Directed by Pablo César | Reviewed by Sabarno Sinha
To review a film that pays tribute to one of the greatest human beings of the last century, who lives in the heart of my community is a herculean task indeed. This 2017 Argentine-Indian production explores the final years of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore vis-à-vis his visit to Argentina and the meetings with Victoria Ocampo, an Argentine woman who had read the French translation of Gitanjali and had never been able to stop thinking about Tagore and his poetry ever since. A film about Tagore must have one quality above all else and this film has successfully been able to do that: of being enchantingly poetic and ethereal. The first scene in the poem reveals rural Bengal, the calm waters, its trees and flora in monochrome and sets the stage for the rest to unfold. The film alternates between the past and the present: the former set in the 1920s showing Tagore’s trip to Argentina where he receives the hospitality of Victoria and subsequently meets her in France where she organizes an exhibition of his paintings. The latter is set in present time, in Argentina, where a Geography teacher, Felix Mazzola, is bewitched by a book left by his student Chucky. It is same as the one that had moved Ocampo to tears many decades ago in the year of 1914. Like Chucky, Ocampo had sought an escape from the cloistered life of family and society and had found refuge in the works of Tagore where she found what Tagore would have called “illumined freedom”. In the present time, Felix witnesses his student get arrested for the murder of his stepfather, the one who abused his mother. Rather than live in the decadent planet before him, Chucky kills himself. After looking at his dead body, Felix decides to go to India, to Santiniketan, to seek answers, to understand the root of all knowledge, to become a better teacher for the last words that Chucky had uttered to him was that he felt confined in his classes, something that students at Santiniketan would never have had to go through. To understand this better, the philosophy of Tagore and that of the open classrooms. The film features a stellar Indian cast with Victor Banerjee as Tagore and Raima Sen as Kamali. Their performances as well as that of Wexler (Ocampo) and Bordoni (Felix) are worthy of the highest praise. They have not only brought out the emotions of their respective characters richly but have done a great job at creating an atmosphere where someone like Rabindranath can exist very believably. The use of monochromatic colours for the past and the warm colours in the present has created a beautiful sense of history and makes us believe that the flame of the past is undying for it continues to shine in the present day. Victor’s voice-overs have hit the right emotions and had a lasting resonance when I heard them, which I did over and over again. As much as huge spectacles, grand sets and elaborate costumes contribute in making a good film, many a time a director is able to successfully create deeper and more intense impressions with bare minimalism. A shot as simple as that of Felix opening his shoes on the red earth of Tagore’s abode and walking into that meditative sphere which he must attain is something that does not fail move us immediately. The film has made use of a documentary style of shooting with more of static shots but this greatly helps the film for it reveals an important piece of personal history of the Nobel laureate which many people are not aware of. The choice of music in the film coupled with the folk and Baul songs of Santiniketan have rendered a warm earthly richness to the film which can be tasted raw on the tongue as one watches this film. Even though Tagore dies by the end of the film, neither does Ocampo forget him nor does Felix forget where he belongs as a teacher, a pursuer of knowledge. The film ends poignantly to the famous “Tomar Hrid Majharey Rakhbo” (I will keep you at the center of my heart) for like Victoria, Tagore does not leave the imagination of those of us who believe in the truths of nature, the beauties of the world and the magic of art. The message that the film ultimately gives is one that Tagore would have himself liked to give had he lived to see the rapid changes in 21st century society: to find oneself and one’s soul in the bareness of nature, from where he came and where we shall go. It is then that we all become Vijaya or Victoria.
Sabarno Sinha is an undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He was active in the debating and MUN circuit in Kolkata. Sabarno frequently writes short stories, poems and screenplays for short films. A lover of world cinema, Sabarno finds pleasure in watching contemporary as well as classic films from Japan, Italy and Germany among others.