The world has witnessed many a people who in spite of many a hurdles in their lives have achieved ‘self-actualization’. Some of them have social hurdles some economical and some physical. One such man is Binode Behari Mukherjee, who was an artist though he was visually impaired. He was a student at Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Shantiniketan’ and later became a teacher there. He inspired many a people around the world. How could he have not inspired the legendry filmmaker Satyajit Ray, a degree holder from Shantiniketan, to make a film?
In the year 1972, Satyajit Ray made a documentary on his teacher Binode Behari Mukherjee, titled ‘The Inner Eye’.
The film begins with the scene of the sketches and cut outs done by Binode Behari for the walls of Shantiniketan. And the narration (by Ray himself) tells us that the artist who created it is blind. Then the film goes on to tell the audience the life story of the artist, who was one eyed from birth but still interested in art. Benod Behari joined Shantiniketan and studied under Nandalal Bose and later on joined the same institute as a faculty. His visit to Japan, his joining the national museum at Kathmandu as the curator and then starting his own art school in Mussorrie are all spoken about. The last part of the film says that in the year 1957 at the age of 53 the artist looses his sight completely and still continued to paint and also shows us the visually impaired artist doing beautiful sketches. With a quote of Binode Behari on blindness the 28 minute film comes to an end.
Ray has a promising title to the film but the film doesn’t live up to that. The title ‘inner eye’ moves deep inside from the surface level, but the film doesn’t speak anything about the inner eye of Binode Behari. It is just the life sketch of a painter and nothing about him looks extra ordinary for most of the time in the film. While watching the life sketch also the narrator just says that the artist has a style of his own. But doesn’t say what the individuality is. The title says ‘inner eye’ but the film doesn’t say anything much about the inner eye.
Nandalal Bose is said to have rejected Binode Behari as a student as he was partially blind. But it is Tagore who convinced Nandalal Bose to take Binode Behari as a student. Later on while Binode Behari turned completely blind Nandalal Bose once visited Binode Behari and asked him to show his latest paintings. Binode Behari does show Nandalal Bose his latest work of art. The interesting part is that after showing his own paintings Binode Behari asked Nandalal Bose to show his Paintings to him. When Bose placed before Binode his paintings Binode Behari asked his friend to move his finger over the lines and then while he moved his finger over the lines he is believed to have said which colour has been used in the painting.
This is the inner eye of Binode Behari which we do not get to see in the film. All we get to know is his life sketch which doesn’t appear all that great while watching the film as it is plain narration of the events of his life in chronological order like a history book. The film is an injustice done to the inner eye of Binode Behari, it appears to me.
Satyajit Ray doesn’t live up to the promise he shows with the title of the film.
Written: 15 Feb 2007