On Streer Patra
Standing on a lonesome, vast seashore of Bay of Bengal, she finally declares that she’s never going to come back to get confined again in that boxed and prejudiced life.
Once Bergman said, – “A film has nothing to do with literature”. Cinema has always been a director’s medium to express his/her or collective view, feelings, response or repercussion with respect to a single or a chain of interrelated social events.
Narrating a factual or a story is not always an imperative but conveying the reaction or aftermath is of utmost importance. But on the contrary getting exposed to a powerful literary expression always triggers or connects to a creative mind.
Satyajit Ray also been heard to say that a powerful story or a narrative always makes the journey easier for a director because most often there is eventually no need of writing a script out of them.
In recent times Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations opened a flurry of discussions and screenings of all those classics like Kabuliwala by Tapan Sinha in Bengali which was also adapted in Hindi by Hemen Gupta, Khudhito Pashan by Tapan Sinha, Charulata, Teen Kanya, Ghare Baire by Satyajit Ray, Char Adhyay by Kumar Sahni, Streer Patra by Purnendu Pattrea and also comparatively newer films by contemporary makers, like Chokher Bali and Noukadubi. No wonder Tagore’s works were well explored by all these stalwarts often. For the detailing included in the bard’s storytelling or narrations it was always a director’s delight.
Unfortunately among all these films Pattrea’s films were always comparatively less accessible, less popularized and less discussed too. Streer Patra, in 1973, happened to be the second film by Purnendu Pattrea. He was actually among those talented Indian makers who looked upon cinema as a “total art form” the purpose of which is to carry a message to the mass involving different mediums of art.
And in this film he incorporated all those mediums he had been in love with. Streer Patra was based on Tagore’s one of the most revolutionary and futuristic text, the 3rd short story published in Sabuj Patra right after his arrival from Europe in 1913.
The fury twined inside the text and the socio-economic realism
According to the bard himself, his first attempt towards writing a feminist text – Streer Patra (The Letter From A Wife) was a real blowout. It was among those short stories by Rabindranath Tagore which received very hefty criticism when they first appeared. Mainly because it highlights the agony, abasement and neglect that women had to face in the then male dominated society.
It was a path-breaking short story in form of a letter (the letter itself constitutes the whole story) which a typical Bengali upper middle-class wife “Mrinal” writes to her husband. She’s a poet, a thinker and over all a woman who dared to question, expressing bold and fervent statements with realizations coming from within the course of 15 years of her married life through letter to her husband.
Starting with a common humble addressing note “Sricharankamaleshu” (at your lotus-like feet) she ends up addressing herself as “Charanatalashraychhinna” (separated from your lotus-like feet) – a sarcastically used word, which actually signifies a rejection for all those so called relationships she left behind.
In between she opens up her box of feminist realizations vexed by some incidents fall out inside her very own household. Standing on a lonesome, vast seashore of Bay of Bengal, she finally declares that she’s never going to come back to get confined again in that boxed and prejudiced life. But instead, she never wished to end her life, rather taking this breaking off as a beginning she boldly expresses her wish to start off a new voyage empowered with freedom and self-respect, for which she never realized an urge before.
In late 60’s when feminism was taking shape in Bengal, with this contextually primed, well-built story the director was already one step ahead.
Pattrea donned three roles in the film-making process, apart from being the director he was also the screenplay writer and art director. Having Madhabi Mukhopadhyay worked with himself as a lead actress in his first film Swopno Niye there already existed a comfort zone; additional to it, portraying “Charulata” brilliantly in Ray’s film, made the call for Madhabi unmistakable.
Filming such a momentous foretold story needs a lot of tallying and specific image build-ups through art-direction, set-designing, character-designing, sound-designing, locations etc, so that a percipient viewer can experience the film with high fidelity.
To assure that he settled an impressive cast with Madhabi Mukhopadhyay as “Mrinal”, Rajeshwari Roychowdhury as “Bindu”, Nimu Bhowmik as Bindu’s schizophrenic husband and other important roles were played by actors like Smita Sinha, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Ashim Chakraborty, Shyamal Ghoshal and Santosh Dutta.
The bard’s creation and the cinematic vista
Spectators familiar with Tagore’s original text can’t help but notice a few deviations which Pattrea deliberately put forward. In his short story, Tagore discriminated “Borobou” and “Bindu” from “Mrinal” initially by portraying them as ‘ordinary’ as far as their looks are concerned, where as in the film none of Rajeshwari or Smita could actually be called ordinary in that sense but were rather beautiful.
On the other hand Pattrea being a poet himself could not resist highlighting Mrinal’s poetic character, incorporating some extra scenes such as one where she is thoughtful and writing in her lonesome afternoon leisure time and in another one her brother Sharat recites her poem to his friend and both discuss about it as a praiseworthy one.
But prior to these cinematic adaptations, the major alteration brought in by the director is the mode of narration. Where as Tagore wrote the short story in a form of a letter as a dauntless emancipation of a woman against the so-called prejudiced social-structure, Pattrea decided not to use the same structure for the film. He rather went for the story-building mode involving least number of flashbacks. This mode of narration may have caused loss of straightforwardness or intrinsic boldness in some places, inherent in the original text.
Arguably Pattrea’s most successful film Streer Patra is said to be inspired largely by Ray’s Charulata — another classic by Tagore which also shares the lead actress Madhabi Mukhopadhyay. Some long shots, frames, montages also suggest some likeness at a glance but still his views and directorial character resurfaced as his very own later on.
Shakti Bandyopadhyay was behind the camera and Pattrea chose Ram Kumar Chattopadhyay with his collection of “Puratani” songs to make the musical score more authentic and appropriate for the film, which was actually an exceptional choice.
But after all, one can sense a kind of restlessness in the film which may be an unfavorable consequence of the editing style. In fact, it was rather a bit disturbing sometimes but at the same time beautifully sequenced dream sequence with Bindu, mostly using visual transitions of artworks gave a different touch to the visual aspect of the film.
After all one can’t help accepting that as a visual artist Pattrea was brilliant in this film. He left his signatures all over it including the title-card using calligraphy and other artworks.
However, in all potentiality Pattrea’s Streer Patra appeared as a very lyrical and visually beautiful film. But although it got critically acclaimed also bagging “Best Director” award at Taskhand Film Festival – all about this film is a forgotten episode now.
(Pics: Chhayabani Films)
More to read
The Light-ingles (4 female characters from Indian cinema who shined in the darkness)
Saluting Indomitable Human Spirit: Tribute to Tapan Sinha
From Kolkata to Dublin via Kabul: Tagore’s Internationalism And Cinema
Chokher Bāli: Unleashing Forbidden Passions
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