Bringing Tagore to small screen

Director of critically-acclaimed film Leela, Somnath Sen is now ready with an adaptation of a Tagore work, Gora. Here he talks to Madhur Tankha about his journey so far....
Adapting a literary work written a century ago into a contemporary serial may be a daunting task but film-maker Somnath Sen has gone ahead and adapted Rabindranath Tagore’s epoch-making work Gorainto a Hindi serial for Doordarshan.
The project was commissioned by DD last year when the entire subcontinent was celebrating Gurudev’s 150th birth anniversary. It was a conscious decision to make the serial in Hindi so that non-Bengali people unfamiliar with the literary giant’s work could understand his message for society.
The serial will be premiered on October 29.
The film-maker is glad that the serial is being shown by DD, a public service broadcaster, and not a private satellite channel. “Otherwise I would have had to make a number of compromises. They would have asked me to focus on the glamour quotient and incorporate drastic changes. Luckily DD’s mandate is to promote and propagate Indian culture, values and traditions.”
The serial could not be aired last year because Somnath did not want to work in a hurried and haphazard manner and thus end up inviting the wrath of innumerable fans of the litterateur. Somnath had to tread cautiously while making and giving the finishing touches to the serial because Tagore’s work is a sensitive and taboo subject. He has to be faithful to the novel which was set in the Bengali society segregated into orthodox Hindus and Brahmo Samaj. “It required a big effort on the entire team’s part,” he notes.
Luckily for him, his elder sibling Gargi Sen, a proficient documentary film-maker who started working on Gora when the Gujarat riots broke out, was there to guide him on how to make the serial absorbing without making unnecessary changes. “We discussed and argued but everything was done to make the serial relevant and yet communicate the great man’s teachings. We had to translate a voluminous book of 600 pages into a 26-episode serial. A director’s job is to translate the written word on to the screen. The director takes the text of one language guided by its grammar, syntax, idioms and translates it into an entirely different language with its own syntax, grammar and idioms. It was indeed a challenging task to take one of the most celebrated texts by a Nobel laureate and then translate it.”
Though Somnath did not tamper with the script, he nevertheless incorporated some changes to make the serial contemporary. However, his task was made tricky because he had to recreate Bengal of the late 19th Century in order to give the serial an ambience visualised by Tagore. “It had its own pitfalls. Although many parts of North Kolkata still exist as they did 130 years ago, when this story is based, for the shooting we had to remove billboards from walls, electric wires and stop entry of vehicles.”
Having grown up reading Tagore’s literary works, Somnath was well acquainted with his writing skills and what the genius wanted to convey to the society. “Nevertheless I re-read some of his books and did research. It was important to show costumes of our characters like the earlier era.”
Somnath has made good use of his former students from the Film & Television Institute of India like Gaurav Dwivedi ( Gora ), Prabhat Raghunandan ( Binoy ) and Swati Sen.
Before landing in Mumbai, Somnath was studying and working in Hollywood for nearly two decades. “After completing my Masters in film-making from the University of California I assisted American film-makers.”
As a debutant director he made a critically-acclaimed film titled Leela which revolved round a professor, played by Dimple Kapadia. “Though I was a newcomer, Dimple agreed to come on board after going through my script. The film did good business.”
Madhur Tankha | The Hindu | 22 Oct 2012
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