Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rabindranath Tagore and "Slumdog Millionaire"......'East' meets 'West'!

I have been trying for quite sometime to get a copy of "Sanchaita" - Tagore's collection of poems and "Golpoguchcha" - his collection of short stories. I have visited three editions of the "Kolkata Book Fair" held under the auspecies of the "Bengali Association," during the Durga Pujas ('06-'08) here. No luck so far. (Sigh!) I have read many of Tagore's poems (in English, that is) from his Nobel prize winning work "Gitanjali". Reading Tagore's poetry (in Bengali) is an altogether different experience, which I cannot explain in words. To my mind, reading the english translations of his poetry is like - trying to quench a terrible thirst on a very 'hot' summer day with cola, instead of ice cool water. Hence, I have decided to try and post some of this great poet's poems - in bengali - on my blog. It will take me several blogs to do so, for sure. While reading these poems, I relived my schooldays.

Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on the 7th of May in the year 1861 into a wealthy Brahmin family. He was nicknamed or affectionately called "Rabi". His grandfather, "Prince" Darokanath Tagore (1794-1846), was a prominent and wealthy man who financed several public projects, e.g., the Calcutta Medical College. His father, "Maharishi" Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), was a religious reformer and a scholar. His mother, Sarada Devi, passed away when Tagore was still very young.

The Tagores were the pioneers of the "Bengal Renaissance" and tried to combine traditional Indian culture with Western ideas. All the children contributed significantly to Bengali literature and culture. Tagore, the youngest of the children, had his initial education at the Oriental Seminary School. But he did not like the conventional education and started studying at home under several teachers. After undergoing his "upanayan" (coming-of-age) rite at the age of eleven, Tagore and his father left Calcutta in 1873 and toured India for several months, visiting Debendranath Tagore's "Shantiniketan" estate and Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie. There, Rabindranath Tagore read biographies, studied history, astronomy, modern science and Sanskrit as well as examined the classical poetry of Kalidasa. (Note: Kalidasa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language. His floruit cannot be dated with precision, but most likely falls within the Gupta period, probably in the 4th or 5th century or maybe the 6th century. His place in Sanskrit literature is akin to that of Shakespeare in English literature. His plays and poetry are primarily based on Hindu mythology and philosophy.) Apart from his early education through private tutors, Tagore went to the Bengal Academy where he studied Bengali literature and culture. He later enrolled for a course in law at the University College in London (in 1878) but soon returned to India without a degree (in 1880). His heart was in his research and creative work which left an indelible imprint on the world in the years to come. In 1883, Tagore (then aged 22) married Mrinalini Devi Raichaudhuri, with whom he had two sons and three daughters.

In 1874, Tagore's poem "Abhilaash" (Desire) was published anonymously in a magazine called "Tattobodhini Patrika". Tagore's mother Sarada Devi expired in 1875. He also wrote "Bhikharini" (The Beggar Woman) — which was the first short story ever to be written in the bengali language, in 1877. Tagore's first body of work ("Kabikahini" - "A Poet's tale" - a collection of poems) was published in the year 1878 as he turned 17.

"Sandhya Sangit" (The Songs of the Evening) which included the famous poem "Nirjharer Swapnabhanga" (The Rousing of the Waterfall) appeared in 1882. In 1884, Tagore wrote a collection of poems "Kori-o-Kamal" (Sharp and Flats). He also wrote several dramas, e.g., "Raja-o-Rani" (King and Queen) and "Bisharjan" (The Sacrifice). "Dak Ghar" (The Post Office) and "Achalayatan" (The Immovable) came about in 1912, "Muktadhara" (The Waterfall) in 1922 and "Raktakaravi" (Red Oleanders) in 1926. Tagore also authored two volumes of his memoirs: "Jivansmriti" (My Reminiscences) in 1912 and "Chhelebela" (My Boyhood Days) in 1940.

