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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?


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
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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.
All Posts of Shoma A Chatterji

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5 thoughts on “Jogajog – Difficult to Translate

  • Raunak Joy

    Interesting. But it seems that this version pales before Nitin Bose’s 1958 version – a film praised even by the likes of Satyajit Ray, Ashish Barman and others. But the niggling and unfortunate question is – Is that film made by one of our greats, still available in any form??

  • shoma a chatterji

    Sadly, I have not watched the Nitin Bose version and it is doubtful if I ever can because the film I believe, is lost to time. But I am sure Bose’s version will perhaps have been more loyal to Tagore’s original though the huge time leap as shown in the two films makes it impossible and also, wrong to draw comparisons even by those who must have watched both.

    1. Raunak J

      Neither have I, but my interest in Nitin Bose’s version was piqued by certain simple facts. It is quite well known to anyone who is remotely interested in Indian cinema in its entirety that Nitin Bose was one of our only 4 great directors from the vintage Era – someone who taught everyone else what is technique, shot composition and playback all about. For someone who made such fine films like President , Dhupchaon, Gunga Jamuna, Deedar, Mazdoor etc., one does take notice when people of the calibre of Satyajit Ray and Ashish Burman regard Jogajog as his best work. And with a starcast of Utpal Dutt, Vasant Choudhury, Asit Baran, Bharati Devi etc. – my interest was naturally aroused. It’s a pity that such a film is probably lost.

      Which brings me to another question I have always wondered about – I am from Delhi, but as a lover of cinema, I have seen that Kolkata, inspite of producing a major chunk of India’s best films over the years, seem to be the absolute worst at film preservation. One can still understand films from 30’s and 40’s being missing, but it is baffling to see films as late as 1958’s Jogajog, 1964’s Pratinidhi , 1965’s Trishna and many more missing. What makes the matter worse is that the list of missing films includes works of people like Mrinal Sen, Asit Sen, Tapan Sinha, Debaki Bose etc.- who are without any inch of doubt, among the very best filmmakers that our nation has produced. I don’t see such similar callous attitude anywhere else in our country, be it Bollywood or South industries. Take for example – an interesting Tamil film of the year 1968 – Uyrndha Manithan starring the inimitable Sivaji Ganesan in one of his best performances ever, is easily available for watching and evaluating. Yet it’s Bengali original – Uttar Purush, which released only two years earlier in 1966, seems untraceable!! Bewildering and disheartening to say the least.. As someone whose writings on Bengali cinema I have often adored, can you tell me the reason behind this strange attitude of Kolkata peeps towards conservation and preservation of their own films?

  • Shoma A. Chatterji

    I am also, basically from Mumbai and shifted to Kolkata in 1995. So, I am relatively ignorant about Bangla films till 1965. I got closely connected to Bangla cinema purely as a viewer between 1965 and 1974 when I shifted to Mumbai all over again. I became journalist only around 1980s so there are periods I remained blank about till YouTube made it possible to watch old treasures.

    I had the opportunity of watching many films of Debaki Bose only through a special retro of his films. The same applies to New Theatre’s classics I had never watched before. Anjan Bose of Aurora Films was trying to restore old film classics but what became of this later, I do not know. The Bengali Film industry was very small during Nitin Bose’s time. Dungarpur who has taken up restoration of old films may perhaps be able to she’d light on this tragic loss in Bengal. But this is true of many Indian films across the map.

    So, I do not think that this is exclusive to Bengal. Do you know that the original celluloid prints of Alam Ara were sold off by Ardeshir Iranian heirs to extract silver from some reels of the film for the silver they could extract and sell? Some reels were discovered in very bad state from under a bed in his house by the late P. K. Nair.

    1. Raunak J

      First of all my apologies for replying so late. The past few months have been really hectic, and the havoc wreaked by the covid pandemic has only allowed things to get much more worse. So, please accept my heartfelt apologies for this infinitely delayed response.

      Yes, I know about the fate of Alam Ara and many other such films from the 30s and the 40s. Many of these films have been lost for eternity- some due to neglect and others due to greed. Anyways, the loss could have been even far more damaging, if not for the efforts of people like PK Nair and Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

      I agree that the loss isn’t exclusive to Bengal. Yet, I can say with great conviction that Bengal takes the cake in this field of lack of film preservation. It is one thing to lose prints of films from the 30s and the 40s. But losing film prints from 60s and sometimes even 70s, is an altogether next level of heights of idiocy and neglect.

      To illustrate my point, I will take the example of the year 1964. That year, around 83-84 Hindi films released, of which 12 seem to be either untraceable or lost. The Tamil film industry came up with 36 films, of which 5 seem to be lost. The figures are quite similar for the Telugu industry too.

      Now, let’s look at Bengal’s numbers. Out of the 34 films that released, a staggering 12 I. E. Nearly one-third seem to be missing or lost to time. And this includes classics by the likes of filmmakers of the stature of Mrinal Sen and Ajoy Kar. This is akin to 60s films of Raj Kapoor or Vijay Anand being untraceable in the Hindi film industry; or films of CV Shridhar and Krihsnan-Panju being lost down South. Yet in the cases of Sen and Kar, this is a horrifying reality, while the other two scenarios mentioned above are tragic fantasies.

      As I said above, I can still understand films like Seeta, Chitralekha, Manzil, Pagal etc., being lost. They are after all films from the 30s!! But when an industry can’t trace a superhit film of its own from the year 1966, while its remake in another industry two years later can be easily traced and seen; one knows for sure that something is very wrong in that industry. I haven’t gone into detailed statistics here for want of space and time, but they also very clearly reveal that film preservation or rather lack of it, is highest in the film industry of Bengal. This despite of the fact that the industry has produced unarguably the highest number of great films in the country. Such a pity…

      PS: About the industry being small during the times of Nitin Bose, I don’t quite agree with this statement. Let’s take the year of Jogajog’s release I. E 1958. That year, Bengal produced the highest number of films after Hindi. By all accounts, it was the second largest industry in the country – bigger than Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or Marathi industries. And it was so for almost the entire period of 1930 to mid 1960s; before the Southern industries of Telugu and Tamil overtook it quantitatively, albeit not artistically.

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