Tagore on Acid: Tasher Desh by Q
“Chaos is fantasy.”
Till 2012, Tagore was dead in cinema. Every filmmaker before had tried to deal with this virtuoso in various manners. Some of them had succeeded to a certain degree while the rest failed miserably. The harmful effect of this was the propagation of a very particular aesthetic that was being related to Tagore. This also has another history whose effect had permeated into cinema. Tagore had always been kept closeted by a group of so called intellectuals who believed themselves to be the all-in-all authority over the institution of Tagore. Any other interpretation or expression of Tagore was curbed or discouraged heavily by these individuals, and even legally bashed at times. Victims of such a culture had been stalwarts like Debabrata Biswas, Pijushkanti Ganguly and many more. However in 2012, this guy called Q came into the scene; and his rendition of Tasher Desh completely shut the mouths of these people forever. Not speaking in the literal sense of course, but this completely newer take was so strong in its approach that nobody was able to accept or even reject it completely.
At this point of time we must understand one thing very clearly. For a very long time we had been exposed to a quite monolithic expression of Tagore. And since it had been like that for a very long time, it became quite unthinkable and difficult for us to accept even a slightly different treatment and understanding of Tagore. Perpetration of a similar culture (about which I have already talked before) resonated all through Bengal. So it got embedded in a lot of peoples’ minds that Tagore had to be expressed in that particular format or else the ESSENCE of Tagore would be lost. But this is again a thought which absolutely KILLS Tagore. If an artist like Tagore is not contextualized with the constantly shifting time and society, fluidity of the genius is lost and the solidification of the idea that takes place would render him illogical and impertinent, with time. This is of course not exclusive to Rabindranath, but with every other artist. So technically, all the people who were claiming to know and keep Tagore as their property were slowly poisoning the unmatchable genius of the virtuoso. It would be bold nonetheless, but also quite logical to say that Q came and saved Tagore.
But what is so unique about this modern day rendition? First would probably be the text itself. Tasher Desh had always been considered as the children’s play in Bengal and hence, looked down upon. In schools, local functions, machaas, we could always see Tasher Desh being performed and performed in that same monolithic, orthodox, stereotypical way. Also this text had often been considered to be flawed since it was constantly being worked upon by Tagore. Several later interpolations and additions were done, as he was always keeping the text updated. So many scholars felt that it was probably a playful expression of the master. There is however another explanation. If looked upon from a mature point of view, this play is one of the most politically charged works of Tagore. Several subtle anarchist voicings could be found embedded. So it is quite obvious to say that this was not something which many people would have accepted easily. So Tasher Desh always remained a neglected text. In Q’s rendition we witness the treatment of Tagore in an extremely mature manner and unorthodox too. Everything ‘childish’ about the text had taken the backseat and we see a more adult expression of every subtle voice that was in the text, starting from sexual to anarchist politics.
In the film we see how Q plays with the narrative. He does not follow it scene by scene. The story of the Rajputra covers the entire first half of the film which otherwise in the text takes only a few pages. The story also starts off with this crazy individual who sees the entire story of Tasher Desh in his head. He goes to this dilapidated house where he finds Horotoni (the Queen of Heart- the key element of the rebellion) hiding herself. Q creates a perfect blend of fantasy and reality and proves that the world of fantasy is not always going down the rabbit hole. It surrounds us in our daily lives. Fantasy here could be referred to as Maya. Maya surrounds us. This is of course hugely inspired from Oriental philosophies, and expressions of such can be seen in Japanese cinema, especially the anime. The poignancy of the story of the Rajputra being stuck inside a quicksand of mundane daily routines and wanting to test his destiny comes out in a psychedelic, surreal environment filled with marijuana and cheap lights. The prince is almost compared to a junkie, and thereby a state of reliability comes around where he is not exactly a prince but a defeated and tired individual, something which we all have felt at some point in our lives.
Invocation of Patralekha- Gopono Kothati. She comes out from an intricate nexus of surreal lights, candles, water, and body fluids. She comes into the boat where Rajputra and Banikputra sit and transfers the message of the rebellion into the ears of the Prince. She orients him to find out the secret which looms deep inside the heart of him which he was never able to express. “Gopono Kothati…” plays in the background. At the end she touches him intimately. Through the frail shells, the secret bursts out. The prince and his best friend now embark on the trip!
The second half of the film narrates the story of Horotoni. Rajputra and Banikputra come into the land of cards (in Bangla, Tasher Desh). All the camera movements and edits hark to another master auteur of this time- Gaspar Noe. Police sirens wail, the Tash King screams to save the culture, alerting everyone about the tradition. After the two friends get arrested, they are given a chance to speak, and the Prince transfers the message of Patrolekha into the ears of the Tash Bibis. And the message is nothing else than the song, “Ogo Shanto Pashano Muroti”. The prophecy comes to life and Horotoni sees the future while being in a state of disturbing trance. The rest just follows. The entire façade falls off. The Tash Bibis find the hum of their own souls, delve deep into the corners of their hearts and the pores of their skins, and they start to DESIRE through a trip of finding their sexuality and starting a rebellion on the Land of Cards.
I must orient the attention now to the treatment of the songs featured here. Starting from Khara Bayu Boy Bege to Baandh Bhenge Dao, every track uses elements like jazz, rap, hip hop- styles which are not indigenous. And all of these add so many unique colours to the entire zone of Rabindrasangeet, that it almost comes out as a challenge to everyone who felt that Rabindrasangeet had only to be accompanied by the Harmonium, the Tabla and the Sarangi. With all these newer elements, the music moves in a completely alternate dimension making it more universal. The psychedelia, the feels, and heightened emotions get even more elevated when the soundtrack hits the nerves.
Being a strong believer in the hip hop culture, Q, who calls himself to be a film jockey, mixes various elements from mainly the post 2000s French and Japanese traditions of cinema. This patchwork of various images, and bold and raw expressions with glitches, shaky camera movements, and weird edits take the entire professed aesthetics of Rabindranath, and mashes the hell out of it. My attempt here has been to deconstruct why Q’s work is necessary and one of the most important pathfinders in orienting an alternate take on Tagore. However it is impossible to describe the entire trip one goes through while viewing the film. Rabindranath comes out of the pages and the wing-curtains directly into the heart and the flesh of the audience.
“Mukto haw, Shuddho haw, Purno haw”- NOBODY EVER BROUGHT THIS INTO LIFE. THE REBELLION IS NOW BROUGHT TO LIFE.