Another collection of his poems "Manasi" (The Ideal One) was published in 1890. The same year, Tagore, then aged 29, moved to 'Shilaidaha' (now in Bangladesh) to look after the family estate. It was here that his journey towards international recognition began. In East Bengal (now Bangladesh) he collected local legends and folklore and wrote seven volumes of poetry (between the years 1893 and 1900), that included "Sonar Tari" (The Golden Boat) in 1894 and "Khanika" (Moments) in 1900. Some other publications were: "Valmiki Pratibha" (The Genius of Valmiki) in 1893, and "Katha" (Words) and "Kalpana" (Imagination) in 1900. "Rajarshi" (A King who is a Saint) appeared in 1887; "Bisharjan" (The Sacrifice) in 1890 and "Europe Jatreer Diary" (Diary of a Traveller in Europe) in 1891. Tagore's early major prose works include: "Chokher Bali" (Eyesore) in 1903 and "Nasta Neer" (The Broken Nest) in 1901 - published first serially. "Naibedya" was written in 1901. Some other works of literary fiction authored by Tagore include: "Gora" (Fair-Faced) in 1910, "Ghare Baire" (The Home and the World) in 1916 and "Yogayog" (Crosscurrents) published in 1929, among others. Though his novels remain among the least-appreciated of his works, they have been given renewed attention via their film adaptations by such renowned directors as Satyajit Ray; these include "Chokher Bali" and "Ghare Baire"; many of these films have soundtracks featuring selections from Tagore's own songs - "Robindra-shongeet".

Between 1891 and 1895, he published forty-four short stories in a Bengali periodical, most of them in the monthly journal "Sadhana" (a means of accomplishing something or spiritual practice.) This was a highly productive period in Tagore's life, and earned him the rather misleading epitaph "The Bengali Shelley." In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore became the editor of the magazine "Bangadarshan" (The View of Bengal). The rich treasure of India's arts and folklore became Tagore's life long mission. His strength was in the simple language in which he wrote, easily understood by the common man (this was something that his critics and other scholars found hard to accept) as was his musical compositions which went on to become India's gift to the world in the years that followed. His early works brought him to prominence in Bengal and other parts of India.

In 1905, Lord Curzon (Note - Governor General and Viceroy of India: 1899-1905. Full name: George Nathaniel Curzon) decided to divide Bengal into two parts. Rabindranath Tagore strongly protested against this decision. Tagore wrote a number of national songs and attended protest meetings. He introduced the "Rakhibandhan" ceremony, symbolizing the underlying unity of undivided Bengal. Tagore extended "Rakhibandhan" to symbolise communal brotherhood, with people (both Hindus and Muslims) tying yellow threads around each other's wrists in a gesture of friendship. Ramendrasundar Trivedi (born on 20th August, 1864 in the village of Teya in Murshidabad, West Bengal; he was a well-known essayist, educationist, scientist as well as a friend of Tagore) wrote "Bangalaksmir Bratakatha" to inspire housewives in this regard.

Note on "Rakhibandhan": "Rakhi" or "Raksha" is a sacred thread embellished with a sister's love and affection for her brother. On the day of "Rakhibandhan" or "Raksha Bandhan," sisters tie "Rakhi" on their brother's wrist to express their love for him. They also perform 'arti' and pray for his long life. By accepting a "Rakhi" from a sister, a brother gladly takes on the responsibility of protecting his sister. In Indian tradition, the frail thread of "Rakhi" is considered stronger than iron chains as it binds the brothers and sisters in an inseparable bond of love and trust.

Following are a couple of links leading to websites containing some of Tagore's poems in bengali. Couldn't resist giving the links here:

1) http://www.ethikana.com/poetry/tagore.htm


In 1901, Tagore left Shilaidaha (now in Bangladesh) and moved to Shantiniketan in West Bengal. On 22nd December, 1901, Tagore established the 'Bolpur Bramhacharyaashram' at "Shantiniketan" - a school based on the pattern of the old 'Indian Ashrama' at Bolpur, in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. He donated all the money he received from the Nobel Prize and royalty money from his books to this University. The school was a great success and later blossomed into 'Viswa-bharati University' in 1924. It became a great seat of culture and learning. In 1921, Tagore and the renowned agricultural economist Leonard Knight Elmhirst, set up the "Institute for Rural Reconstruction" (which Tagore later renamed "Shriniketan"—"Abode of Wealth") in Surul, a village near his ashram-school at Shantiniketan. Through it, Tagore sought to provide an alternative to Gandhi's symbol and protest-based "Swaraj movement," which he denounced. He recruited scholars, donors and officials from many countries to help the Institute use schooling to "free villages from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance" by "vitalizing knowledge."

