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Jogajog – Difficult to Translate

May 26, 2015 | By

The original story triggers more sympathy for Kumudini but the film somehow manages to slant the sympathy to favour Madhusudan which is a drastic shift.

Jogajog movieTo translate/ recreate/ interpret a Tagore novel or short story is always a challenge for any filmmaker. Among these, Jogajog presents a formidable task because it offers different readings at different times for different filmmakers and audience. Looking back at the novel authored by Tagore in 1929, filmmaker Sekhar Das has made his celluloid reading of Tagore in 2015. Sekhar however, has adapted the film mainly from the play Tagore penned on the same novel as a play in 1936.

The novel was left incomplete probably because Tagore was extremely disturbed in 1928-1929 by the tragic circumstances of his youngest daughter Meera Devi’s divorce which he backed her in. But it left him deeply disturbed. Sekhar has brought it forward to 1981 when the feudal landlord system was being legally abolished on the one hand and some industries were kicking the dust on the other.

Within this conflicting ambience of financial decay where aristocratic families like the one headed by Bipradas Chatterjee (Arjun Chakraborty) were losing their affluence but were forced to maintain appearances and ego and lesser families like the one headed by Madhusudan Ghosal (Bratya Basu)  were coming up through business deals, is born the story of a strange marriage between cultural unequals. Madhusudan uses the huge debt Bipradas owes him by writing off the debt in exchange for the hand of his beautiful sister Kumudini. What a quid pro quo in the name of marriage in which, like it or not, Bipradas is also a stakeholder.

Tagore’s later writings reflect his struggle between the strong pulls of radical modernism at one end and traditionalism on the other. One of his greatest contributions towards the evolution of a modern mindset lies in his concept of choice and his ability to create alternative spaces to choose from. But did Kumudini of Jogajog really have a choice? Or was coercion disguised as ‘choice’ which she understood quite well but compromised with because of her deep love for her brother and her sense of commitment towards the family?

Jogajog

Though Kumudini (Shubolagna Mukherjee) is the protagonist of the story and the narrative revolves around her marriage that brings disillusionment, frustration and sadness into her life, Sekhar touches upon other areas too such as the tremendous clash of egos between the Chatterjees and Madhusudan Ghoshal who is desperate to be integrated into ‘aristocracy’ with his newly acquired wealth; or, the sexual exploitation of the young widow Shyam Sundari (Ananya Chatterjee) by Madhusudan; or, Madhusudan’s willful abuse of power against his good-hearted brother (Saheb Chatterjee) who is unabashedly in love with his wife Nistarini (Locket Chatterjee) and most importantly, the persistent attempts of the crude Madhusudan to win over the love and adoration and submission of wife Kumudini and failing every time.

Kumudini is a strange blend of the modern and the spiritual. On the one hand, she is an ace at chess, can ride a horse and sing beautifully. On the other, she is so devoted to Lord Krishna that she visualizes him in whoever she will be married to. Therefore, Madhusudan’s crude ways and abuse of power hits her like lightning and she fights back, leading to disastrous consequences. Sekhar has woven the script quite well, embellishing it with metaphors of different kinds of music from the famous Meera bhajan mere to giridhar gopala, or the happy Tagore number jokhon prothom dhorechhe koli amar mollika boney that slowly and steadily unfolds the different layers of the story, the characters and their interactions. Music forms a strong feature of the film but perhaps there is one song too many.

Jogajog stills

Though Tagore’s original story is a point-of-view nostalgic narration from Kumudini’s grown-up son, in the film the narrative comes as the voice-over of Kumudini herself. The original story triggers more sympathy for Kumudini but the film somehow manages to slant the sympathy to favour Madhusudan which is a drastic shift. Bratya as Madhusudan with the author-backed role steals the show from everyone else but at times, his becomes an over-the-top performance. Arjun is restrained as Bipradas while the character roles are essayed quite well by the rest of the cast. Subholagna in her first big break on celluloid, is a blend of grace and beauty and femininity personified and is subtle in her essaying of the character. What one misses in Kumudini is the tremendous strength of character and will-power that comes across in Tagore’s novel. Subholagna has tried to put in her best but perhaps her beautiful and soft-hued looks distracted us from the inner strength the character radiates almost naturally and spontaneously through the written word.

