Champa Srinivasan analyses Suman Ghosh’s film Kadambari while also reflecting on the character of Charulata in Ray’s classic film adaptation of Tagore’s novella Nashtoneer.
I had gone to watch Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari more out of curiosity than anything else. Rabindranath always held a special place in my heart and mind not only because of his philosophical thoughts, his spiritual teachings, his romantic songs and poems, but for the aura and the mystery which surrounds him in his omnipresent existence in my day to day living. I had been unconsciously initiated into the life and works of Tagore the day I joined as a student in a Brahmo school.
While our days began with the ever inspiring ‘Anandoloke Mongolaloke …’ with the piano being played in the background by one of the senior students, we had a compulsory singing class to attend where we were exclusively taught the songs of Tagore. In school, with his subtle philosophies of life that we imbibed through text books in our literature class, I was gradually, unconsciously falling in love with the poet, the lyricist, the story teller Rabindranath, and everything that is remotely related to Him.
Though I had watched Tapan Sinha’s Kabuliwala and Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya with my parents as a child, my first real brush with Tagore’s literature on screen in the true sense has to be Charulata, also a Ray film which he had adapted from Tagore’s novella Nashtoneer. Watching Charulata in the theatre hall was a fascinating experience which I savored with awe as the characterization and representation of the protagonist Charu on screen had left me speechless and spellbound. I returned home that evening in a daze, unable to sleep well that night because the film resonated with me in an unspoken, inexplicable level of my psyche.
I read Nashtoneer much later and then felt that the film Charulata, though a masterpiece in its own right, captures only a fragmented vision of the original Tagore story. To me, it somehow appeared like an incomplete tale as the husband’s (Bhupati’s) point of view was never clearly portrayed by Ray. Innumerable sources over the times have confirmed that the story of Nashtoneer was based on Tagore’s own life and that it was all about his relationship with his elder brother Jyotirindranath’s wife Kadambari Debi.
Over the years, literature of different genres published claim to be the authentic portrayal of that particular phase in Tagore’s life when he came close to his sister-in-law Kadambari Debi. The stories sometimes differ from each other on some context or other, but they all carry the same message that Kadambari Debi, who had died under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty three remained the chief muse of Rabindranath throughout his life. Many believe that most of his romantic songs and poems, composed till his old age, were actually all written in memory of and dedicated to his ‘Notun Bouthan’.
When I heard about Suman Ghosh’s film Kadambari, I felt very interested obviously like most other Bengalis of my generation, who love to live and breathe Tagore and feel fascinated by all things associated with his name. The added curiosity with which I had gone to watch this particular film was of course my own. I wanted to probe in my own way and discover how much of Kadambari Debi had been recreated in the fictional character of Charu by the author Rabindranath Tagore and by Satyajit Ray, the film maker. My curiosity in the recently released Kadambari was akin to the portrayal of Charu in the classical Ray film.
If Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari is a true story about the most lasting romantic relationship in Tagore’s life, then of course Charulata was a tale of a real woman, the ‘Notun Bou’ of the famous Jorashankho family and her intriguing relationship with her younger brother-in-law. Both the films are similar in their portrayal of ‘loneliness’ of the young wife, whose husband, though very affectionate and liberal towards her in his behavior, somewhere failed to give her the attention her sensitive and creative mind craved for. Bhupati, the husband of Charulata has always remained engrossed in his own professional, editorial world. On the other hand, Jyotirindranath Tagore, Kadambari’s handsome husband had been engrossed in his business, and also had an active interest in stage theatre, which kept him away from his wife.
Kadambari and Charu, both childless women, dabbled well with their domestic chores and excelled in making crocheted mats or slippers, while they also sought solace for their loneliness by indulging in creative interactions with their husband’s younger brother, who was more a friend and a companion than a lover. But if observed carefully, we can spot the stark difference in the characterization and the spirit of the two women, Kadambari and Charulata. Ray’s Charulata, based on Tagore’s novella was a very vivacious lady, always sparkling with life. She could easily overcome all her sorrows of her childless and lonesome life by the sheer magic of her spirits. The exchanges she shared with her highly talented brother-in-law showed her excelling in the departments of wit and sense of humour, when compared to his. Kadambari’s character on the other hand looked rather dull besides young Rabi, as she carried around her a kind of melancholia right from the beginning and that culminated in taking the extreme step of suicide, with which the film begins and ends.
The strikingly beautiful and colourful sets and costumes of the film Kadambari stands out against the black and white world of Ray’s Charulata. To me, Kadambari appears to be one of the most aesthetically made Bengali films of recent times. Whether the backdrop was that of Jorasankho Thakur Baari or the Bagaan baari of Chandan Nagar,the Ganga cruise or the horse ride by the Victoria memorial, each scene of the film is hauntingly beautiful. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the locations and backdrops in the film play a much bigger role at times in the progress of the film than the characters themselves.
The film Kadambari may not leave any lasting impression in the mind of a serious cine goer, but it definitely scores very high on the aesthetic grounds. I do not even mind saying that Barun Mukherjee, the cinematographer of the film is the real hero of Suman Ghosh’s film. He surpasses every other character in the film by his mesmerising portrayal of each and every scene, whether that of an outdoor shot or a scene in the superbly created indoor sets.
The director perhaps should have been much more careful with his casting. Well built and middle aged Kaushik Sen looks like a total misfit as young Jyotirindranath Tagore, especially at the time of his marriage with child bride Kadambari. Also, singer Srikanto Acharya too looked too old to be the father of young Suren Tagore and Indira Debi. It would be unnecessarily harsh if we attempt to make a comparative study between the Soumitro Chatterjee-Madhabi chemistry as Amol – Charulata and Parambrata Chatterjee-Kankana Sen Sharma as Rabi – Kadambari. However, we cannot ignore the fact that Parambrata did excel as young Rabindranath in his individual capacity as an actor. His eyes, body language and dialogue delivery emanated a strong blend of intelligence and intellect with which we normally associate Rabindranath.
The sensuous use of Rabindra Sangeet by Ray in Charulata is much talked about even today and particularly the Kishore Kumar song, ‘Ami chini go chini tomare …’ in Soumitro Chatterjee’s lips remains etched in our memory as one of the most enduringly romantic presentations of a Rabindra Sangeet in silver screen. In Kadambari too, the melodious rendition of the Vidyapati’s verse set to tune by young Rabindranath, just after the rains at the Chandannagar Baagan Baari is bound to create a very lasting impact in the audience’s mind and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the song captured the magical essence of the entire film. The director makes a very subtle and sensitive capture of the turning point of Rabi’s feelings for his playmate and companion, Notun Bouthan through this song.
Coming back home after watching the film, I tried to envision the apparent differences between Charulata and Kadambari that set them apart in the two films. While Ray’s Charulata lives through the estrangement of Amol, Kadambari cannot tolerate it and ends her life. The fact remains that Charulata was only a fictional character, while Kadambari was a real life woman. However difficult it might be to explain or articulate the psyche of these two spirited, idiosyncratic women, they would continue to haunt me for long, with their unfathomable loneliness and their intense emotional fervour.
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