“Maanbhanjan”, Stories by Rabindranath Tagore - Anurag Basu (2015)

“Maanbhanjan” (“Fury Appeased”), the fifth episode of the well-received anthology television series Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015) that was created and directed by Anurag Basu, is based on the short story of the same name that Tagore (1861-1941) published in 1895 [1].  It tells the story of some people consumed by the adulation that can arise from role-playing. 

The story concerns Gopinath (played by Trishaan), a young zamindar who got married to his wife, Giribala (Ranjini Chakraborty), when they were both children.  As they grew up together, they were playmates and had a close relationship.  But as Giribala tells it, when Gopinath’s father died and he took over the zamindar responsibilities, Gopinath’s relationship with Giribala cooled.  Although we can clearly see that Giribala is elegant and beautiful, Gopinath now neglects his wife and spends most of his time, even his evenings, outside their home.  Giribala is left alone in their mansion and idly spends time playing games of chess with herself.

While Giribala is left home in the evenings, Gopinath is out attending theatrical stage shows. There he fixes his gaze on lead actress Latika (Purva Naresh), whose performances he worshipfully applauds.  In fact Gopinath is having an extra-marital affair with Latika, and he sneaks backstage after her performances to spend more intimate time with her. But Gopinath is possessive, and he grudgingly confesses to her that he doesn’t like it when other people gaze at her.

When the viewer sees Latika, he or she is immediately challenged with the question as to what it is about the woman that so attracts Gopinath. Compared to Giribala’s refined beauty, Latika is fleshy and earthy, and from appearances alone she would seem to be no match for the woman.  But Latika’s allure seems to come from the fact that she is performing romantic roles on stage that fire her audience’s imagination.  She is like a media star, and she comports herself with the confidence of a star.  She is used to being admired, and she expects the adulation she receives.

Eventually Giribala sends her woman attendant Shudhomukhi (Natasha Pillai) out to track her husband’s evening activities, and the woman reports back about his watching Latika on stage.  She also remarks that Latika looks like a very unlikely candidate for his affections.  Now more curious than ever, Giribala decides to go out to the theater and see things for herself. When she sees Latika emerge from her dressing room after her show and face her adoring fans, including Gopinath, Giribala cringes with jealousy.

When she starts attending the theatrical shows, though, Giribala quickly becomes rapt with feeling for the characters she is experiencing vicariously.  Soon she is laughing and crying at what she sees being performed before her.  So while Latika revels in being the focus of so much empathy, Giribala is on the other side, immersed in empathic feeling.  They are both enthralled by the potency of shared experiences generated by role-playing.

So Giribala goes home and decides to do some glamorous role-playing for Gopinath.  She dresses up as a legendary princess and tries to seduce her husband.  But he will have none of it.  Instead he rewards her coquettishness by rudely roughing her up and then storming out of the house to  see Latika.

Meanwhile Latika, knowing that her infatuated lover, Gopinath, is a rich zamindar, imperiously commands him to fund a lavish new stage production for her.  This he proceeds to do, and he gets the best director, musicians, and production designers for the task.  However, when rehearsals begin, the production’s new director looks critically at Latika’s skills.   He is not a stage-struck fan, but a hardened professional, and he sees her work as awkward and coarse.  When Gopinath walks in on a rehearsal and sees Latika suffering from the director’s scornful criticism, he angrily whisks her out of the show and proceeds to elope with her out to a remote country residence.  Giribala has now been thoroughly abandoned.

Gopinath and Latika are presumably now living in romantic bliss, but Latika begins longing for the old excitement of performing before an enraptured audience.  She reads in the newspaper that there is a new diva superstar drawing rave reviews for her performance as Miribai, and she presses to go back to Kolkata and see how the woman performs. 

When they go back and attend a show, Gopinath is stunned to see that the new diva is none other than Giribala, whose moving soulful performance tops whatever Latika could do.  Now it is Latika’s turn to humbly watch Giribala emerge after the show to face her own adoring fans.

The ending of “Maanbhanjan” brings to mind the ending of Random Harvest (1942). Sometimes a person long searches for paradise, not realizing that the sought-after heavenly goal was standing there right in front of him or her all the time.  Gopinath had fabricated a romantic narrative out of Latika’s persona that was based on her fantasy role-playing on the stage.  When he sees Giribala in that same kind of role at the end, he can’t take it.  His possessive nature has now been completely overturned.

With respect to the two women in this story, Giribala and Latika, they were both captivated by the lure of performing.  They wanted to play romantic roles that would appeal to their audiences, but perhaps Giribala was more fully and soulfully immersed than was Latika in the romantic roles she was playing. That made her even more alluring.

  1. Durga S, “Atithi, Maanbhanjan & Detective – Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2)”. Writersbrew, (23 July 2015).  

1 comment:

Samadrit Sarkar said...

Very beautiful.I have read the original story in Bengali by Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur.Would like to watch the show as well.