. At some points, one gets the distinct feeling that music is the film’s protagonist and the characters are merely the supporting cast complimenting the music with their love story. But after the interval, though the music does not quite go away, its magic disappears as needless explanations, apologies and frustrations tumble out like skeletons from an imaginary cupboard.
With due apologies to the Bengali audience, one is constrained to say that Shubrojit Mitra takes his audience’s intellectual level a bit too much for granted. How many of the contemporary mass audience in West Bengal are familiar with John Keats, John Donne or Rembrandt’s paintings or Bach’s compositions? As for the music, one could easily get to hear it from sophisticated CDs and DVDs. Mitra walks the tightrope between creating a beautiful film that is aesthetically rich and a film that lacks a powerful storyline or a credible script. Perhaps too young to don the director’s mantle for such a serious subject, he tends to get carried away and uses his first film as a platform to demonstrate his intellectual competence.