The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Telly swept by Tagore tidal wave

Exit, Akash Bangla, 9.30 pm. Enter, ETV, 9.35 pm. Two Kabuliwala productions beamed almost simultaneously on a Sunday night this June, served up just a slice of the tons of Tagore action on the small screen. ETV has commissioned a bouquet of Tagore telefilms, hitting the screen every Sunday. Akash Bangla has shown around 30 films with many more in the pipeline. Doordarshan has also commissioned Tagore stories as part of a series on literary greats.

Rabindranath Tagore’s prose is in fashion, agree producers, actors and film-makers. But liberated from the copyright restrictions, he is not just easy to do, but also easy to distort. Poor casting, loose script, lack of adequate research or preparedness, experiments as publicity stunts have marred many a Tagore telefilm.

News of the trashing of Tagore on the private channels has reached Doordarshan. And so, the state-owned channel is doing its bit to pitch quality above quantity when it comes to the Bard of Bengal. “Since it is the director who makes or breaks a film, we are very clear on the eligibility criteria,” says a Doordarshan official. First preference is being given to award-winning directors, the second to FTII and SRFTI graduates and the third to track record.

“We have allotted a sizeable budget and will make sure it is well-utilised. Even the directors who make the cut are having to submit the script well in advance, to be scrutinised by a committee. The next step is looking at the rough cuts. An evaluation panel, comprising both in-house officials and outside experts, will take the final decision before a film is aired,” states the official, naming Nabyendu Chatterjee, Gulbahar Singh and Utpalendu Chakraborty among those who could bring Tagore to the Doordarshan screen.

For the private channels, however, Tagore films are free for all. If Akash has commissioned work to “both veteran directors and new faces without a hard and fast criteria”, ETV has chosen cast and crew that it expects to be popular. That the director is the determining factor is emphasised by Soumitra Chatterjee. “Many directors do not have the quality to take on Tagore,” claims the actor, who had featured in Tagore ventures of Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.

Sinha himself is livid: “This post-copyright liberation has done more harm than good. Only those who have the calibre should be allowed to experiment with Tagore. Others should stick to the text.” Agrees Saugata Roy Burman, national award-winner who is directing Chaturanga for Doordarshan: “It took a Satyajit Ray to make a Charulata out of Nashtanir. But what is happening at present is pure anarchy in the name of experiment. Tagore is contemporary enough. What is the need to modernise him'”

Director Anjan Dutta, adapting Monihaara for the small screen, accepts that many slipshod productions are riding the Tagore tidal wave on telly. “There are two kinds of directors working with Tagore now. One group was eagerly waiting for the copyright regime to be over. The other is just doing it as it is selling. Unfortunately, the second group is greater in number,” he observes.

Despite the debate over quality, the beam bottomline is that Tagore sells. Both viewership ratings and advertising interest, after all, rise with Rabindranath.

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