Tagore's wife passed away in 1902, followed in 1903 by the death of one of his daughters and in 1907, by that of his younger son. His father passed away on 19 January, 1905. Tagore's attempt to find inner calm, explored the themes of divine and human love in his body of work entitled, "Gitanjali" (Song Offerings). "Gitanjali" first appeared in 1910. Two other works of poetry, "Gitimalya" (Wreath of Songs) and "Balaka" (The Flight of Cranes - the title being a metaphor for migrating souls) were published in 1914 and 1916 respectively.

In 1912, Tagore went to Europe for the second time. While travelling to London, he translated some of his poems/songs from "Gitanjali" into English. He met William Rothenstein, a noted British painter, in London. Rothenstien was impressed by the poems, made copies of them and gave them to the noted Irish poet and dramatist - W.B. Yeats and other English poets. Yeats was enthralled. He later wrote the introduction to "Gitanjali" when it was published in September 1912 in a limited edition by the "India Society" in London.

"Gitanjali" established him as India's foremost modern day writers not only in India but also in the United States as well as in England and elsewhere. Erza Pound's (an American poet and critic) review of "Gitanjali" drew the attention of the Nobel Prize committee and in 1913, Tagore was awarded the 'Nobel Prize in Literature', making proud the land he loved the most amongst all the lands he had travelled and seen. Tagore was the first Asian (as well as the first non-European) to win the Nobel Prize.

Tagore was knighted by the ruling British Government - by the then British King - George V, in 1915. But after the Amritsar Massacre/Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919, in which the colonial troops led by Brigadier-General Dyer killed hundreds of unarmed people, he renounced this honour in protest. He did not support Gandhi's "Non-Cooperation movement" against the British. But he was no friend of the British. The most controversial and in retrospect, prescient, aspect of Tagore's political thought was his opposition to "Nationalism". He was opposed to "nationalism" and "militarism" as a matter of principle, and instead promoted spiritual values and the creation of a new world culture founded in multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. Unable to gain ideological support for his views, he retired into relative solitude.

Between the years 1916 and 1934 he travelled widely, attempting to spread the ideal of uniting the East and the West. Tagore dreamt of one common language for all of humanity, thoughts of which he would later express to Albert Einstein (during their widely publicized 14th July, 1930 conversation at Einstein's residence in Berlin, Germany). Einstein was a theoretical physicist best known for his "theory of relativity" and specifically "mass–energy equivalence," expressed by the equation E = mc2. Einstein received the 'Nobel Prize in Physics' in 1921. Tagore had a good grasp of modern - post-Newtonian - physics, and was well able to hold his own in a debate with Einstein in 1930 on the newly emerging Principles of Quantum Mechanics and Chaos.

I have found a link reproducing the July 14, 1930 conversation between these two titans and would like to share it here:


During his trips abroad, Tagore also met H.G. Wells in Geneva in early June, 1930. (Note - Herbert George Wells, 21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946; known by his pen name "H. G. Wells," was an English author, best known for his work in the science fiction genre. Wells and Jules Verne are each sometimes referred to as "The Father of Science Fiction." He was an outspoken socialist and a pacifist; his later works becoming increasingly political and didactic. His middle period novels (1900-1920) were more realistic; they covered lower middle class life (The History of Mr Polly) and the "New Woman" and the Suffragettes (Ann Veronica). He was a prolific writer in many genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. In his lifetime and after his death, Wells was considered a prominent socialist thinker. In later years, however, Wells's image has shifted and he is now regarded as one of the pioneers of science fiction.)

The Tagore-Wells conversation is reproduced here through the following link:


Tagore's meetings and tape recorded conversations with his contemporaries such as Albert Einstein and H.G. Wells, epitomize his brilliance.

Owing to his wanderlust, between 1878 and 1932, Tagore visited more than thirty countries on five continents. Such extensive travels allowed Tagore to interact with many of his notable contemporaries apart from Einstein and H.G. Wells. They included: Henri Bergson, the noted American poet Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, the famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Argentine intellectual Victoria Ocampo, Romain Rolland, missionary and Gandhi protégé Charles F. Andrews, the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats and the noted American poet and critic Ezra Pound; among others. He also visited the Aga Khan III.

