The world is celebrating the 150th birth centenary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore this year. Across the world, readings of Tagore’s works, dramatized versions of his plays, dance dramas and stories are being rehearsed and performed everywhere. One celebration of Tagore that stands out in this crowd is Raja Sen’s celluloid version of Tagore’s short story Laboratory. A strikingly interesting feature of this film is that it will be released in the US simultaneously with the Indian release possibly in the second half of September this year in three cities. DMV has acquired the exclusive rights for the film’s US release. The first stop will be the Tagore Society in Houston.
The film version has an ideal blend of actors – old, new and contemporary, drawn from Kolkata and Mumbai, portraying the different characters in the film. Raveena Tandon from the Mumbai film industry has played the central character of Sohini. Arpita Chatterjee, who made a comeback in Avik Mukherjee’s directorial debut Ekti Tarar Khonje has played Sohini’s daughter Neela. Sabyasachi Chakraborty has fleshed out the character of Nanda Kishore, the scientist, husband of Sohini, who dies suddenly leaving Sohini to pick up from his work and finish it with the help of another scientist. Ranjit Mullick plays Nanda Kishore’s close friend who later has a relationship with Sohini. Shaheb Chatterjee plays Rebati, a young scientist who, Sohini believes can realise her husband’s unfinished dream for the laboratory. Pitrashish Marketing Pvt. Limited, a new production house which recently released its first film Musalmanir Galpo, also a Tagore story, has produced the film. Sen has stuck to the original story penned by Tagore. To flesh out the relationship between Nanda Kishore and Sohini, he has used the flashback mode in some parts of the film.
The film has quite a few unique selling points.
- This is Raja Sen’s first venture to make a film based on a work of Rabindranath Tagore;
- Laboratory marks the Bengali debut of Raveena Tandon in the controversial role of Sohini, the female protagonist of the film;
- This is the first time that Laboratory has been made into a feature film for the large screen;
- This is the first Bengali film to find simultaneous release in India and in three cities in the US;
- Arpita Chatterjee portrays a Tagore character for the first time in her career;
- Raja Sen believes that Laboratory as a literary piece, will find no match in the rest of Tagore’s literary oeuvre;
- Laboratory is the only Tagore story that features a Punjabi Sikh woman as the protagonist;
- Laboratory is the first Tagore film to be distributed in three US cities by DMV;
- Laboratory is the ideal way to celebrate and showcase the creative universality off Tagore’s genius on the occasion of his 150th birth centenary to the globalised world.
Raja Sen who has earlier directed two telefilms based on Tagore stories, namely Nishithey and Maanbhanjan, has discovered that Tagore’s vision was not only universal but also progressive. This invests the stories with the timelessness that is the hallmark of a creative artist whose works live on more than 100 years after he wrote them. The setting is in the past. But the characters are futuristic. “That is why he is called a visionary whose words ring true at this age. When you take up classics by stalwarts like Bankim and Tagore, you are faced with a challenge to interpret the extraordinary story line, keeping the literary flavour intact,” says Sen.
Sen says that it was the periodicity of the short story that attracted him because recreating the period is a challenge for any filmmaker. “The other attraction is the two women characters. They are beautiful, sensitive and intelligent, yet, though they are mother and daughter, they are poles apart in their respective philosophies on love, relationships, success and ambition. The courage that Sohini demonstrates where she throws all moral values to the winds when she has a relationship with her deceased husband’s friend, mainly to realise her ambition was another challenge for me to bring across on screen,” he elaborates.
“Power women on screen have been happening for some time now. At times there are glamorous roles you want to be associated with and then there are times when you want to be part of strong films like Shool and Satta that are equally important. At some point in my career, I decided I would not do the item dance numbers and the flighty characters any more and should concentrate on exploring the potentials of an actress. Raja-da had seen me perform in Shool and Satta and that is what made him ask if I would be interested in doing Sohini. When I heard it was based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, and also that I would be playing the central character, I jumped at it. I was thrilled. It meant a lot of hard work but that is what I was looking for, a challenging role that would draw the best out of me,” says Raveena Tandon. “The other point of attraction was the director, Raja-da who has a string of National Awards for feature films and for documentaries,” she adds, smiling.
“I learnt a smattering of Bengali as a judge on the Boudimoni Reality Show. After some persuasion, Raja-da agreed to my persuasion to allow me to dub my own lines and not use someone else. It was a three-pronged strategy we followed. Raja-da go my lines translated into English so that I could get the ‘feel’ of the character and the meanings of the lines and the scenes. The Bengali dialogues were phonetically written in English for me to memorise and imbibe them into my system. Then, someone else narrated the same dialogues in Bengali and the recordings were sent to me in Mumbai so that I get the diction right. It was a learning process. The plus point is that since I had to portray and Punjabi Sikh who had migrated to Kolkata, a little imperfection in my Bengali diction would add an authentic kick to the portrayal,” sums up Raveena laughing.
“When I quit the industry as an actress, everyone I knew within it, kept asking me not to stop acting. I felt the desire too. But everything has a time and a place. At one point of time, I felt that getting back to work as an actress would somehow give me peace and mental harmony. Then, one day, at a private party by a satellite channel, the producers, Aniruddha and his wife Indrani Roy Choudhury, liked me perhaps and things just fell into place. While Ekti Tarar Khonje was being shot, filmmaker Raja Sen asked me if I would be interested in playing Neela, Sohini’s daughter in Laboratory. The two names Tagore and Raja Sen were enough attraction and I did not have to think twice. Working with Raveena-ji has been a fascinating experience for me. She is very down-to-earth, cooperative and helpful. We play mother and daughter in the film but though we are both powerful and strong women, Sohini, as a single-parent, dominates Neela so completely that she is not even aware that she has a mind of her own. But over time, she realises what has happened and tries to rebel in her own way. There is a constant conflict of choices and ideals between mother and daughter and Raja-da has brought this out very well. I loved being dressed and made-up in period costumes befitting the Tagore women and it was a wonderful experience indeed,” Arpita sums up.
Laboratory is more a concept than a concrete actuality. It is a symbol of the fluctuating chemistry that sustains between and among people. In this sense, it transcends the rigid narrowness that the title suggests.
Shoma A. Chatterji
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