Rabindranath Tagore, the short film was released by Satyajit Ray on the occasion of Rabi Thakur’s 100th birth anniversary. A black and white film, it is considered the most well made and comprehensive biography of the maestro on screen.

Satyajit Ray himself narrates in the film. He starts with the Thakur family line and its association with Bengal’s legendary figures like Raja Rammohun Roy.  The legend comes to life in this film through his sketches and photographs.

Rabi Thakur Rabindranath Tagore documentary short film by Satyajit Ray

The documentary also features something very interesting – it depicts Rabi Thakur’s first drama-opera. It was called Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki). Rabi Thakur had recounted the tale of the ancient sage Valmiki and of his transformation from an outlaw to a learned scholar. He himself acted in the lead role. We also get to see how advanced Rabi Thakur was in his thinking – he had used Western classical music with Indian raga songs – thus being the founder of East West mix. Using Western music to depict a ethnic ancient character was sheer tour de force at that age.

Satyajit Ray has also used some dramatic impersonation to express the story of his life. The artists who have acted in this film are Raya Chatterjee, Smaran Ghosal, Purnendu Mukherjee, Kallol Bose, Subir Bose, Phani Nan and Norman Ellis. Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the President’s Gold Medal for the Best Documentary Film, Golden Sail at the 14th Locarno International Film Festival and Special Mention at Montevideo Film Festival.

According to W. Andrew Robinson, Satyajit Ray had considered this biographical short film as one his best –
“Ten or twelve minutes of it are among the most moving and powerful things that I have produced”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that had bestowed the Oscar to him wanted to digitally restore all his films. Unfortunately this film could not be restored as the original had become quite damaged. Hence only this old copy of this documentary remains for us now as our priceless heritage.

Related: Rabi Thakur’s songs in Satyajit’s films, Ami Chini go and Fule Fule Dhole Dhole