Here are films based on Tagore's works that gave us intriguing, complex female protagonists
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Here are films based on Tagore's works that gave us intriguing, complex female protagonists
Hia Datta
Aug 07, 2021

Some say Tagore’s women were perhaps entrapped in the social mores, archetypical notions of femininity, reconciliation with the times and hence conformed to the patriarchal order of the society. Some say Tagore’s women, despite the constraints of the home and the world in their times, had a quiet strength of character and sensibilities that elevated them from the shackles of their lived lives. Well, we would argue perhaps his women had shades of both ends of the spectrum, or perhaps not. 

What cannot be denied is that there is a special role of female characters in the entire literature of Rabindranath Tagore and he never ceased to highlight women's issues. There are so many cinematic adaptations of stories and novels by Tagore, revolving around women, and the number gets bigger every year. And, we reckon if you could look beyond the era-specificity of the stories, you would realise that the ambiguities, dilemmas, turmoil and complexities faced by Tagore’s women in their specific situations would still ring relevant to modern times.

On the 80th death anniversary of ‘Kabiguru’ Rabindranath Tagore, among other monikers, we bring you select films based on Tagore’s stories and novels that placed women as the central subjects of his observations of the society and the nation through them.

Teen Kanya
8.4OTTplay Rating
In the year of the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray made three short films based on three of Tagore's stories and blended them into a feature film, and named it Teen Kanya. The common link to each of these stories was the young female as the central protagonist. Postmaster, the first short film, portrays the hapless plight of an orphan girl child who works as a servant in the dilapidated post office in a poor village. Even a sensitive educated postmaster, who appears to be sympathetic to her, leaves her alone and goes back to city life. Monihara, the second short in the anthology, revolves around a lonely childless housewife, who is obsessed with jewellery. She can't part with her pile of gold ornaments, not even when her husband wants it temporarily to salvage his sinking business. Samapti, the third short, traces the transition of a girl from childhood to womanhood, and the awakening of the woman after she realises the love of her husband, to whom she was married off unwillingly. Anil Chatterjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Aparna Sen, Kanika Majumdar formed the lead cast and the music was composed by Ray himself. Teen Kanya unfolds like a visual tapestry of changing moods—from despair, the macabre to beauty and love.
8.8OTTplay Rating
Described by Satyajit Ray himself as his most satisfying film technically, Charulata is the cinematic adaptation of Tagore's long story, Nashtanirh. Here we have a lonely young lady trapped in the claustrophobic confines of her home. Being an elite, she has everything at her disposal but lives on in an emotional void. While being a devoted wife who knows that her rich workaholic husband doesn't have much time to spare for her, does she have the freedom to do something meaningful for self-fulfilment, or to explore whatever her heart desires? Madhabi Mukherjee is picture-perfect in her part and at her sensitive best in the lead role. Shailen Mukherjee portrays her busy husband and Soumitra Chatterjee plays her effervescent brother-in-law. If you are a fan of meaningful cinema, you'll love this gem of a film.
Ghare Baire
Another Satyajit Ray film, based on a novel of the same name by Tagore, is a period piece set in the pre-independence days of the Swadeshi movement. Nikhilesh (played by Victor Banerjee) is an estate-owner nobleman, liberal in his views. He wants to take his wife Bimala (Swatilekha Sengupta) outside the four walls of the home and her inner world and face the outer world against the backdrop of the tumultuous days of the partition of undivided Bengal by the British. While Bimala lives in the shadow of Nikhilesh, Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee), who is a friend of Nikhilesh and a revolutionary, easily influences Bimala with his fiery speeches propagating radical politics. Swatilekha beautifully evokes the vulnerable character of Bimala, who is at the centre of the ensuing love triangle. She learns her lessons from life and arrives at a standpoint with respect to her relationships and also with politics, but with a price.
Chokher Bali
7.5OTTplay Rating
Binodini is a young widow who has nowhere to go when her aunt dies. She comes to stay in the house of a young housewife Ashalata and the two become fast friends. Binodini, who is young, intelligent, educated and full of life, attracts Ashalata’s husband towards her. But she admires Behari, the adopted son of Ashalata's mother-in-law. Set in the pre-independence period, the social drama is directed by Rituparno Ghosh, based on Tagore's novel of the same name. Aishwarya Rai plays the widow Binodini, wronged by society and trying to find a respectable way of living. Prasenjit Chatterjee, Raima Sen, Lily Chakraborty and Tota Roy Chowdhury feature as the lead cast alongside her. Together with the costume, set design and colour composition of the film, which are a visual treat, and the direction, acting, it comes up as a must-watch on the list.
Elar Char Adhyay
5.6OTTplay Rating
This is a more or less faithful adaptation of Tagore's novella, Char Adhyay.. The young director Bappaditya Bandyopadhyay takes up the challenge of adapting the unusual story of love in times of violent freedom struggle and succeeds. Paoli Dam delivers a powerful performance in the role of the pivotal character Ela, a teacher who joins the freedom movement. Deeply in love with a freedom fighter Atin (Bikram Chatterjee), she however holds fast to her own beliefs, notwithstanding the clashes with Indranath (Indraneil Sengupta), the leader of the pro-freedom resistance group. Rudranil Ghosh is outstanding in a special appearance. The photography of the film creates a lovely lyrical charm. Strikingly enough, the film makes use of contemporary young band singers in the rendition of Tagore’s songs. The songs, "Majhe majhe tabo dekha pai”, "Sukhe amay rakhbe keno" have been freshly interpreted for a modern audience.
Ghawre Bairey Aaj
6.3OTTplay Rating
Aparna Sen directs this modern adaptation of Tagore's original novel Ghare Baire. The story is adapted to suit the scenario of present day-India, weaving a complicated love triangle and juxtaposing it with contemporary politics. Tuhina Das plays the pivotal female character, Brinda, who has a liberal husband Nikhilesh (Anirban Bhattacharya). Sandip (Jisshu Sengupta) is her husband's childhood friend, involved in active politics, and has ideological clashes with her husband. The debate involving secularism, populism, majoritarianism, armchair socialism gives the film an unmistakable contemporary milieu. It is a political love story with a strong performance from Tuhina Das, who paints the main character in different shades of vulnerabilities—love, distraction, coming back to love again.

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