CF Block resident makes Nandalal film

A life less ordinary

  • Published 21.12.18, 8:37 PM
  • Updated 21.12.18, 8:37 PM
  • 2 mins read
Gautam Das, principal of Kala Bhavana, releases the film with Subhasish Banerji at the centre The Telegraph picture

A chance purchase of a book on Nandalal Bose inspired 75-year-old Subhasish Banerji so much that he has ended up making a 44-minute documentary film on the pioneering figure in Indian art.

“I was on my way back by train from Bolpur when I started reading the book Mastermoshai by Sushobhan Adhikari which I had picked up at Nondon Mela the day before. I was simply fascinated,” says the CF Block resident.

He looked up YouTube but did not find any substantial work so he decided to make one himself. The retired engineer had already started making films when he turned 70 by reading books and watching films by Satyajit Ray. But this, his third venture, would be his longest yet.

His link with art was through his wife Purabi, whose grandfather Asit Haldar was Rabindranath Tagore’s associate and Nandalal’s contemporary at Kala Bhavana. “I was making regular trips to Visva Bharati in those days, trying to convince the then vice-chancellor Sujit Bose to accept the repository of Haldar's oil paintings once his son, my wife's uncle Abhish, agreed to part with them.” Asit Haldar was the grandson of Rabindranath’s sister Sarat Kumari.

When he made his intention public, he had made enough friends in Santiniketan, who urged him to go ahead. So he started work in August 2016, with a budget of Rs 75,000 funded from his own purse and by friends.

Getting permission to access Nandalal's paintings proved to be an uphill task. Yet he soldiered on, meeting Nandalal's grandson, the 87-year-old Pradyot Bhanja, interviewing art historian R. Siva Kumar, exploring Hatibagan in search of Nandalal’s house and reading up on personalities who played significant roles like Abanindranath Tagore and Sister Nivedita.

A life less ordinary

With young Nandalal shifting to Calcutta for higher studies and discovering Abanindranath Tagore through illustrations in a copy of the magazine Probashi, the film broadens the canvas to portray the anti-Partition agitation sweeping across Bengal.

It is in this context that Abanindranath laid the foundation of the Kolkata School of Art movement, aiming to revitalise Indian art, and accepted Nandalal as student in 1905. Later he would join his mentor at the Indian Society of Oriental Art as teacher. “Rabindranath practically snatched Nandalal from Abanindranath. The letter he wrote urging him to release Nandalal for Kala Bhavana is a work of sublime literature,” says Banerji.

The film also underlines the crucial role that Sister Nivedita played in Nandalal’s artistic development. “She was the one who forced Nandalal to join Lady Christiana Herringham on a study tour of the Ajanta caves to make copies of the Buddhist cave paintings. To ensure all arrangements were in place, she even paid a visit with Acharya Jagadis Chandra Bose.” No wonder when she passed away, Nandalal would write that he had lost his “guardian angel”.

Other than Rabindranath who invited him to Santiniketan for his first trip in 1914 and made him principal of Kala Bhavana in 1921, there is footage on Japanese scholar Okakura Kakuzo and Arai Kampo, a master of calligraphy, as major influences.

“It was difficult to source photographs of the other personalities except in the company of Tagore. While Tagore was abundantly photographed the others seemed to have been rarely so,” says Banerji, who also used black and white video footage sourced from the Net.

The narration was done by a friend, a Kala Bhavana student illustrated a few key moments in the script and professional help was sought only for the editing.

The official letter of permission from Visva Bharati finally reached Banerji on November 1. Nandalal Bose: Torchbearer of Modern Indian Art was released on YouTube on December 4, a day after his 136th birth anniversary. It has already garnered closed to a thousand views.

Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose The Telegraph file picture
Nandalal Bose was tasked to illustrate the original hand-written Constitution of India
Nandalal Bose was tasked to illustrate the original hand-written Constitution of India The Telegraph picture