Making a film about Tagore was no small feat: Pablo Cesar

In this interview, Pablo César talks about the film’s origins and the extensive research that went into it, directing Victor Banerjee, and the living experience of filming in India, among other things.

The Indo-Argentine film “Thinking of Him”, directed by renowned Argentine director Pablo Cesar and co-produced by award-winning Indian filmmaker Suraj Kumar, explores the relationship between Indian Nobel laureate and distinguished polymath Rabindranath Tagore with Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo who idolizes Tagore, having read the French translation of “Gitanjali”. Ocampo reportedly took care of Tagore during his visit to Bueno Aires in 1924, when he fell ill. The two are said to have formed a deep and emotional yet platonic bond. Tagore affectionately called her Bijoya and dedicated some poems from the 1925 book “Purabi” to her. The two continued to exchange letters until his death in 1941.
The film, which stars the legendary Victor Banerjee as Tagore and Argentinian actress Eleonora Wexler as Victoria, is set to hit Indian theaters on Tagore’s 161st birthday. “Thinking About Him” ​​also stars Raima Sen and Héctor Bordoni. Director Pablo César made films from the age of 13 when his older brother introduced him to a Super 8mm camera and taught him the first filming techniques. He has been a professor at the Cinema University of Buenos Aires since 1992.
In this interview, Pablo César talks about the film’s origins and the extensive research that went into it, directing Victor Banerjee, and the living experience of filming in India, among other things.
Extracts
Q. How did ‘Thinking of Him’ come about? What kind of research led to the making of the film?
A. During the interaction I had in 2008 with Mr. R Viswanathan, then Indian Ambassador to Argentina, he suggested that I work on the encounter that took place in 1924 between Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo.
The research took us 5 years. Jerónimo Toubes, who has worked with me since 2006, investigated the link between Victoria Ocampo and Gurudev. We read all possible texts and spoke with many people who had information that we considered relevant.

An image taken from “Thinking about him”.

Q. What kind of challenges did you face while making the film?
A. We had to face many challenges. First of all, making a film about an icon of India, a Nobel Prize for Literature, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, was not an easy task and could not be summed up in 4 sentences. With Victor Banerjee and Eleonora Wexler, we had a fluid handling of the theme of the actors seeking to enrich all aspects of the characters they portrayed.
Q. What was it like directing legendary Indian actor Victor Banerjee? Can you also tell us about the conversations you had with him before the shoot and during it?
A. We generally agreed on all aspects. Victor literally opened the doors of his house to me. I went to visit him in his house near Dehradun and it was a great meeting from the first moment.
We also agreed on the way of working and on respect for the actor and the director. A few technicians crowded around the first day that Victor performed around Santiniketan and at the end of the first scene filmed, these young people started taking selfies with their mobile phones and I had to explain to them that they were making a big mistake by taking pictures from different angles that weren’t the original frames, nor with the original 35mm format. We are living in difficult times now and the film is set in a completely different era. Victor thanked me for explaining this to the film technicians because he had acted in a film where there was a surprise at the end, but the director of the film made the serious mistake of posting a photo of this revealing scene on his own facebook page. The film was therefore not a surprise since everyone already knew it by posting it on the director’s facebook page.
Q. How do you see the chemistry that Eleonora Wexler shares with Victor Banerjee in the film?
A. Luckily, Victor and Eleonora had great chemistry between them from the first moment; they had a spiritual and intellectual connection from the first time they saw each other.
Q. How do you see the film as a catalyst for sparking more such collaborations between India and Argentina?
A. Indeed, as you mentioned, it is a catalyst that allows to create the India-Argentina bridge for many other future achievements. A South-South co-production model must be considered, between countries of different cultures, to help open up possibilities for the inhabitants of the planet. Many current films are “full of emptiness” and the spectator can serenely watch messages on his mobile phone which loses nothing of the history of these films. Co-productions of this type, like the one we did with Mr. Suraj Kumar with “Thinking of Him”, allow for a new path and a new way of seeing the world.
Q. What was it like shooting in India for the film? Also, tell us about some shooting incidents that come to mind.
A. It was a unique experience. I have known India since 1994, although it is difficult to know all of India. But over the years I have come to understand a lot about the idiosyncrasies and behavior of people from many places in India, a country that I personally admire.
Indian co-producer, Suraj Kumar, was forced to have many more technicians than he had expected, while filming in the state of West Bengal, due to demands from the local union. At the time, the Indian film crew was 100 people, while in Argentina, the Argentine film crew was 60 people. These are things that happen, but they can also upset the economy of a film.
Q. The film has already been released in Argentina. What do you think of the film’s upcoming release in India? Also tell us about your upcoming projects.
A. When the film premiered in Argentina a few years ago, we had a lot of problems because there was a strong devaluation of the currency and the resulting inflation. This affected us in our advertising budget. The distributors demanded that we make an investment of 200,000 US dollars for advertising, because in Argentina the distributors do not take risks and ask the producers to invest in advertising. Despite all of this, the film spent a few weeks in theaters.
I have several projects. I am working on a true story that speaks of the Mother of Argentina, an enslaved woman, born in 1767 but who at the age of 25 joined the Army of the North for the independence of Argentina and was decorated by General Belgrano (one of the heroes of Argentine independence) as Captain of the Northern Army, with the nickname “Mother of the Nation”. It’s a true story; the script is already finished and we have international investors, although funding is still lacking.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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