National Award-winning filmmaker Ujjwal Chatterjee is directing Nalini, a Bengali-Marathi bilingual film based on a romantic chapter from the life of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The film is being produced by Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures. The filmmaker opens up to Koimoi in an exclusive tell-all interview divulging the details of the project…
How did you collaborate with Priyanka Chopra?
On the occasion of Tagore’s 150th anniversary a few years back, Javedji (Akhtar) had translated six of his songs which we compiled into an album. Then we decided to make a film on the period of Tagore’s life from his 60 to 69 years. Three foreigner women came to his life— Victoria Ocampo, Silvaa Lessi and Hellen Keller. We had Amitabh Bachchan on our mind for the role of Rabindranath and wrote the script. We wanted to name it Sound of Silence. The film was imagined from the perspective of Rabindranath Tagore’s son Rathindranath Tagore’s wife Pratima Devi. I had approached Priyanka Chopra for the role of Pratima and also narrated the script to her but the project got shelved and the film never happened.
How did Nalini happen?
In November 2016, Priyanka’s secretary Chand Mishra approached me for a script, saying that she is interested in producing regional films. At that time we met Priyanka and her mother Madhuji (Chopra). Madhuji asked me for some other story about Tagore and that’s when I narrated the poet’s platonic love story with Maharashtrian woman Annapurna Turkhud, who he named Nalini. She instantly liked the story. I would like to mention that the film is being made because of Madhuji’s enthusiasm and encouragement. Dr. Madhu Chopra can speak Bengali fluently and sings Rabindra-sangeet very well. She has visited Shantiniketan several times. I am grateful to her and Priyanka for giving me this opportunity.
Please elaborate a little on the story
Tagore’s father Debendranath Tagore sent him to his brother Satyendranath Tagore to learn English. Satyendranath, who was the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service used to stay at Shahibaug in Ahmedabad at that time. From there, Rabindranath was sent to Dr Atmaram Pandurang Turkhud, whose daughter was Annapurna. Dr Turkhud was a reformist. He was the founder member of the Prarthana Samaj in Bombay. Anna Turkhud was highly westernised and didn’t prefer wearing saree. Her curly hair was short and she used to sport western outfits and high heels. As she started teaching Tagore, gradually a platonic love blossomed between the two and Nalini proposed marriage to him. She was not just his teacher but also his mentor and played an important role in his life. Annapurna has translated several of Tagore’s poems in English while her elder sister translated the same in Marathi. She taught him English language and etiquettes, golf, horse riding etc. She had even visited Tagore’s ancestral home at Jorasanko, Kolkata with her father but Tagore’s father rejected the marriage proposal as his son was too young to get married then. Also, Turkhud was elder than Rabindranath. After many years, Tagore had admitted that Nalini was his first love.
Many say Kadambari Devi was Tagore’s first love. Is it not true?
Kadambari Devi was not his love; she was an inspiration to the poet and his critic. Nalini was his first love and the poet himself had written that. He has never mentioned anywhere that he loved Kadambari. I would like to mention here that I have a serious research about Rabindranath Tagore my film will not distort any fact from the poet’s life.
Will the film be made only in Bengali and Marathi?
It is a Bengali and Marathi film but will also be dubbed in Hindi.
Who are there in the cast?
Kunal Kapoor will play Satyendranath and Sonali Kulkarni will essay Nalini. I want to approach Jisshu Sengupta for Rabindranath’s role because I feel he can do it nicely. I am yet to talk to him.
How do you bring Tagore in the present time?
The film will be seen from the perspective of three youngsters in 2017. An international student John Ham comes to Shantiniketan from Edinburgh and becomes friends with two students of the university, Ruben and Tania. Then they start researching about Nalini. My wife Sagarika has penned the script.
When and where will the film be shot?
We are planning to start shooting from October this year. It will be shot in Shantiniketan, Shahibaug in Ahmedabad and Solapur, Kolhapur and Mumbai in Maharashtra.