Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
India, 1961. Films Division Government of India. Screenplay by Satyajit Ray. Cinematography by Soumendu Roy. Music by Jyotirindra Moitra. Production Design by Bansi Chandragupta. Film Editing by Dulal Dutta
The poet, composer, painter and educator who became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (and the second to win any Nobel Prize at all) was also a formative influence in the development of the great filmmaker and fellow artist Bengali Satyajit Ray, who studied Tagore at school and based three of his films on his works. Here he pays tribute to his subject’s centenary by making a sincere, elegantly composed documentary that in under one hour not only captures the main bullet points about his biography but gives us a succinct understanding of his impact and importance. Born the fourteenth child to a prominent Calcutta family who could trace their lineage back to the eighth century, Tagore had his first publishing success at thirteen, then by the time of his maturity was a revered poet who had also penned a few successful operas. At the turn of the century, he took a property he had inherited and turned it in to an ashram that eventually became a highly reputable institution. With the partition of Bengal that British rulers hoped would stem the tide of Indian independence, Tagore put his talents to use inspiring his people through his poems and songs, further committing himself to the work of freeing the country from colonial rule until his death at the age of eighty. Telling his life’s story from the perspective of a newly independent India and with all the admiration of a truly devoted fan, Ray assembles photos and film footage from the archive and combines it with dramatic recreations of Tagore’s early life that, in theory, shouldn’t work but in his hands do so beautifully. In dramatizing moments that feel like memories instead of melodramatic re-enactments, these scenes, which Ray himself said were among his most cherished he ever made, allow us to further understand the development and awakening of an artistic mind.