Not many are aware that on 6 November 1924 the Indian Nobel Laureate and distinguished polymath Rabindranath Tagore was on his way to Peru to attend the centenary celebrations of the country’s independence when his health deteriorated and he had to stop in Buenos Aires for medical rest. When the Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo, who was a great admirer of Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali,’ came to know about it, she immediately rented a mansion in a suburb of Buenos Aires and put up Tagore there. The 63-year-old Tagore was rejuvenated by the charming young Ocampo, 34, who took care of him during his stay. Tagore left Buenos Aires on 3 January 1925 after fully recovering from his illness after his 58-day stay. She got a spiritual awakening and literary inspiration from the great Indian philosopher-poet. The platonic love of Tagore was reciprocated by the spiritual love of Ocampo who organised Tagore’s first art exhibition in Paris in 1930. Pablo César’s Indo-Argentinean film ‘Thinking of Him,’ which has finally hit the theatres across India, endeavours to recreate the Tagore-Ocampo encounters by adding a certain element of drama.
An Indo-Argentinean production, ‘Thinking of Him’ stars the legendary Victor Banerjee in the role of Tagore and the Argentine actor Eleonora Wexler in the part of Ocampo. Interestingly, it was during an interaction with R. Viswanathan (the then Ambassador of India in Argentina) back in 2008 that César first learnt about the meeting that took place in 1924 between Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo. The research alone took him five years as Jerónimo Toubes, his longtime collaborator, investigated the link between Ocampo and Tagore. But the project could only be realised after Suraj Kumar came on board as the Indian producer for the film.
‘Thinking of Him’ was the closing film at the 2017 IFFI and had its Argentina release a year later but owing to various reasons it couldn’t be released in India and then two more years got lost because of the pandemic. Finally, after a long wait, the film has been released in theatres across India.
Other than the Tagore-Ocampo encounters, the film has another parallel track that’s set in the present with a troubled Argentine school teacher named Felix (Héctor Bordoni) who visits Santiniketan to learn Tagore’s method of teaching. At Santiniketan, he meets Kamali (Raima Sen) who tries to help him in coming to terms with the reality as he continues to battle his inner demons. The film’s narrative keeps switching between the two timelines. All the scenes featuring Tagore and Ocampo are shot in black and white and many of these scenes seem to possess a poetic quality.
Consider one of the last sequences of the film wherein Ocampo is driving her car. It is the year 1941. She hears on her car’s radio that Gurudev has passed away at the age of 1980. The announcement also mentions the 3000 songs that Tagore composed during his lifetime. They constitute what is referred to as the Rabindra Sangeet. Ocampo is unable to hold back her tears as music composed by Tagore starts to play in the background (presumably on the radio).
It’s a powerful interplay between the sound and the image that can best be described as poetry in motion.
The sequences featuring Felix are in colour and offer an interesting contrast to the aforementioned scenes beautifully shot in black and white.
Now, the colour scenes are no less beautiful and they succeed in bringing Santiniketan to life. However, the black and white scenes look so majestic that the scenes in colour pale in comparison which somewhere affects the film’s consistency. It’s all well-intentioned on the part of Pablo and the creative team but somewhere the execution is a little inconsistent. Also, the inconsistency can be attributed to the superior quality of acting on display when it comes to the Tagore-Ocampo scenes with both Victor Banerjee and Eleonora Wexler delivering wonderful performances, one scene after the other. Héctor Bordoni and Raima Sen are good no doubt but in terms of their acting talents, they are just not in the same pedigree as Banerjee and Wexler. Also, they are let down by some weak writing.
‘Thinking of Him’ is far from being a perfect film but it’s been made with a lot of heart. Making a film on someone like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is no cinch, let alone a film that has such a rich historical and cultural context. Also, it allows us to see the Argentinean perspective on Tagore which is something that needs to be greatly examined in the light of the ever-strengthening ties between India and the Latin American countries in recent years.
The film is certainly not meant for casual viewing and the viewers must be willing to fully immerse themselves into the world of the film in order to truly savour its different layers.
‘Thinking of Him’ allows us to see the Argentinean perspective on Tagore which is something that needs to be greatly examined in the light of the ever-strengthening ties between India and the Latin American countries in recent years. The viewers must be willing to fully immerse themselves into the world of the film in order to truly savour its different layers.