A documentary on Visva-Bharati’s centenary year examines the iconic university’s legacy and attempts to re-assess the educational system

Published : June 03, 2021 13:18 IST

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee. Photo: By Special Arrangement.

As the iconic Visva-Bharati University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan, enters its centenary year, a unique and interesting documentary titled Shikkhateertho, meaning a pilgrimage of education, examines not just the legacy of Visva-Bharati but also attempts to re-assess the present educational system – particularly in the pandemic situation – in the light of the vision that inspired Tagore to embark upon one of the most revolutionary and unique experiments in the sphere of education.

Speaking to Frontline, the director of the film, Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, a well-known interdisciplinary artiste and actor, said, “The documentary is not just about the history and heritage of Visva-Bharati, but also the heritage of education itself. It is in many ways a re-look at the value system in education in the light of the [university’s] centenary year.” The documentary holds particular relevance in the face of the changes in the education system brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

“At this point of time, what has been on my mind is whether the digital mode of education is going to open new windows for students or is it going drive them into a cocoon. When Visva-Bharati was set up, a free mixing of culture and studies was one of its most important aspects. The world has become smaller with the pandemic, and so with the digitisation of education, will it be possible for an acculturation in the education system? I am also raising a question on the deconstruction of the education system,” said Sujoy. The documentary is the result of a collaboration between Sujoy’s art collective SPCkraft and Mohor Bithika Angan, a heritage space for multi-disciplinary art.

A number of intellectuals, scholars and academics from India and different parts of the world have taken part in the documentary, speaking about their personal experiences and association with Visva-Bharati. They include Supriyo Thakur, Pramita Mallick, Pabitra Sarkar, Gautam Bhattacharya, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay and Mighmed Dorji Lama. A number of artistes have also performed in the documentary, including singers Srikanta Acharya, Lisa Ahmed Lisa, and Manoj Murali Nair.

“As an inter-disciplinary artiste, what was of particular interest to me was getting people from different parts of the world to participate in the project, and share their views and memories,” said Sujoy. Martin Kampchen, well-known Tagore scholar and author from Germany; Bashabi Fraser, director and co-founder of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies at Edinburgh; and Setsu Toaga from Hiroshima, an alumnus of Visva-Bharati, are among the names from abroad who have taken part in the project.

For several years now, Visva-Bharati has been at the centre of numerous controversies, particularly relating to its administration. Though the documentary does not focus much on the politics surrounding the university, it nevertheless constantly looms in the background. “It is easy to talk about the prevailing political turbulence in the university, but the fact is that this started a long time back, when Rathindranath Tagore [Rabindranath’s son], the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, resigned due to petty politics. He had even written to Charles Freer Andrews [Christian missionary and social reformer] about it. I wanted to focus more on the osmosis of culture and values that Visva-Bharati first brought in, rather than on the present controversies,” Sujoy said.

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