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Subhash Ghai’s tribute to Tagore

Bollywood biggie Subhash Ghai has ventured into Bengali films with his maiden production, a double-version adaptation of a Tagore classic, directed by Rituparno Ghosh. Our correspondent gets deeper into the making of this film directed by Rituparno Ghosh ahead of its release on May 20

'It is my tribute to Rabindranath Tagore in celebration of his 150th birth anniversary,' says Subhash Ghai speaking about his new film in Bengali and Hindi based on Tagore's NOUKADUBI (Boat Capsize). The Hindi version is called KASHMAKASH, in keeping with the tensions that evolve in lives of four young men and women trapped in an accident of destiny – the capsizing of a boat on a night of thunder and storm. KASHMAKASH will release in Mumbai, Delhi and the rest of India while NOUKADUBI will release simultaneously in Kolkata and West Bengal. 

NAUKDUBI, incidentally, is perhaps Tagore's most cinema-friendly story because it has been filmed several times. It has been made three times between 1932 (silent) and 1979 by different directors in Bengali. In Hindi it was made twice. The first MILAN (1946) marked the debut of Dilip Kumar directed by Nitin Bose under the Bombay Talkies banner. The second was GHUNGHAT (1960) directed by Ramanand Sagar with Bina Rai and Asha Parekh doing the two central women characters opposite Bharat Bhushan and Pradip Kumar. Bina Rai got her only Filmfare Best Actress Award for her role in this film. 

Mukta Arts' NOUKADUBI premiered to a wonderful response at the IFFI in Goa last year and is said to have got a standing ovation for story, performance and direction. Ghai was so overwhelmed that he feels this is Rituparno's best from what he has seen so far. 

The film marks several firsts. Suchitra Sen's grand-daughters Raima and Riya feature in the same film for the first time though they do not share screen space. Gulzar has happily translated two poems of Tagore in Hindi that feature in the film as songs. Shreya Ghoshal has lent her voice to the songs in both the Hindi and Bengali versions of the film. The two male leads in this period film have been portrayed by Prosenjit, Bengali cinema's numero uno, and Jisshu Sengupta. Veteran Dhritiman Chatterjee plays Raima's father in the film. 

The story is filled with intrigue, dramatic coincidences, mistaken conceptions about marital loyalty, patience, romance and radical characterizations placed against the period backdrop of the 1920s in Bengal. In short, it has most of the ingredients of a mainstream story with the added quality of presenting a period piece. Through the delicately woven interrelationships between and among the four major characters, Tagore made his own comment on the institution of arranged marriages at the a time where men like Romesh (Jisshu Sengupta) were forced to marry a girl of their parents' choice though they were in love with a woman more in keeping with their educational and social status. 

The story is also a critique on the custom of the bridal veil mandatory for a Hindu Bengali bride that led to serious complications in the life of the innocent, naive and rustic Kamala (Riya Sen) who lived with a man without suspecting that he was not her husband because she had never seen the face of her bridegroom. 

It also underscores the tragedy of Romesh who firstly, is forced to marry a girl of his parents' choice and secondly, finds that the bride he brought home after the boat wreck is not the one he married. Lastly, he is faced with the dilemma of whether to tell her the truth or send her away somewhere or live trapped within a destiny thrust on him by others. 

'Riya is the more glamorous between the two of us. But in NOUKADUBI, Rituda [Rituparno Ghosh] has given me the more glamorous look. I play the educated, modern Bengali girl Hemnalini who is in love with Romesh, a lawyer, and keep waiting for him to come back from his parents completely unaware that he is married to someone else,' says Raima. 

'I enjoyed every minute of my role and my work in my film. But at the end of the day, I can happily state that Riya will run away with the acting honours as Kamala in a character that is against her screen image and her character,' says Raima. 

Riya learnt to chew paan for the first time in her life for her role as Kamala in the film. 

'With Ritu-da, you just cannot cheat. He will not allow it. So, I began to chew a paan which I had never done before and hated it in the beginning. Kamala is so unlike me that it took me two to three days just to get into the character which only costume and make-up cannot do. But we had lots of fun in the sets and I would constantly pull Jisshu's leg till he was exasperated,' recalls Riya. 

'Raima gave me very good advice about Ritu-da as director because unlike her, I had worked under his direction only in a brief cameo in his ABOHOMAAN. I am looking forward to the feedback of the audience to my work in the film because I hope it will finally dispel the myth that I am just a glamorous doll and not good for dramatic roles in serious films,' she elaborates. 

Soumik Haldar's cinematography is mesmerizing and it will bring a lump to the viewer's throat. The richness of the visuals imbibes an element of emotion too, a rare thing in cinematography. Indraneel Ghosh, one of the best art directors in Bengali cinema, had a field day recreating a bygone period of Bengal with pillars and arches of aristocratic mansions, or, a sad and beautiful face standing against the backdrop of tall blades of grass. 

Jisshu Sengupta had a tough time handling a dhoti right through his role. 

Says Raima of her experience. 

'I did CHOKHER BALI, also based on a Tagore story, which also Rituda directed. But I was very young then and the character also represented a very young girl enjoying her marital life with her husband. For Hemnalini, I had to look more mature, modern and intelligent and the finer nuances of the character, the layered shades are different from what I had to portray in CHOKHER BALI,' Raima sums up.

Nalin K Rai (pen name 'Enkayaar') is a Tagore Commemorative Honouree Author for 2023 for his literary Contributions and Beyond & Emily Dickinson Award Winner for his poetry writing.
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