Back in India, Tagore's greatest tribute to his "Motherland" was his writing and composing of the nation's National Anthem. "Jana Gana Mana" was first sung on the 27th of December, 1911 at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress and adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the National Anthem of India on 24th of January, 1950. The complete song consists of five stanzas of which the first stanza is the full version of the national Anthem. The playing time of the full version is 52 seconds. A short version consisting of the first and last lines of the stanza is played on certain occasions. The playing time for this version is 20 seconds. Tagore first wrote "Jana Gana Mana" in Bengali and later translated it. Another of Tagore's songs "Aamar Sonar Bangla" (My Golden Bengal) became the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Tagore's poetry stemed from his love of nature and commitment to a universalist philosophy which seeks to see "God" through personal service. Tagore was also influenced by The "Upanishads" - India's ancient scriptures:

"Love is an endless mystery,
for it has nothing else to explain it"

His message to the West was the dream of the generations preceding him - to combine traditional Indian Culture with Western ideas. Tagore's mission later became the very mission of the generations following him, whereby nearly 20 million Indians living outside India continued to blend India's Culture with that of their new and adopted lands, with every passing day. They still do.

In the last decade of his life, during his twilight years, Tagore also compiled fifteen volumes of writings, including the prose-poems works "Punashcha" (in 1932), "Shesh Saptak" (in 1935), and "Patrapaath" (in 1936). He continued his experimentations by developing prose-songs and dance-dramas, including the well-known "Chitrangada" (in 1914), "Shyama" (in 1939) and "Chandalika" (in 1938.) He wrote the novels "Dui Boone" (The Two Sisters) in 1933, "Malancha" in 1934 and "Char Adhyay" (The Four Chapters) in 1934. Tagore took an interest in science in his last years, writing "Visva-Parichay" (a collection of essays) in 1937. His exploration of biology, physics, and astronomy impacted his poetry, which often contained extensive naturalism that underscored his respect for scientific laws. He also wove the process of science (including narratives of scientists) into many stories contained in such volumes as "Shhe" (Someone) in 1937, "Tin Sangi" (The Three Companions) in 1940 and "Galpasalpa" (Various Tales) in 1941.

I could not resist the temptation to provide the links - leading to one of Tagore's very popular dance-dramas - "Shyama" over here. All credit goes to youTube. YouTube Zindabad! Long Live YouTube!

"Shyama": 'Gitinatto'/'Dance drama':

1) http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=bOQou-a7iTo- Part 1
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=chSbwivYgwM - Part 2
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=d-lEoOmivME - Part 3
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=U203h3boz2Q - Part 4
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=bKKwk7qpCNg - Part 5
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=7sgztk-Nxlg - Part 6

(To read "Shyama," please log on to: http://www.rabindrasangeet.org/shyama/shyama.html - 'Srutinatok')

Tagore wrote his most important works in Bengali, but he translated his poems into English, thereby forming new collections. Many of his poems are actually songs and thus inseparable from their music. His written production, still not completely collected, fill 26 substantial volumes. At the age of 70, Tagore took up painting. He was also a composer, settings hundreds of poems to music. In 1940, the Oxford University arranged a special ceremony at "Shantiniketan" and awarded "Gurudev" Rabindranath Tagore with the "Doctorate Of Literature." Only hours before he breathed his last at his ancestral home, the "Jorasanko Thakurbadi" (Jorasanko mansion) in North Calcutta (now Kolkata), on August 7, 1941; Tagore dictated his last poem. He left behind a huge cultural legacy.

Tagore's reputation in the West as a mystic has perhaps misled his Western readers to ignore his role as a critic of colonialism and a social reformer. In 1910, he became a staunch supporter for the remarriage of young widows. In the early 1930s, he also grew very concerned about India's "abnormal caste consciousness" and "untouchability," lecturing on its evils, writing poems and dramas with untouchable protagonists and appealing to the authorities at the renowned "Guruvayoor Temple" to admit Dalits (a term now used to refer to "untouchables.")

