Thursday, 16 December 2010

Sonali and Roberto story - more details

More than two years ago, in May 2008, I had written an article about the love story of Sonali and Roberto Rossellini. Following the first article, I received many emails from different parts of the world, some of which were from persons who knew other details about the story and shared those details with me. Thus, an updated version of the article was prepared in July 2008.

Over the past two years, my interest in the events linked to Sonali and Roberto story in India during 1956-57 has remained constant and I wish I could write a book on this story from Sonali's point of view. Some months ago, I did write to her daughter to ask if Sonali would agree to meet me, but I have not received any answer.

However, recently I did receive some more information about the days when Sonali and Roberto had come back from India and this post is about that new information.


A few months ago, a person shared some letters and other documents of Roberto Rossellini with me and gave me the permission to write about these.

The letters were written in November 1957, around the time when Roberto and Sonali had left India and were living in Paris. It was the time when their daughter Raffaella was born. The handwritten letters written in Italian are addressed to "Aldo and Giuliana", persons probably living in India at that time, who seem to be confidantes and friends with Roberto.

In one letter dated 17 November, Roberto excuses himself for not having written earlier "because he was being followed by journalists and photographers". He also says that he is preparing a return to India in the beginning of December. He mentions some financial problems. At the same time, he is "excited about restarting my life at 51 years".

He awaits anxiously for the arrival of documentary films from India for completing the work. He asks, "what does Jennifer say? .. What does Blitz say? He asks his friends to telephone (Rambir) Haksar to present his (Roberto's) apologies.

In another letter dated 7 December, it seems that Roberto's financial problems are continuing and he writes of selling his car. He seems to worry about gossip, "the truth is that people love to gossip and make things seem more drammatic, even when there is nothing to drammatize..". He mentions lack of news from "our lawyer in Bomaby" and he continues to wait for those "damned documentaries".

He also seems upset about reactions of certain persons "because I have separated from my wife? How does that concern him? ... I believe that people become easily hysterical, without understanding ... I don't think he understood what I had to go through to resolve the questions here."

He mentions a visit to Rome "for the separation from my wife".

Among the other documents that I have received, there are some telegrams from Roberto (in Rome) to hotel Suisse in Delhi. The telegrams mention Rambir Haksar and arrival of Mrs. Selznick (Hollywood actress Jennifer Jones who was married to director David Selznick at that time), who is arriving in India. Roberto asks  in the telegram to make arrangements for her stay in Maidens (hotel in Delhi), avoid publicity and inform Menon so that Jones gets all assitance on her arrival in Bombay airport.

Among the papers, there is also a list of expenses for reimbursement for a total of 910 Indian Rupees, that includes the following items:
7 Rs for taxi on 29th October to film division
6 Rs for taxi for Indira Gandhi on 26 October
20 Rs for taxi to Palam for taking the monkey on 4 November (probably the monkey used in one of the documentaries)

Comments: I think that the expenses for reimbursement covering the period from 22 October to 22 January, relate to the period after Roberto's arrival in India in October 1956, when his love story with Sonali had not yet started or was just starting.

I am not sure about the telegrams concerning Jennifer Jones. Did she play a role in the documentaries made by Roberto in India? Was he planning to make a film with her in India, after completing the documentaries? If so, probably he was underestimating the strength of public scandal in India and didn't imagine that he would have to run away to Euorpe with Sonali? From the letter dated 17 November 1957, it seems that he was still hoping to go back to India in December.

Rambir Haksar, who was assisting Rossellini in India, mentioned in these messages, could be related (?) to P. N. Haksar, who was in foreign service in that period, and later became personal assistant to Ms. Indira Gandhi (?).

Pandit Nehru's daughter Indira, who had married Firoz Gandhi in 1942, had separated from her husband and was living with her father in Teen Murthy during 1956-57. That Prime Minister's daughter travelled in a taxi, is a reflection of those times, when security was not an issue and leaders were closer to the people. Her personal involvement in the supporting Roberto's visit, also reflects on the importance given by the Nehru family to Rossellini visit in India.

The letters do not mention Sonali nor the birth of his daughter in Paris in November 1957. This could be an indication of his relationship with Aldo and Giuliana, who were probably more informed about his business issues than personal issues. His mention of gossip in Blitz, shows that he was concerned about the Indian press. Blitz was among the most active Bombay newspapers of that time, protesting loudly about Roberto and Sonali love story, describing it as an attack on India's morality and asking for Roberto's expulsion from India.


When I had found that the famous Bengali actor and director Aparna Sen was coming to River to River film festival in Florence, I had immediately thought that she would know details about the Sonali and Roberto story. She is daughter of Chidanand Dasgupta, who was close friend of Satyajit Ray, and since Sonali's ex-husband, Harisadhan Dasgupta was also colleague and friend of Satyajit Ray, my conclusion was they all must have known each other. In 1956-57 when it had all happened, Aparna must have been 11-12 years old, so I had thought she will remember things from that period.

Aparna did confirm that her father and Harisadhan knew each other. She said that as a child, Raja, Sonali and Harisadhan's elder son, used to come to their house. But she didn't know much else. There hadn't been much discussion about this subject in her family in that period, and Harisadhan's family had been very discreet about the whole issue, so she couldn't say much about it.

You can imagine my disappointment!


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