That Satyajit Ray had intended to make a science fiction titled “The Alien” is no secret. It is also known that he had wanted to make a documentary on Pt Ravi Shankar, an adaptation of the Mahabharata and also planned to adapt “A Passage to India”. However, very few know that Ray was also keen on cinematically adapting Tagore’s opera titled “Valmiki Pratibha”.
Unfortunately, none of these projects materialised. According to son Sandip Ray, the legendary director came close to the opera adaption when he actually shot cinematic versions of two songs from the opera. Both were also used for his 1961 documentary on Tagore.
Ray’s fondness for “Valmiki Pratibha” was well-known among his friends and family. Sandip has memories of watching an adaptation of “VP” at the New Empire that had featured his mother, Bijoya Ray. “It was an absolutely splendid production. Arup Guhathakurta had played Valmiki. Ruma Guhathakurta had played Lakshmi, while my mother had played Saraswati,” recalled Sandip, not exactly sure of the production year.
During that time, Ray still had the desire to adapt the opera into a feature film. “However, the production never happened. Brief glimpse of how he wanted to shoot it is available in the documentary on Tagore that he had shot,” Sandip added. In the 53.39-minute-long documentary on Tagore’s life, Ray devoted a flattering 2.71 minutes to the segment on “Valmiki Pratibha”. It gives a fairly good idea of how Ray had visualised his cinematic adaptation. Incidentally, Ray himself had done the voiceover for this documentary where he spoke about how “Valmiki Pratibha” was staged at the Tagore residence with Rabindranath in the role of the “bandit-turned-poet” and how “the rest of the cast” was composed of members of the Tagore family who were “all gifted with varying degrees of talent among acting and music” and how Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had come to watch it.
In the segment on Tagore’s England visit, one can hear Ray’s rich baritone explaining: “While in England, Rabindranath had become acquainted with Western music. Some of the tunes he had learnt there found their way into his enchanting opera Valmiki Pratibha.” For close to a minute, the video gives a glimpse of Ray’s cinematic adaptation of the song, “Kaali kaali balo re aaj/ Balo ho ho ho, balo ho, ho ho balo ho”. Once this gets over, the camera shows Ray’s picturisation of the popular song, “Rimjhim ghono ghono re”. In the background, one can hear his voice explaining: “There were other tunes however which came which came from classical Indian ragas used for the first time in an operatic context”.
According to Sandip, his father’s picturisation was “very styllised and interesting”. On being asked why the master filmmaker did not get around to making the film, Sandip said he got busy with other ideas.
Source: Times of India