'Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet of Eternity': Film Review

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This lovingly intended but technically amateurish doc fails to do justice to its important subject.

Partha S. Bhattacharya's documentary examines the life and legacy of the famed Indian poet, author, composer, artist and social activist.

“Translations, translations, translations,” answers a scholar when asked how best to further the reputation of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the subject of Partha S. Bhattacharya’s documentary about the famed Indian writer, poet, artist, author and philosopher. It’s an astute and sadly relevant response, as Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet of Eternity, although clearly lovingly intended, is too haphazard and unenlightening to fulfill its mission of educating Western audiences about the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The filmmaker, whose distant ancestor worked with Tagore for several years in the 1930s, is obviously passionate about his subject, who produced more than 4,000 poems and songs as well as dance dramas, novels, short stories, essays and nearly 3,000 paintings. Despite Tagore’s notable artistic accomplishments, the film emphasizes his humanistic philosophies.

Opposed to both colonialism and nationalism, he worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi and advocated for universal brotherhood and harmony, desperately campaigning for peace even as World War II loomed. Among his prolific accomplishments is the founding of Visva-Bharati, an international university in West Bengal where the faculty consisted of both European and Asian professors. He famously engaged in a spirited philosophical debate with Albert Einstein, and his songs were adopted as the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh. The film includes laudatory quotes from such notable historical figures as Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer and Hull House founder Jane Addams.

Revolving around a series of 2011 UNESCO-led celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth — Prince Charles is seen unveiling a bust of the poet in London’s Gordon Square — the film, running a mere hour, is inadequate on both informational and technical levels. Scant biographical information is imparted and we learn almost nothing of Tagore’s personal life. The excerpts from his music and dance pieces are severely truncated and the commentary by such personages as the Dalai Lama and Jane Goodall are strictly platitudinous. Production values are nonexistent, with such glaring flaws as the loud musical score nearly drowning out the narration at times. Tagore, seen briefly in a few archival clips, is a compellingly magnetic figure. But his estimable life deserves a far more accomplished cinematic portrait.

Director/screenwriter/producer: Partha S. Bhattacharya

No rating, 60 minutes