The problem, actually, is not with the bard so much as the Bengalis who worship him. However, I have now fulfilled my one cheeky wish, to begin an argument with the phrase – the problem with Rabindranath Tagore.
The problem is that we can't accept that he belonged to another time. Things have moved on since. Of course he is universal, as is the rest of the romantic clan, but universal in the context of a very different world. Oh but, human emotions remain the same – the ironies of existence, etc. Yes yes, they have grown complex, and digital, and binary. But not so for the Bengali. At the very mention of Tagore, perfectly clear voices, along with the neck bend at a fifty degree angle – otherwise known in Kolkata street lingo – Chhota baajtey paanch (five to six). Common body language that one can observe at almost every Bengali function, whether a Kolkata drawing room, a GK2 rooftop, or even the Raj Bhavan.
So when I finally got down to making Tasher Desh, one thing was clear. I would not veer from the script that he had written. Like a holy book we held our copies of the Visva Bharati certified play. Yes I did leave out a few songs, because there were just too many, though we shot most of them. I wanted to be true to the original tune, to the T if possible. But then, there was the treatment. Instead of placing myself in the Tagorean time, I decided to drag the fable into an alien time zone. A bizarrely mixed up world, pure fantasy, so close it's almost real. I wanted to draw from the imagination that danced on my face as I floated on an acid haze. I saw the army, their faces painted, barking and growling like animals. Not realizing for a second that they are but toys, and the moment the message is whispered into their ears they would lose themselves to a beautiful dream of freedom.
Image became the story, music was its soul.
Who knows who Patralekha was! Often mistaken for a shadow, I saw her, emerging from the sea, hair striking red against the western sun. She brought news from the other side. She was the Oracle, the fairy, the guru, who gave the Prince the key to his quest. Patralekha was liquid, red as the menstrual river, and she mixed and mashed the two worlds – Tagore's and mine.
I don't know whether Tagore was aware of the Oriental four act structure – Kishotenketsu. But when I stumbled upon this narrative style, it made perfect sense. A plot without conflict. Where the metaphysical discourse supersedes the need to paint a human reality. Perhaps Tagore used this in Tasher Desh, we wouldn't know. There is no mention of this in the scant research that has been done around the text. But it was the basis of the wild ride I wanted the film to be. Influenced by manga design, and powered by a musical collaboration that took the age-old Rabindrasangeet into a netherworld of drum and bass and ambient electro buzz.
I don't know why we can't look at his texts as a runway! A solid foundation that will propel us into another world. Post the fall of the great wall of sanctions, it's high time that we straighten our necks, clear our throats, and ask some pertinent questions that remain unanswered.
– Kisher chancholyo bolo dekhi oi hnasher doley? (Pray tell, what mysterious vibration flutters the feathers of them ducks?)
Illustration: Arun Pottirayil