Titled after 1913 Nobel Literature Prizewinning author Rabindranath Tagore’s own biography, and translated as ‘Selected Memories’, Ghosh, a much-celebrated Indian director, made a film on one of his own – and one of India’s most enduring – icons. Commissioned by the Indian government to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore last year, it’s a film probably like no other Ghosh ever made.
An all-star Bengali cast including Raima Sen lend weight and purpose to the drama and these are among the best parts of ‘Jeevan Smriti’. Poignant too is Ghosh’s appearances in the documentary, scouring locations and discussing technicalities with his crew. And yet for all its grace, endeavour and poise, the format never quite allows Tagore to breathe as a fully functional, living, breathing, human being. There are glimpses in the drama, but the exposition can be dry and slightly too observed.
Tagore was always able to enjoy love and life, despite the many tragedies in his life. Many members of his own family perished long before – some in their youth or middle age – his own at 80, and Tagore was prone to depression, retreating from normal life into a virtual cocoon of contemplation and exclusion. Yet, he also battled these demons, to travel the world, converse with figures such as Albert Einstein and commune with Mahatma Gandhi, as the independence struggle took shape.
These are among the most fascinating parts of Tagore’s story, not least because there was an amiable tension between these figures and the great philosopher and poet himself. Ghosh was successful in telling so much about the great poet and he did it as elegantly and deeply as possible in just 78 minutes and the sheer weight of his own self-expectations burdened this film like none of his others.