In 2002, when the madness of the Gujarat riots took over the country, I felt desperately helpless. The best way to make an impact at such a time, I felt, was to adapt Rabindranath Tagore’s classic novel Gora,” says Gargi Sen, producer of Doordarshan’s serialised version of Gora.
“We’re all equal and we’re all free — that’s the message Gora gives,” she adds. Starting October 29, the series will air over the next 10 weeks. “I had originally wanted to adapt the novel into a feature film,” reveals Gargi, “But serialising it for television is a great idea, as Tagore had originally written the story in a series of 24 chapters for the Bengali magazine Probashi.”
The story revolves around Gourmohan, nicknamed Gora, who is an orthodox Hindu. Gora believes that change in ‘his’ Hindu society can only come once Indians are rid of British rule. “Gora’s friend Binoy plays the sutradhar,” adds Gargi’s brother Somnath Sen, director of the serial.
“Gora is a story of casteism and of love. It deals with the conflict between traditionalism and modernity and is about women’s place in society. It is one of Bengal’s most read, most analysed novels. Each of the characters is a legend in Bengal. It was hugely challenging for me to translate the book into a series for television. I’d call it my career’s toughest,” says Somnath.
It is also a challenge for them to ensure that urban audiences watch the show. “It is no secret that most people in the metros don’t watch Doordarshan anymore. Gone are the days when the entire nation was glued to the channel,” says Somnath, hoping that the show will bring DD back to its glory days. “We’re using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to aggressively market the show,” he adds.
Scriptwriter Sreejaya Radhakrishnan had the mean task of turning the 600-page novel into a script suitable for television. “She wrote her script in English while adapting the novel and then we had to get that translated into Hindi,” says Gargi, describing the long-drawn out process.
“Picking the cast was easy,” she continues, all praise for the actors who she feels fit the bill perfectly. Gaurav Dwivedi, Prabhat Raghunandan and Swati Sen, who are playing the lead roles, were all former students of Somnath, who used to teach direction at FTTI. Styling them, however, was far more difficult. “The book is set in the 1880s, but Tagore’s writing is extremely fluid. So for instance, in his story women went to the theatre — but in reality that is something that didn’t happen until 1905-’06,” says Gargi.
Tagore may have written the novel 105 years ago, but the story is still very relevant to us in India. “That is the power of Tagore’s foresight,” concludes Somnath.