February 21, 2020
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Back To Tagore

The poet inspires Chilean director Miguel Littin’s latest venture

Back To Tagore

THE lively, immensely fruitful cultural interaction between India and Latin America— that began with Rabindranath Tagore’s sojourn to Peru and Argentina over six decades ago and then manifested itself in the works of Victoria Ocampo and Pablo Neruda— is all set to receive a f resh fillip. Celebrated Chilean filmmaker-poet Miguel Littin, who was in Thiruvananthapuram for a retrospective  during the recent 28th International Film Festival of India, will shoot his next feature, tentatively titled The Song of the River. , in India with a multinational cast and crew.

Once again, Tagore will be the subject and the inspiration. "The film," reveals the bearded, twinkle-eyed, gregarious, 54-year-old filmmaker, "owes its genesis to Tagore’s poetry". But what is it that the uncompromising ‘guerrilla’ filmmaker, the real-life hero of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella Clandestine in Chile share with Tagore, a pacifist poet so far removed in time and cultural space? "As a human being, I feel very close to the varied personality of Tagore," says Littin.

"In any case, great poetry, like pure art, knows no barriers of time and space," avers the filmmaker whose life— eventful, full of risks, abounding in tales of uncommon courage— is capable of yielding an edge-of-the-seat biopic that no Hollywood stalk-and-slash thriller can outdo. Littin had to flee Chile in 1973 when General Pinochet, aided by the CIA, overthrew the left-wing government of Salvador Allende. He was forced to live in exile in Mexico, Nicaragua and Spain for 20 years. Roughly halfway through that period, Littin did what only a truly fearless rebel would have dared: he returned to Chile disguised as a Uruguayan businessman— with a false passport, a false name, a false past, even a false wife— to make two films, one a four-part TV series, the other a two-hour feature, about the horrors of the Pinochet regime.

Littin, of course, has come a long  way since then. So has his little country, where democracy has been restored. The gutsy rabble-rouser— in Mexico Littin continued making politically inspired films, including the powerful Flight of the Condor (1982) and Sadino ( 1990 ) — has given way to a mellower, more introspective artist. Witness the autobiographical The Shipwrecked (1995), in which an exile returns to his native town after a lapse of 20 years to look for his family only to realise that the gap between past and present is virtually unbridgeable.

It is this new Littin who will move a step further into maturity with The Song of the River , a film that has been in gestation for over two years now. Here, Littin, who was introduced to Tagore’s work and worldview by close friend Pablo Neruda, will seek "to understand the nature of the mystery that attracts a human being to a new, very different culture." Tagore had travelled to Peru to address a literary conference. Argentinian poetess Victoria Ocampo, an ardent admirer of the bard of Bengal, pawned her jewellery to travel to Lima to hear him speak there. What followed was logical: an invitation to Buenos Aires, which the Indian poet accepted. It led to an enduring friendship. "My film will try to unravel the essence of that experience although the setting will be contemporary," says Littin.

The script of The Song of the River is virtually ready. Littin is currently working on the film’s estimated budget and the composition of the cast and technical crew. "I have spoken at length to West Bengal’s culture minister (Buddhadev Bhattacharya ) and he has evinced keen interest in the film," says the Latin American director who shot to international fame with his very first feature, The Jackal of Nahueltoro, the 1969 film which quickly attained  cult status among lovers of‘Third Cinema’.

To be shot in Calcutta and Mumbai in Spanish and Bengali, The Song of the River is about a character who travels from Latin America to India— the reverse of Tagore’s journey— to explore the reasons that took the Indian poet to Peru and Argentina and inspired him to write a series of poems. "The roads of people, no matter where in the world they live, intersect because as human beings we belong to all cultures," says Littin. "In my film, I want to achieve the subtlety and complexity that characterised Tagore’s personality and poetry."

The film will be a rich medley of archival footage, fiction and poetry, much of it authored by Tagore himself. "I have heard Tagore’s voice that spoke out against the horrors of war. In that declaration, he talked about a new human being emerging," says Littin. It is this ‘new human being’ that the film will be a tribute to.

But above all, Littin hopes that the film will be a new kind of cross-cultural effort . "It won’t be like a film made by a tourist," he asserts. "I will try to make a film that will be like one made by an Indian director, a film that will look at India from within." Coming from an artist of Littin’s proven integrity, that’s not difficult to believe.


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