• Thinking of Him, a Film Exploring the Tagore–Ocampo Relationship

    An interview with the filmmaker

    Pablo César in conversation with Pradip Biswas

    December 28, 2017

    Image Courtesy: Scroll.in

    Pablo César is an eminent director from Argentina. His new film, Thinking of Him, was screened at the recently concluded International Film Festival of India, Goa. It is based on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo, an Argentinian writer and intellectual. However, Pablo César is yet to reach the stature of Fernando Solanas, the giant of Argentinian cinema. César, while talking to this critic, said, “It was long at the back of my mind to make a film on the close relationship between Tagore and Victoria Ocampo. Victoria Ocampo was also a writer, novelist and an eminent literary personality in Argentina. People often spread rumours about the hidden love that Tagore had for Victoria Ocampo. In literary circle, many stories made rounds about Tagore and Ocampo, [but] most of [them are] sheer nonsense.”

    There have also been articles, even books, written about it, but never had any filmmaker attempted to make a feature film on the subject. Perhaps it was the fear of hurting Bengali sentiments that prevented filmmakers from embarking on such a project.

    Here are some excerpts from the interview.

    Pradip Biswas (PB): Why were you prompted to take up the Tagore–Ocampo relationship as a subject for a film?

    Pablo César (PC): The idea, to make a film on the subject, had been at the back of my mind for a long time. This is not the first time I have shot a film in India. You see, I love and adore India, its great literature, especially Rabindranath Tagore, and its culture. In 1996, I shot a film in India titled Unicorn/ The Garden of the Fruits. It was a co-production, and was shot in Jaisalmer and Jodhpur.

    PB: Could you tell us some more about this project?

    PC: Thinking of Him is from the point of view of Victoria Ocampo. I am convinced that the relationship, which my film explores, was based on platonic love between Tagore and Ocampo. I must tell you that it was Rengaraj Vishwanathan, India's former ambassador to Argentina, who prevailed on me to make a film on Ocampo and Tagore, a subject which is increasingly being talked about in literary circles all over the world, but on which no film has been attempted.

    PB: Have you personally read any major works of Tagore? How do you view the journey that Tagore and Ocampo undertook in 1925?

    PC: Since I had been working on a script for a film on the Tagore–Ocampo equation for a while, I delved into the vast translated works of Tagore. I also tore through archival dossiers on the seldom-talked-about subject. Those who had been sceptical about the platonic nature of the love between Tagore and Ocampo for many decades have lapsed into silenced when confronted with critical literary works that showed the Tagore–Ocampo relationship to be platonic. Such critical works are also popular in Argentina.

    PB: What kind of an impact has your film had in Argentina? Does the Tagore–Ocampo relationship hold sway even now?

    PC: Yes, it does. If we look at the history of the relationship, we’ll find that Tagore first met Ocampo in 1924. He was on his way to Peru, but fell sick and was stranded in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Noted writer, intellectual, and an ardent Tagore fan, Victoria Ocampo found the perfect opportunity to meet her literary hero. The meeting impacted both of their poems and literary works.  Truly, a unique bond was established between Tagore and Ocampo. The impact of the encounter was massive and immeasurable, incredible and genuine, and continued even after Tagore went back to India.

    PB: Can you tell me how many times they got to meet each other face to face?

    PC: As far as I know, Tagore and Ocampo probably had two individual encounters. They mainly exchanged ideas, discussed multiple cultural issues of human passion and social interest, personal identity, etc, through letters. They even discussed such things as the impact of the First World War.

    PB: I noticed, on watching the film, that there was no mention of Tagores’s revolutionary plays, like Red Oleanders or The King of the Dark Chamber. Why does your film, which tackled the literary and cultural importance of the relationship and its influence on the readers of both countries, leave this out?

    PC: Ocampo, I think, had explored mostly the poetry collections and short stories that Tagore was famous for. Perhaps, Ocampo knew about the powerful plays that you mentioned, but I couldn’t find much of a reference to them during my research. But, I would like to believe that Ocampo travelled into the inner territory of Tagore’s works, in translated versions in Argentina. However, these days, we have many more critical essays exploring the Tagore–Ocampo relationship, and the impact this had on their works. We call this post-modern criticism!

    PB: Did you get any support from the Government of Argentina, since the Tagore–Ocampo relationship was sure to have an international appeal? Also, were you aware that Tagore paid tribute to Ocampo through a collection of poetry, Purabi?

    PC: Yes. I must say the Argentinian Government has extended its support to this project; they even helped us out by investing money in the film during its production. In any case, the film’s importance cannot be denied.  Although Tagore and Ocampo met only twice in their lifetime, she left a permanent mark on his life. This is also evidenced in his collection of poetry, Purabi, which you mentioned, that he had dedicated to Ocampo in 1930. Tagore used to call her “Bijoya”; he even used the name “Bijoya” for Victoria in his poems. 

    PB:  Do you have any plan to make a sequel to the movie?

    PC: Well, right now, I will be focussing on trying to screen Thinking of Him in as many countries as possible. This is more important for me. Maybe, someday, I might make a sequel to it.

    PB: Are you satisfied with Bengali actor Victor Banerjee, who plays Tagore? And what are your views on Raima Sen?

    PC: Oh, yes. I visited Calcutta to personally select the actors for the film. I found Victor Banerjee suitable for Tagore. His acting in the film A Passage to India, by David Lean, caught my attention. Raima Sen, while good, doesn’t get as much screen time. 

    PB: Thank you for your patience and for giving me your valuable time.

    PC: Thank you so much, Ciao!

    Pradip Biswas is a film enthusiast and a film critic who has been involved in film journalism for over fifty two years. He is a member of the film script committee, NFDS, Govt of India and a board member of the selection committee at SRFTI, Kolkata.

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