Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Starring: Jishu Sengupta,Raima Sen, Riya Sen, Prosenjit,
In times when intelligent and original stories are so hard to come by, one naturally looks towards literary adaptations with some interest. Because even if they often disappoint in their final execution, they still come with a semblance of a plot. And if the adaptation is of a book written by Rabindranath Tagore, one is even more thrilled at the prospect. Tagore's reputation largely rests on his poems and short stories, but he was also a farily successful novelist. His Choker Bali was an artistic tour de force and was earlier made into a film by director Rituparno Ghosh. This time Ghosh chooses Tagore's other famous novel, Naukadubi that was written at the turn of the 20th century. Great changes were happening in Bengal, as in the rest of the country at this time. And much of this got reflected in Tagore's works.
Naukadubi has been dubbed in Hindi as Kashmakash, produced by Subhash Ghai to coincide with Tagore's 150 anniversary. Somehow, even though any endeavour that brings classic literature to the fore needs to be applauded, and Naukadubi has some definite strengths, it is a film that is closely tied to the context of its times. Chastity is an important concern in the film, so is parental influence. These elements are the chief drivers of the plot, and these may not necessarily find a resonance with today's audience, unless they can see it as art belonging to a particular social milieu.
And yet, it does raise some profound and timeless questions. It looks at our deeply engrained sense of tradition and morality and what happens when it is in conflict with the dictates of the heart. Each character goes through this conundrum, and deal with it according to their individual situations in life.
There is of course beauty and lyricism that come from the fact that Tagore was essentially a poet at heart. Novel-writing demands a certain analytical and realistic approach, but being a lyricist, he applied his grand imagination to real settings. Naukadubi is an example of a dramatic, incredible story, that almost seems like it was written with the intent of shaking up a complacent and custom-driven Bengali society. Though a popular fictional story, its critical reception has not been the most flattering over the years. Yet, it's not hard to see it as quite bold and progressive for its times.
Ramesh (Jishu Sengupta), is a scholarly young man in Kolkata in love with the beautiful and intellectually-driven Hemalini (Raima Sen). They intend to get married, but Ramesh is suddenly instructed to come back to his village by his father. When he arrives, he learns that his father has fixed his marriage with a poor widow's daughter. Ramesh's first reaction is to flatly refuse, but on seeing the widow, his heart softens and he agrees to marry. On the wedding day, their boat gets wrecked. On the shores, he sees a bride, Kamala (Riya Sen) lying unconscious. He naturally supposes her to be his wife, and they start to live together. He fights hard to forget his paramour and is gentle and affectionate towards Kamala. But he slowly learns that she is not his wife at all and there has been a misunderstanding. On Hemalini's part, she tries to get over Ramesh and starts to imagine a life with a country doctor (Prosenjit) whom she meets. Kamala too finds herself on the crossroads.
The theme is clearly about nature versus custom. Each of the characters is forced to momentarily bent to accepted tradition, but ultimately a satisfactory resolution is found. The boat-wreck in some ways could be a metaphor for nature asserting itself and ending what it deems as unnatural.
Hemalini and Kamala are two women who belong to opposite ends of the social spectrum. Hemalini has the previlege of wealth, education and an indulgent father - a desi Emma or sorts - while Kamala considers herself unfortunate and is subservient. Both experience the same kind of emotions, but their social background ultimately determines how they react to their situation.
The period details, decor and costume make for sumptuous viewing. And the music is simply marvelous. Here's a link to Manwa from the film, one of the most gorgeous songs in recent times (http://www.video.mobitowns.com/manwa-kashmakash-2011.html)
On the downside, Tagore's story uses too many coincidences at every point. The situation under which Ramesh agrees to marry also lacks conviction. Prosenjit's character is the most underdeveloped of the four. However, director Rituparno Ghosh seems to have done exceptionally well with the content at hand. There is tremendous grace to this film, and Raima Sen has never looked more ethereal. Though the emotional complexities don't emerge very well (and this could be a weakness in the original story), there is something deeply humane and dignified about its characters.