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The Rajah rediscovered on reel

Jawhar Sircar addresses the audience at ICCR as (from left) Goutam Ghose, ICCR regional director Rajashree Behera and Rita Bhimani look on

A video clip of a friend’s visit to Bristol fires in a young woman the desire to know more about Raja Rammohun Roy. As she speaks to historians and visits museums, houses and libraries, she discovers Rammohun the reformer, the modern ideologist, the lonely man, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj and the selfless crusader.

The young woman’s quest is central to In search of the Rajah, a film on Rammohun Roy by Goutam Ghose.

“We hardly have any archival matter on Rammohun Roy.... The young woman’s search in the film represents my personal quest,” Ghose said before a special screening of the film at ICCR on Friday to mark the reformer’s 180th death anniversary.

Jawhar Sircar, the CEO of Prasar Bharati and chief guest at the event, could not agree more. He said Roy is more appreciated in England with a special memorial organised every year at the Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol where Prince Dwarakanath Tagore had erected a tomb in Roy’s honour. “Roy’s name is mentioned with other greats, but not much research has been done on him. He died unsung in Bristol. He lives thereafter half-sung,” Sircar said.

Rita Bhimani, the creative producer of the film, was overjoyed to have been part of the project supported by the external affairs ministry. “Ghose has the breadth of vision. He was the right man to tell Ram Mohun Roy’s story,” said Bhimani, who herself hails from a Brahmo family, while introducing the film.

A statue of Raja Rammohun Roy by Calcutta sculptor Niranjan Pradhan installed at College Greens in Bristol in 1997

Ghose said it had not been an easy task with limited budget and lack of enough literature on Roy. “How can I make a film on Rammohun, I wondered. I had read some of his writings while making Antarjali Jatra and was awestruck. But my mind was filled with questions about the man and his mission and there were not many places where I could find the answers,” he said.

The 40-minute film is a storehouse of information on Rammohun’s religious leanings, his political and social career, the Persian literature and Sufi influences in his life, why he was called Rajah by Akbar II and how he became the first Indian to cross seven seas and reach England.

A 10-minute video of this year’s commemoration service at Bristol, a ritual historian Carla Contractor has been practising for the last 25 years, was screened before the documentary. Shot by former journalists and now academicians at Bath Spa University, Suman and Swagata Ghosh, the video captured the unveiling of a miniature bust of Roy by 19th century ivory carver Benjamin Cheverton in 1832. The miniature was based on a bust by George Clarke, the only sculptor to whom Roy gave sittings.

The evening saw a performance by Pramita Mallick, who also sang a composition by Rammohun.

Incoming British deputy high commissioner Scott Furssedonn Wood presents the video on the Bristol service
Pictures by Arnab Mondal