Tagore’s Romance With Science, On Celluloid

Exclusive: Director and Dean, Film Studies, SRFTI, Ashoke Viswanathan has completed a short film, The Poet And His Universe, slated to be released by the end of this year

Kolkata: It is an evening at a posh South Kolkata coffee shop. The weather is pleasant with an inaugural winter touch. Sipping coffee, eminent director and Dean, Film Studies, SRFTI, Ashoke Viswanathan reveals, “I have completed a short film of 30 minutes. The Poet And His Universe. It is a documentary about Rabindranath Tagore’s romance with science”. 

He carries on “The proposal for this novel project was from Vigyan Prasar, Government of India in association with the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. I have scripted and directed it. The cinematography is by Hitesh Liya, editing by Samik Dey and music jointly by SS Roy and Pijush Chakraborty.”

An atmosphere of interest prevails. A few inquisitive visitors look with interest. Greeting them with a warm smile and munching a biscuit, Viswanathan carries on, “When Tagore was in his 70s, he penned a Bengali book about science in 1937. Entitled Biswa Parichay, it was a collection of essays on biology, physics and astronomy. The main focus was Tagore’s understanding of science at an advanced level. I consulted and received a lot of material from reputed scientists like Dr Partha Ghosh (a student of legendary Satyen Bose) and Dr Bikash Sinha, the nuclear physicist who was instrumental in developing nuclear power for the famous Pokhran experiment.

Both the scientists have emphasized that Tagore possessed a profound knowledge of science without any formal education. The seeds of scientific thoughts were swooned in Tagore by his illustrious father, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore. Explains Viswanathan, “Tagore accompanied his father to Dalhousie in Northern India during his childhood. There under the clear sky, he explained to his son the basics of astronomy. Inspired, Rabindranath Tagore started reading books on physics and life science.”

The sensitive writer and director has tried his best not only to explain the basic elements of the book Biswa Parichay but also the reference to science in his immortal songs, Akash Bhora and Aaji Joto Tara

Dr Ghosh has put a thrust on Tagore’s interactions with Albert Einstein. They debated on the nature of human perception. An excited Viswanathan says, “There is an interesting scene in my short film. Heisenberg (inventor of the uncertainty principle) visited Jorasanko, Tagore’s residence on October 4, 1929. They discussed the uncertainty principle.”

Completing his coffee the filmmaker ends by saying, “I have shown in my short film that Tagore warned technology needed to be humanly controlled else human beings would become mechanized machines. A master aspect of this film is theatre within cinema. Late Soumitra Chatterjee’s daughter, Poulami performs solo, Red Oleana, Tagore’s, Raktakarabi in drama form in the film”.

JL Bhaduri’s two volumes of Rabindranath Tagore and Science have also focused deeply about the great literaturist’s fondness for science. Viswanathan in keeping close to his context has not delved into this aspect. However in his memorable short film, crisply edited, he has cinematically defined many aspects of how literature can also befriend science though they are different streams altogether.

The director added that the film will be released by the end of December this year.

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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