A tribute to Rabindranath Tagore on his 165th birth Anniversary (9th May)
Soon after his return from England, Rabindranath Tagore and his brother Jyotirindranath plunged into musical composition. Rabindranath, with his direct experience and influence of Western music and opera immediately composed his opera Valmiki Pratibha (The genius of Valmiki) that quickly took its place in the repertoire. The composition, where melody and words had equal importance, had its roots to the special genius of Bengali music- the kirtans - and like a master jeweller studded it with the gems of classical Hindustani raga-based music (ragasrayi) embellishing it with their own ideas and beautiful poetry. In addition, tunes of two English songs were borrowed for the drinking songs of the dacoit band and an Irish melody for the lament of the banadevis (wood nymphs).
Widely performed as a dance -theatre, dance drama, to that effect drama, it remains as one of the few dramas of Tagore that has immediate and authentic appeal outside Bengal for its grandeur, vivacity, variety, vigour and wonderful gamut of styles and emotions missing from his later dramas.
Till date, Valmiki Prathibha remains as one of the
most popular, most loved performance piece for dancers and for actors with a
panoramic scope of choreographic and theatrical possibilities and spectacular
collage of forms.
Valmiki after Transcendance
26 February 1881 was a special day in the life of Rabindranath Tagore. On this day was the first public performance of his opera Valmiki Prathibha in Jorasako (ancestral home of the Tagore’s) with Rabindranath Tagore in the role of Valmiki and his niece Pratibha, as Saraswati. So good was Pratibha’s performance that Tagore changed his opera’s title from Valmiki to Valmiki Pratibha. And so remains Valmiki Pratibha as the most sought after opera-drama-dance piece.
To commemorate this date the internationally reputed singer –actor, documentary film-maker, director, culture historian and teacher of Tagore’s music and drama, , Debasish Raychaudhuri as Valmiki ,presented a unique solo act Jyotirgamaya, based on Valmiki Pratibha. Conceived and directed by him and produced by Jyotirindra Moitra Memorial Trust this master-piece was released by Bhavna Records (specialising in Tagore’s work) as a short film. It traces the path of transcendence of the notorious and greedy dacoit leader Ratnakar to the sage-like epic poet Valmiki said to be the author of Ramayana.
Moved to pity by the grief of one of a pair of cranes (Kraunca birds) after it had been shot by a hunter, Valmiki broke into the divine Sanskrit verse Ma nishada pratishtam twamagama saswati samaha” and thereafter composed the epic.
In Tagore’s version, Valmiki was moved by the piteous cry of a little girl caught by his fellowmen to offer her as a sacrifice to Goddess Kali, their very own deity (mother). He protests their decision, disbands the gang and wanders in the forests in search of a vocation. He suddenly sees the hunters aiming at the two birds and breaks into the verse.
Goddess Lakshmi appears to him, offers wealth and tries to convince him of its importance but Valmiki by then a transformed person embraces the enlightenment of knowledge. It was Goddess Saraswati who had taken the guise of the girl. Saraswati reveals herself to Ratnakar and as a boon in reward of his awakened sense of humanity gives Valmiki the gift of song which would resound from land to land and echo in the voice of poets and singers.
Debashish naturally followed the bard’s version and echoed it for the first time as a unique mono-act with innovative directorial brilliance and his powerful performance energy, fully unleashed. The echo of the song Daya koro anatarey, pleading for mercy by the girl in Rohini Raychaudhuri’s voice and the cruel smile in Debashish’s face was a memorable display of intense desperation amalgamated with torment, realisation and the final surrender to kindness with shifting changes of expressions.
An intuitively intelligent sensitively interpretive film, it excels in three zones. The theatrical and dramatic executions by the actor at no point allows any shallowness due to the physical absence of the multicast with an unmatched set of eye movements, facial expressions and his dramatic persona.
Cinematographic excellence and camerawork exploring light and shade creating subtle stereotypically different ambience like use of small earthenware oil-lamps, a shining ‘kripan’(sharp large knife) and the dark background of varying intensity with an interesting use of streaks and volumes of diffused light and the sudden burst of full-screen illumination at the point of transcendence were some of the stunning visual treats.
Furthermore, casting in opera goes more by larynxes than by physical attributes. A highly acclaimed singer and a distinguished actor, Debashish carried the piece on his shoulders with a confluence of melody, words, rhythm, poems and theatre with highly realistic proficiency.
Portraying shifting moods and challenges of different characterisation with confrontation of different performance and styles of singing and use of light and shade, he was successful in advocating a rarely seen combination of co-relation of acting and singing, poetry and music in a spectacular manner.
The songs of Valmiki were by Debashish. The playback singers were his daughter Rohini Raychaudhuri an acclaimed singer who sang for Balika (the girl) Lakshmi and banadevis and Hindol Nandi for the dacoits and hunter.
Jyotirgamaya has the distinction of personal style of the director Debashish Raychaudhuri who conceived it. The work, first of its kind, is refreshing and every minute becomes a memorable moment for the viewers by the stunning performance of an artist of a very high calibre.
There were a group of young minds behind the production. The soulful music designing was by Surajit Das, DoP Arjun, assisted by Tathagata, edited by Sayantan Mukherjee. English subtitles Ritojit Mondal, production Rohini Raychaudhuri, artwork courtesy Swarup Swapan Chatterjee.