Documentary films can explore many forms, content and genres. Documentary cinema is not a monolith that does not lend itself to many subjects and formats. A biographical documentary can either fictionalize the subject on who the film is made, or, can structure the film entirely on documented research, or make it a combination of the two. Mujibar Rahman’s Images Unbound – The Life and Times of Rabindranath Tagore is a combination of slight fictionalization of the characters and a major portion based entirely on painstaking research done over three years by the filmmaker himself.
It was an extremely challenging effort considering the stature of the subject – Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and also that his film is already fore grounded by Satyajit Ray’s Rabindranath Tagore made in celebration of the poet’s 100th birth anniversary in 1961. Ray’s documentary was commissioned directly by the then-Information and Broadcasting Ministry at the Centre and one of the few aesthetically designed biographical documentaries in the history of Indian cinema. This would make comparisons inevitable. Does Rahman pass the comparison test? Yes, he does and with flying colours. He does not leave any scope for comparison because stamps it with his individual approach, treatment and style.
“The film is an intimate kaleidoscopic journey into Tagore’s oeuvre of life and art. I planned the film on Tagore to come out as a simple but grand bi-lingual documentary mainly as an informative and educational exercise. I relied more on research and little on fictionalization. With the help of Tagore scholars like Sankha Ghosh and Prof. Ananda Lal I could put together around 500 rare, archival photographs and chose the songs with great care to suit the moods of the different phases of the poet’s life,” Rahman elaborates. His film has the background of his earlier documentary films on great personalities like Munshi Premchand and Begum Rokeya among many others.
Soumitra Chatterjee lends ‘voice’ to Rabindranath Tagore while the voice-over narrations are by Ananda Lal and Debashish Bose respectively. One can also get to hear the real voices of the poet himself other than W.B. Yeats, Satyendranath Dutta, a renowned poet and others. This adds to the tapestry of the film. The 90-minute film can become an informative exercise for people across the world who know little about Tagore beyond the fact that he was a Nobel Laureate and a poet and a man who had rejected the Knighthood conferred on him by the British government as his ‘voice’ of protest against the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. It is a highly educational film for those who know something about Tagore and would love to know more.
In this scenario therefore, it marks a happy beginning to learn that the Rabindranath Studies Center of Jadavpur University has decided to introduce this film as a component of the undergraduate extra-departmental course on Rabindranath’s Life and works. Kalyan Kundu, Chairperson of London’s Tagore Centre (Scotland Division) has invited Rahman along with his film to London in September this year in celebration of the centenary of Tagore’s English translation of the Gitanjali. The film was screened in January this year at the 7th International Film Festival at Manila.
Tagore delivered some of the most memorable public lectures on philosophical issues that are universal and timeless. He is known as the father of the Bengali short story. He traversed every single area of literature from poetry through prose, drama, dance drama. He wrote and composed the music of his own songs and some of these are recorded for posterity in the poet’s own voice. Tagore took to painting very late in life and made a film under the New Theatres banner. This 90-minute film wraps these talents together against a beautiful sound and music track filled with Tagore’s compositions – songs and recitations of poetry - choosing each to fit into the given mood of the film or a given phase in the poet’s life.
Rahman has used very little fictionalization in the film to depict real characters performed by actors. But these appear to be needless superimpositions in an otherwise blemish-free film. The film tells and shows how the poet’s personal grief was purged by him through pure and undiluted creative expression. This is traced back in the film to the quick deaths of his father Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, wife Mrinalini Devi, young son, young daughter and his eldest daughter. The film maps Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose through live footage taken from archival clippings of the poet’s visit to Mahajati Sadan on the invitation of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on the event of its inauguration. We get to see Tagore in still photographs captured with Roman Rolland, Albert Einstein, Rothenberg, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. His friendship with Victoria Ocampo and Rothenstein are referred to. A very young Indira Gandhi can be seen waiting in a circle in the middle of a crowd of students during the celebration of the poet’s birthday at Santi Niketan.
Every frame in this 90-minute film is flush with factual details presented in a collage of photographs, newspaper clippings, book covers of first editions and rare manuscripts complete with the rubber stamp of the libraries from where they have been sourced. There are songs, poems, elocutions, video clippings from some of his plays and even Tagore himself as an actor. The film points out how when he heard about the Nobel Prize, Tagore wrote e monihaar amaye nahi shaaje.