After the English language publication of "Gitanjali" in 1912, Tagore's work remained extremely popular throughout the Western world for over 2 decades. Nowadays, though his work remains a canvas of treasure that ignites great curiousity when referring to Indian poetry, music, literature, arts and culture; he is not widely read. This is a sad reality.

Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from the super-success of the film "Slumdog Millionaire." This film has won over the Western audience with its "fairy tale in a Mumbai slum" storyline and is currently scooping up one award after another. "Slumdog Millionaire" has won five "Critics' Choice" Awards, four "Golden Globes" and seven "BAFTA Awards," including "Best Film," and has been nominated for ten "Academy Awards," including "Best Picture." Music maestro A.R. Rahman is now a proud "Golden Globe" winner for "Best Original Soundtrack" (for the song "Jai Ho" - the lyrics of which has been penned by the well-known Indian lyricist - Gulzar) in the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" and has been nominated for three Oscars for the film - for "Best Original Score" and two for "Best Original Songs." He has also scooped the BAFTA award in the "Best Music Score" category for this film. Its raining awards on A.R. Rahman bolstering his chances for the Oscars! The film, has received 10 Oscar nominations, and is now poised to win laurels at the Oscars on February 22; barely five days away. Besides Rahman, India's Resul Pookutty received the BAFTA award in the "Best Sound Editing" category for the same film along with Glenn Freemantle, Richard Pryke, Tom Sayers and Ian Tapp. Set and filmed in India, "Slumdog Millionaire" tells the story of a young man (Jamal Malik) from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" ("Kaun Banega Crorepati," mentioned in the Hindi version) and exceeds people's expectations, arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials. Jamal, is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, suddenly, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street kid possibly know so much? Determined to get to the bottom of Jamal’s story, the jaded Police Inspector spends the night probing Jamal’s incredible past, from his riveting tales of the slums where he and his brother Salim survived by their wits, to his hair-raising encounters with local gangs to his heartbreak over Latika, the unforgettable girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out…...The film has Indian actors in the lead roles. Newcomers, Dev Patel (as the orphaned and penniless 18 year old protagonist, Jamal Malik) and Freida Pinto (as 'Latika' - the childhood sweetheart of Jamal), veteran actors Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, among others; apart from a host of child actors - from the slums of Mumbai.

Infact, "Q&A" (which 'inspired' "Slumdog Millionaire") is Indian diplomat-author Vikas Swarup's debut novel. Published by Doubleday in 2005, this international bestseller has been translated into 36 languages now. The huge success of his debut novel has left Swarup bemused. He is more than a millionaire now and struggling with a mailbox overflowing with congratulatory messages and is deluged with interview requests. But all the global adulation and limelight that has stalked "Slumdog Millionaire," the movie version of his acclaimed novel "Q&A" hasn't touched him. "It's a success for India and the story of India," says the unassuming diplomat. "What it shows is that stories from India are finding increasing resonance in the world. There is a huge hunger to know about India," Swarup, who is currently India's deputy high commissioner to South Africa, said. "It's not about Vikas Swarup's success. It's about India's success, India being there," said the 47-year-old diplomat who first dreamed of this captivating story of a Mumbai slum kid winning the million-dollar quiz show in Allahabad, the north Indian city, where he was born and brought up. "It's Hollywood time for India", he says. "Hopefully, the success of the book will encourage Hollywood to look more closely at stories of India and locations in India," he added.

"Q&A" is the story of an 18-year-old waiter, Ram Mohammad Thomas, (apparently given a name that encompasses all three major religions due to his unknown parentage) who lives in a Mumbai slum. The novel unfolds as Ram tells his life story to Smita Shah, his lawyer. When Ram Mohammad Thomas, an orphaned, uneducated street kid from a Mumbai slum, wins a billion rupees on a live TV quiz show - "Who Will Win a Billion?" he finds himself beaten up and thrown in jail by the programme's producers, who suspect his ability and get him arrested for cheating. During his interrogation he explains, through a series of flashbacks, how he knew the answers to all the show's questions. What he describes about his life is jaw-dropping: "You learn a lot about the world by living in it." he says. His account takes us on an extraordinary adventure through every strata of modern-day India, from orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, into the homes of Bollywood's rich and famous, a well meaning, but ineffective British Missionary and a seedy Australian diplomat.

Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote "Slumdog Millionaire" based on the "Boeke Prize" - winning and "Commonwealth Writers' Prize" - nominated novel "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup (a 1986 batch Indian Foreign Service bureaucrat, who is also a novelist and diplomat having served in Turkey, the United States, Ethiopia and Great Britain.) To hone the script, Beaufoy made three "research trips" to India and interviewed street children and was impressed with their attitudes. By the summer of 2006, British production companies "Celador Films" and "Film4" invited director Danny Boyle (best known for his work on films such as: "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later," among others) to read the script of "Slumdog." Boyle initially hesitated since he was not interested in making a film about "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" but soon discovered that the screenwriter was Beaufoy, who had written "The Full Monty" (1997) - one of Boyle's favorite British films and decided to revisit the script. Boyle was impressed by how Beaufoy wove the multiple storylines from Swarup's book into one narrative and decided to commit to the project. The film was projected to cost US$ 15 million, so "Celador" sought a distributor to share costs. "Fox Searchlight Pictures" made an initial offer that was reportedly in the $2 million range and "Warner Independent Pictures" made a $5 million offer that "Fox Searchlight" could not top. Gail Stevens came on board to oversee casting globally. Stevens has worked with Boyle throughout his career and is well-known for discovering new talent. Meredith Tucker was appointed to cast out of the US. The filmmakers then traveled to Mumbai in September 2007 with a partial crew and began hiring local cast and crew for production in Karjat. Originally appointed as one of the five casting directors in India, Lovelee Tandan, suggested to Danny and Simon Beaufoy, the writer of "Slumdog," that it was important to do some of the dialogues in Hindi to bring the film alive. She was asked to pen the Hindi dialogues which she, of course, instantly agreed to do. As they drew closer to the shoot date, Danny asked her to step in as the co-director. Boyle then decided to translate nearly a third of the film's English dialogue into Hindi. He fibbed to Warner Independent's President that he wanted 10% of the dialogue in Hindi and she approved of the change. Filming locations included shooting in Mumbai's megaslums and in shantytown parts of Juhu, so filmmakers controlled the crowds by befriending the onlookers. In addition to Swarup's original novel "Q&A," the film was also inspired by Indian cinema. Tandan has referred to "Slumdog Millionaire" as a homage to Hindi commercial cinema. Simon Beaufoy studied Salim-Javed's ("Bollywood" scriptwriter Salim Khan and lyricist-poet-scriptwriter Javed Akhtar) kind of cinema minutely. Boyle has cited the influence of the following "Bollywood" films set in Mumbai: "Deewaar" (1975) by Yash Chopra and Salim-Javed, "Satya" (1998) and "Company" (2002) by Ram Gopal Verma and "Black Friday" (2004) by Anurag Kashyap. Some of the other Indian films cited by Boyle as reference points for "Slumdog" include Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali" (1955), Mira Nair films such as "Salaam Bombay!" (1988), Ashutosh Gowarikar's "Lagaan" (2001) and Aamir Khan's "Taare Zameen Par" (2007). The "rags to riches" underdog theme, underlying the film, was also a recurring theme in classic "Bollywood" movies from the 1950s through to the 1980s, when "India worked to lift itself from hunger and poverty."

"Slumdog Millionaire" is a 2008 Indian drama film directed by a "BAFTA" and "Golden Globe"-winning and "Academy Award"-nominated English-born director and film producer Danny Boyle, co-directed by Loveleen Tandan, and written by Simon Beaufoy, another "Golden Globe" and "BAFTA award"-winning British screenwriter. It is an adaptation of the "Boeke Prize" - winning and "Commonwealth Writers' Prize" - nominated novel "Q&A" (2005) by Indian diplomat-author Vikas Swarup.

