Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (Chokher Bali) (2015)

It is deeply satisfying to see that shows like Stories by Rabindranath Tagore by Anurag Basu are finding their way on television, and are being appropriately judged. This is a show that is now available on Netflix after being telecast on the EPIC Channel in India, and traces a few of the stories written by Rabindranath Tagore into a visual format. Anurag Basu is himself Bengali, and his wife Tani Basu led the team in creatively developing the authenticity of the Bengali atmosphere that has been created in the show. It is set in the early 20th century during pre-partitioned Bengal. Although this particular performance of Chokher Bali (which is shown in the first 3 episodes of this 26-episode long anthology of stories by Tagore) does not dwell too much into the politics of those times, it still manages to convey an idea of Bengal that might have existed back then in terms of the social and cultural commentary.

My perspective on this show is based purely out of watching the show only. Neither have I read the Bengali novel of the same name, nor have I watched the 2003 Bengali film by Rituparno Ghosh. Therefore, there is nothing for me to compare it with. By itself, I found the episodes to be brilliant – in terms of writing, cinematography and acting. The story has been slightly changed as compared to the novel, and that was the only part of the episode that I did not like. While we see Binodini to be a strong, realistically flawed woman with desires like any other person initially, she changes into a woman who sacrifices her desire for the good of who she loves. However, she is my favourite character in this particular story, and for good reason. Her desires take an important role in her life, and she breaks the rules that the society has imposed upon her by the mere virtue of her desire. She feels betrayed by Mahendra because it was him who rejected her hand in marriage because he was not sure, because of which she was destined to a life of widowhood. Her desire to have the life that Ashalata had been served was so strong, especially in the scene where she reads the letter the Mahen has written to Bihari. Binodini is fierce and wants to fulfill her wishes while trying to pursue them in a flawed manner, but you cannot blame her unethical behaviour because you know that her destiny is too bleak for her to accept it without any resistance. The way that Binodini has been shown in the episode is exemplary, especially so because one understands that even though her behaviour is unacceptable in terms of morality, one cannot dislike her for her flaws because they are very real human flaws. While this is the excellence of Tagore’s writing that such a character could be created, it is also important to give the show-makers the credit they deserve, for keeping the soul of the story alive in their episodes.

Radhika Apte is very realistic in her performance as Binodini as usual; she is a seductress who has a deep understanding of the world around her, and knows how to get what she wants, while also being torn when the only man she has shown any real love towards looks at her with disdain. I have always been a fan of Bhanu Uday (from the Aryan Khanna fame of Special Squad) and even though he has been given the role of the pompous Mahendra, he plays the role with great finesse, such that you will dislike the man by the end of it. With Sumeet Vyas playing the role of the good-natured Bihari, I have begun to believe that that actor can play any kind of role with such ease that is only rare in actors. There is some great writing also in the show, with certain scenes staying with you long after the episode is over. The scene with Binodini reading Mahendra’s letter to Bihari is one such scene, and the meeting between Binod and Bihari during the first few minutes of the show is also noteworthy.

The story is beautiful, and one of betrayal, deceit, love and lust. Chokher Bali literally means a mote in the eye, and that is what Binod is in the marital life of Asha and Mahendra, especially so because Binod and Asha describe their valuable friendship with those words. Binod realises the true value of their friendship much later in the film, and it is only Asha who is able to forgive her friend and who is truly good-natured woman in the story.

The music in the movie is sung by great singers like Arijit Singh, Shaan and Shalmali Kholgade, and one such beautiful song from Rabindra Sangeet is Amaro Parano Jaha Chay.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this series as one of wonderment and great film-making. It is definitely true, also, that Tagore’s works break the boundaries of time and are relevant and enjoyable after almost 100 years of its real setting.

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