Some scenes between Madhusudan and Kumudini are telling in the kind of the helpless hide-and-seek games Madhusudan plays to gain access to his wife’s body and heart. One of them concerns the ring he takes away from her which is her brother’s gift to her and tries to replace it with three more expensive rings and then snatches them away again because he can feel her rejection almost tangibly. Madhusudan desperately tries to pull off one crude trick after another and the unsuspecting Kumud takes it in to begin with only for her hopes to be dashed the next minute when she learns the truth. She tries to assert her choice as an individual with a mind of her own. When Madhusudan fails to consummate the marriage, he rapes her. This perhaps, is the first ever depiction of marital rape within literature though Tagore left it at that and did not labour to argue the point in favour or against. Sekhar has dealt with this scene with a fine balance between shock and restraint. One is left wondering whether Kumudini’s pregnancy created from marital rape was a social compromise brought in by Tagore to force her to go back to her husband. Tagore shied away from keeping her within her brother’s home for good. Why?

The most tragic figure in the entire film is Shyam Sundari, who, humiliated and insulted in her love for her brother-in-law Madhusudan, vanishes one morning from the face of the earth and no one wants to find out where she has disappeared to, why and how, much less trying to trace her and bring her back. Ananya Chatterjee as Shyam Sundari is as incredible in expressing the inner pain of a woman who has never known a life other than dependence and humiliation as is the cheerful camaraderie with which Saheb Chatterjee essays the character of Madhusudan’s happy-go-lucky but intense brother.

The camera has used a proliferation of reds and yellows and the film is so generously dotted with close-ups and big close-ups in most scenes that at times, the cinematographic space begins to lose perspective. Too many big close-ups can be a deterrent to setting and backdrop and this is what ails Jogajog. The bands being brought in to play popular Hindi tunes is in keeping with Sekhar’s time-frame flashed forward to 1981 is brought across when one hears the strains of the title song of Don played by the band.

One may point out that Tagore’s writings do not fall within the scope of accusations levelled by Western feminist writers who have repeatedly stated that the image of woman in patriarchy was not being described by symbols that she would develop herself but by andocentric symbols [1]. Later feminist theorists like Pam Morris “pointed to Millet’s observation about the traditional typologies of female literary heroines in the sense of locking them into very clean-cut types, determined by a male gaze from outside.[2] It was a stereotype, often misogynic depiction of women as virgins or whores, frigid or nymphomaniac, chaste or profligate.”[3] Tagore’s women are never locked into “very clean-cut types, determined by a male gaze from outside.” Tagore’s short stories and dance dramas mostly portrayed women who drew strength from within themselves and not from the men in their lives. Examples are aplenty – Kumudini, Charulata, Bimala, Mrinal, Ratan, Shailabala, Neeraja, etc.

Elaine Showalter noted “female heroines of the classical literary texts were traditionally classified as positive/negative characters according to their attitudes to power, to the gender order. They were mysticised (celestial virgins, devoted wives, self-sacrificing mothers) or demonized (seductive and/or destructive, disobedient “witches”).”[4] These generalizations do not apply to the literary creations of Tagore including his poems and novels. Or, to Sekhar Das’s celluloid interpretation of Jogajog. The juxtapositions of the women are intriguing and ironical. Place Kumudini next to Shyam Sundari and though Kumudini is strong, beautiful, educated and talented, she is no less a victim of patriarchy than the unlettered, widowed and orphaned Shyam Sundari. While Shyam Sundari never even knew about a word called ‘choice’, Kumudini was almost convinced that she had a mind of her own. But in the ultimate analysis, did she? Is motherhood an excuse to save a doomed marriage that never was? Or does Kumudini have a change of heart?  Will we ever know?

End Notes

[1] Millet, Kate: Sexual Politics, Granada Publishing, 1969, quoted by Knotkova-Capkova, Blanka in Selected Concepts of Woman as “The Other” in Critical Feminist Writings in Breaking the Silence – Reading Virginia Woolf, Ashapurna Devi and Simone de Beauvoir (Eds) Sanjukta Dasgupta and Chinmoy Guha,  Dasgupta & Company Pvt. Ltd, Calcutta, 2011, pp.3-27.

[2] Morris, Pam: Literature and Feminism, New York, Blackwell Publishers, 1993.Quoted from Knotnova-Capkova’s essay above.

[3] Ibid, p.9 Knotkova’s essay.

[4] Showalter, Elaine: The Literature of Their Own, London, Virago, 1984, quoted by Knotkova in the above essay, p.9.

Suggested readings

  1. Cinematic Adaptations Of Rabindranath
  2. Tagore’s Noukadubi And Rituparno’s Inspiration: Interrogating Marriage And Home
  3. Revisiting Swet Patharer Thala: Woman, Widowhood And Work
Creative Writing

Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to amitava@silhouette-magazine.com

Dr. Shoma A Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. Her focus of interest lies in Indian cinema, human rights, media, gender and child rights. She has authored 24 books mainly on Indian cinema and on gender and has been jury at several film festivals in India and abroad. She has won two National Awards - for Best Film Critic in 1991 and for Best Book on cinema in 2002. She has also won four fellowships over the past 10 years.
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