If "Slumdog" had been made by an Indian film maker, the film would not have got the kind of international recognition it received and continues to receive. An Indian film director would not and could not have got the kind of support "Warner Independent Pictures" gave to Danny Boyle. Mira Nair, Gurrinder Chhada, Deepa Mehta have all been making films for ages, but have never got this kind of 'exposure.' The 'rags-to-riches story' of Jamal Malik is not, and yet is, one that has been told several times over by "Bollywood." The likes of Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Ramesh Sippy have been there and done that in their own inimitable styles decades ago and what Danny Boyle has done now is to export that in a style that suits the Western palates, a la the 'Indian curry.' Well, even the hugely popular western 'pizza' had to be 'customised' (read: suitably spiced up and duly rechristened, with popular "Indian" names like 'Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza') to suit the Indian palates in order to gain 'acceptance' in India. As a result, it is doing what is called a 'roaring business' today - even though the "Indian" pizzas have taken an altogether different "avatar" compared to their "Western" counterparts. But they still retain their original name - 'pizza!'

All this brings forth a sense of Déjà vu - for me. Tagore's success with the Western audience and his ultimate garnering of the 'Nobel prize in Literature' in 1913 was spearheaded by William Rothenstein - a noted British painter, W.B. Yeats - the renowned Irish poet and dramatist and Ezra Pound, the well-known American poet and critic; among others. Both Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy have been major contributors for the mega-success of "Slumdog." They have been the 'engine' and not the 'vehicle' that have driven this film to its mammoth success. Hardly two weeks ahead of the Oscars, on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Boyle earnestly narrated his experience of visiting the slums of Mumbai and how industrious and driven, yet seemingly content the slumdwellers were, just like the characters in his movie. To which Leno could not help but add how they - presumably the Americans, the British and the rest of the West - had so much more in life but were still not happy. Even Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, joined in. If that took the cake, the 'Danny Boyle-Simon Beaufoy team' took the whole bakery! In light of these developments, probably, we will have to 're-create' as well as 'rebuild' or 'reconstruct' this partnership between the 'East' and the 'West' in order to showcase India's 'success story' in the 21st century - across the globe. Ultimately, this will prove to be a 'symbiotic' relationship and not a "clash of civilisations."

Return to Tagore: Recently, I came across a piece of news that the Society for Natural Language Technology Research, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - Kharagpur and the IT Department of JU (Jadavpur University) have come together and decided to preserve Tagore's literary works in a digital format. Official versions of Tagore’s works, published by Visva-Bharati will be used at the time of digitisation. Work on the project has already commenced. If everything goes well, then by the next birthday of Tagore, i.e., by the 7th of May, 2010; at least some sections of the "Rabindra Rachanabali" (Compositions of Tagore) will be available online. It is really exciting to think that Tagore's "Rabindra Rachanabali" will now be available in Bengali, the original language version, on the internet. After the shocking news about the theft of Tagore's Nobel prize medallion and citation (apart from the poet's gold pocket watch, his wife Mrinalini Devi's bridal gold-embroidered Baluchari sari, his father "Maharshi" Devendranath Tagore's gold ring, besides rare paintings, numerous original documents and several gold and silver wares) - this surely came as a breath of fresh air.

For more information on the life and times of "Kabiguru" Rabindranath Tagore, please visit my earlier blogs: ('Where the mind is without fear'...........; Robindra-Shongeet......the 'songs of Rabindranath Tagore' - (Part I); Robindra-Shongeet......the 'songs of Rabindranath Tagore' - (Part II)

(More to follow)


1) The cover page of Tagore's Noble prize-winning book (of poetry) - "Gitanjali" - "Song Offerings."

2) A still from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" directed by Danny Boyle.
Picture courtesy:


  1. Another great post on Tagore! I like the way you linked it with Slumdog Millionaire. I personally do not view him as The Bengal Shelley. Tagore does not need to borrow that name. Both Tagore and Shelley are great poets in their own way.

  2. Nice article. I too found the link with the Millionaire interesting. I guess you feel it is the "western" connection (Danny Boyle, and Yeats, respectively) that gave both the level of acceptance it did.

    Yes, they both presented an "Indian" story in a "western" format, which possibly helped the other identify with the message.

  3. @ TatTwamAsi: You have a point there. But if the "west" are unaware of Tagore's works... it is their loss... entirely. It is impossible to translate his works in the english language... and still retain their flavour and charm. The english language simply lacks that depth.