Extend the Tagore copyright? Never! Let a million flowers bloom, I had cheered, with memories of George Biswas' baritone black-balled while Asha Bhonsle trilled away "megher koley" with impunity. On 2nd December the cheers were cabined, cribbed, confined and buried five fathoms deep in the G.D. Birla Sabhaghar, bursting at the seams with the congnoscenti drawn to the promise of Hema Malini like so many bumble bees buzzing round a "truly flat TV screen" mistaking the virtual hive for the real one. "Robi O Radha" presented Tagore's "Bhanusingher Padabali" in Shankarscope fashion'video on the backdrop fusing into ballet and theatre with a sutradhar thrown in for good measure.
It's all about teenage Robi's calf-love for "chhoto bouthan" (junior sister-in-law) Kadambari, who glows and ripens in the radiance of his piano-playing admiration (how redolent of oh-so-many Tolly and Bollywood films!), with elder brother Jyotirindranath indulgently looking on, playing the violin soulfully. We waited with bated breath to listen to a plangent emoting of the memorable songs. All that in-drawn breath whooshed out in the shock of hearing a tired, old voice of a classical maestro providing a raga-rendition of "sawana gaganey". A male voice for this song-of-songs? Why not'after all, Robi wrote it, so he must have sung it to his "chhoto bouthan". The only problem was that Robi while looked around 20, the voice was surely above 60. Aaah! But that is why Hema Malini, in late middle age, was chosen to represent Radha. Shrewdly, she did not appear on stage, but used all the professional camera tricks to ensure that not a vestige of age touched her entrancing face as she skillfully mimed Radha with Bollywood playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy providing the voice-over in song. Strangely, where her presence would have created the greatest impact, with the "sawana gaganey" song, it was missing. Her screen presence created a problem. The on-stage countepart was Keka Sinha who grated with her top-heavy, stiff movements and expressions, particularly as Rao Dsouza's Krishna was so flexible, graceful and expressive.
Why does Indrayani 'Kadambarai' Mukherjee mouth typically convent-educated, probashi Bangla? If Bandana Mukhopadhyay could not get hold of Charulata and Ghare Baire for tips on correct diction, even the unending Janmabhoomi Teleserial would have sufficed. Kadambari's slide into depression the moment Robi's marriage is announced (with a snide remark from Gnyanadanandini that remains questionable), and her moving towards suicide when she is not allowed to participate in the wedding because she is barren, hardly carried conviction and was more in the nature of melodrama. But then it is perhaps Bombay's Robi in which we should not search for Bhanusingha, just as we should not try to recognise Saratchandra's Parboti in Bhansali's midriff-and-back exposing Paro gyrating in public. All the more reason for shouting "Viva la copyright!"