“Samapti”, Stories by Rabindranath Tagore - Tani Basu (2015)

Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Samapti” (“The Conclusion”, 1893) is about an independent-minded girl’s resistance to an arranged marriage and her ensuing gradual coming to terms with connubial love.  This story served as the basis for “Samapti”, the 12th and 13th episodes of the anthology television series Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015), which was under the general directorship of Anurag Basu, with these two episodes having been directed by Tani Basu.  

Tagore’s stories are often about how love struggles within the constraints of a tradition-bound society, and “Samapti” is a good example.  This story was filmed years ago by Satyajit Ray as a substantial segment, “Samapti (The Conclusion)”, of his Teen Kanya (Three Daughters, 1961), which was made to celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s birth.  Ray’s version, which is similar in length to the Basu version under review here and which I have earlier reviewed [1], is certainly an excellent rendition of this story, and I would think it would be very hard to match.  But the Basus’ version, which was scripted by Bijesh Jayarajan, has its own distinctive perspective and is very good, too.

One of the things I like about this version is the dreamlike rendering of the story that is evoked by cinematographer Bappa Mir’s extensive use of slow-motion photography.  This is aptly supplemented by the expressive soundtrack music from Anurag Saikia and Rana Mazumdar.  It is often the case that Film narratives have the character of dreams and vivid memories of the past that have a narrative structure with an emotional tone.  This film’s recurrent use of remembered images and slow-motion sequences emphasizes that emotive quality.

The story of “Samapti” proceeds through four approximate acts.

1.  Apoorva connects with Mrinmayi
The opening sequence of the story is actually shown at the tail end of Episode 11 of this series and shows a young man, Apoorva Chandrat Rai (played by Abhishek Tewari), returning from completing his college studies in Kolkata to his home village.  While walking near a river, he slips and falls down in the mud, heavily soiling his clothes.  His awkward mishap is observed with much mirthful delight by some young onlooking teenagers, the most mockingly derisive of whom is the only girl among them, Mrinmayi (Chitrangada Chakraborty).

When Apoorva arrives at his sumptuous family home, his widowed mother (Savita Prabhune) is overjoyed to see him, and she tells him it is now time for him to get married and that she has already arranged a perfect marriage match for him.  Knowing that her son has to return to Kolkata in a few weeks to take up law school studies,, she has already chosen an imminent “auspicious” day for his wedding.  Being a dutiful son, Apoorva, suppresses his misgivings over such rushed arrangements and agrees to meet the proposed bride, Krishna Ganguly, and her family the next day.

However, when he goes to visit the Ganguly family, he is dismayed to see how reticent and uninteresting the very young Krishna is.  Her passivity is further accentuated when the obstreperous mango thief, Mrinmayi, barges in demanding to play outside (i.e. steal more mangoes) with Krishna’s younger brother.  The contrast between the super-shy Krishna, and the exuberant tomboy, Mrinmayi, couldn’t be greater.  Then when Apoorva wants to return home, he finds that his shoes have been stolen.  Walking home in borrowed slippers, Apoorva is approached by the naughty Mrinmayi, who silently returns the shoes that she had stolen from him.  Before she can run away, though, he grabs her by the wrist, and they exchange a silent eye-to-eye interaction for several seconds.  This is one of those extended slow-motion elements that apparently signify a remembered moment in Apoorva’s life, and it comes up as one of the flash memory images when he is thinking about things later.

When Apoorva returns home, he informs his mother that he rejects Krishna as a marriage partner and instead wants to marry Mrinmayi (whose nickname we soon learn is “Meenu”).  His mother is disappointed that he has chosen such a roughhewn tomboy from a lower-level family, but she goes ahead and makes marriage arrangements with Meenu’s mother.  Meenu has always treasured her freedom and doesn’t want to get shackled into marital servility, but she is forced into accepting it.

2.  The Newlyweds
Meenu glumly submits to the ensuing traditional and sumptuous wedding, but as soon as it is over and she enters her new home, she tears off her wedding jewelry and runs away.  Apoorva finds her in the wild and coaxes her to return home.  But Meenu refuses to join him in the conjugal bed.   Apoorva is all accommodating and asserts to her that he married her because he liked her for who she is.  Meenu tartly responds by asking why it was that nobody asked her whom she likes?  And she coldly adds that she doesn’t like her new husband – “not even one bit”.

Meenu is now a sulking prisoner in Apoorva’s quarters, even though she still refuses to sleep with  him.  However, when Apoorva sees Meenu eagerly reading a warm letter from her father, who works in a remote city and who had been unable to get leave to attend his daughter’s wedding, he offers to take Meenu on a trip to visit  her father.  For the first time since her wedding, Meenu shows delight and smiles at her husband.

As we move to Episode 13 of the series, the two of them go to visit Meenu’s father for three days, where they sleep on the floor in the father’s tiny one-room apartment during their visit.  While there, Meenu for the first time has some cordial domestic interactions with her husband.

3.  A Separation
They return home, but Meenu still rejects the conjugal bed, and she won’t even let the gentle Apoorva kiss her.  So Apoorva, with the deadline approaching for the commencement of his legal studies in Kolkata, consents to leaving Meenu at her mother’s home.  When Meenu asks when she will see him again, he says he will come back to her when she writes to him and summons him. 

With Apoorva away, Meenu starts thinking of him more and missing his gentle ways.  When she hears that Apoorva’s mother is ill, she goes to attend to her.  Little by little, Meenu starts learning what it means to lovingly care for others, and she even starts learning how to cook from Apoorva’s mom.

Finally, Meenu writes a letter to her husband asking him to return to her.  But since she doesn’t know how to address the envelope (she just writes his name and “Kolkata” on it), we can assume he will never get the letter. 

Five months pass, and Meenu doesn’t hear anything from Apoorva.

4.  A Coming Together
Finally, after the five months of stasis, Apoorva’s mother decides to go visit her son in Kolkata, and with a knowing smile she offers to take Meenu along with her.  Meenu jumps at the chance.

When Meenu and Apoorva finally meet up, in Apoorva’s sister’s guest bedroom, there are two wounded egos waiting for the other’s explanation as to why they didn’t write.  Apoorva says he never received Meenu’s letter, and Meenu responds defensively by telling him that he is lying.  Apoorva then tells her that he has always loved her.  But Meenu, still clinging to her adolescent pride and sense of independence, insists again that she doesn’t love him.

But at this point Apoorva has come to know something that we viewers have also been starting to suspect.  He tells her calmly that she is the one who is lying, and he gently kisses her.  And Meenu ultimately accepts his embrace, and with it she comes to her final admission to herself of true love.


This Tagore story, as seen in both its cinematic realizations, reminds me, curiously, of My Fair Lady (1964).  The connection is that in both tales we see an autonomy-loving young woman struggling in the face of a well-meaning man who wants to reshape her in accordance with prevailing social customs.  And in both cases we have some sympathy for each of the contrasting perspectives and hope all along that a harmonious and romantic compromise can be achieved.  Which, of course, is what happens.

Note, however, that this version of Tagore’s “Samapti” has a slightly different feel from Ray’s.  In this instance, Meenu’s shift is not so radical as it is in Ray’s version and is very gradual.  This coloration of gradual acceptance and maturation has a subtlety to it that pulls the viewer in and makes this rendition of the story particularly appealing.


Notes:
  1. The Film Sufi, “‘Teen Kanya’ - Satyajit Ray (1961)”, The Film Sufi, (8 November 2017).   

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