A couple of weeks ago, Kaberi and I were celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary. I was going to post a photo from the wedding on Facebook to mark the occasion when I realised that we didn’t have any of the wedding photos uploaded. In fact, we didn’t have any digital photos from the wedding.
It then came back to me that we only had a small memory stick in the video camera at the time of the wedding on which we could take a handful of low resolution digital photos. We got our first digital camera at the end of 2002, almost a year after the wedding: a 2 megapixel Sony Cybershot DSC U20. Our next one came the following year, a 3.2 megapixel digital SLR – the Minolta Dimage Z1 . This took over from the 35mm Minolta X-700 SLR camera I’d been using since my father gave it to me as a birthday present in 1985.
Since then, we have only taken digital photos. We now use an 8 megapixel Sony Cybershot T200 and a 10 megapixel Samsung GX10, which I used, for example, for the still photographs I took while we were filming Chandalika and Chitrangada. Of course, now we’re using both less often than before as we usually have our iPhones with us, which can film high definition video as well.
Nowadays, if you go to a wedding or any other event, there are people all around snapping away or taking video, often on their mobile phones. Some weddings have even become international phenomena as a result of people sharing the images online, such as the JV Wedding Entrance video.
Nine years ago, a lot of things did not exist which we and hundreds of millions of people around the world take for granted today, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype. Combined with the falling cost of taking, editing and storing digital photos and videos, these sharing platforms have transformed the world we live in.
In our case, Kaberi and I first started to explore the possibilities of digital filmmaking using our home computer in 2005, when Kaberi was completing her PhD thesis on the dance influences of Rabindranath Tagore. One of her supervisors suggested that, since the topic was dance, it would be useful to include some kind of video in the thesis to illustrate this.
This led us to put together a 40-minute documentary incorporating material from videos of her own past performances and performances from other dance styles, linked with a narrative based on her thesis. A DVD with the documentary, edited in iMovie and authored using iDVD, was included in her final PhD submission.
At about the same time, we realised that few international arts centres were aware of the dance styles in which Kaberi has specialised: Manipuri and Tagore dance. Kaberi would need a similar DVD to persuade them both about the styles themselves and about her dance skills.
First, we used our video camera and my father’s one to film a Manipuri dance performance she gave at the Durga Puja in Bremen. I thought a short, film-style trailer would be useful both to introduce Manipuri dance to people who had not come across it and to encourage people to watch the 15-minute video of the performance on the DVD. In parallel, we would need to improve Kaberi’s website, to which the trailer and DVD would refer people.
After preparing a script for a 1-minute trailer, we hired some stage lights and used a roll of black paper to create a “studio” in the living room of our apartment. Within limited space and without a very versatile tripod, we filmed some sequences and also shot some still photographs, which were to be added to the home page of Kaberi’s website.
Here is the English version of the trailer, for which some friends helped us to create French, German, Italian and Spanish versions.
The promotional DVD led to higher profile performances in Europe (at London’s Nehru Centre in January 2006, the Museum of Asian Arts in Nice in May 2006 and London’s Purcell Room in June 2006). While Kaberi was performing at the Nehru Centre, I noticed a poster about a short film competition organised by the Satyajit Ray Foundation. The theme was ‘the experience of Asians’ and the maximum duration was 25 minutes.
It occurred to me that many Asians migrate to the West and I was curious to see how easy it would be to use iMovie to put together such a film. Kaberi’s experience, which I had been watching at first hand for the previous three years, was perhaps a more extreme example than most: after our marriage, she had left behind a promising dance career in India to join me in Europe, where she was once more unknown.
Kaberi and I were also often being asked how we met. So I decided to make a short film called Adapting which focused on Kaberi’s experience and used video material we had been shooting since we first met. I reviewed the material we had, which included a sequence which Kaberi had filmed to try to explain to her parents what a supermarket is, and developed a script with a voiceover linking a selection of clips from the material.
We filmed some additional sequences, such as showing Kaberi shopping in London for Indian food ingredients, and so on. We also filmed a sequence with three European friends who had travelled to India for our wedding: Beatriz, Gemma and Vincent.
Originally, I had invited them so that we could film a sequence where Kaberi and I were telling them the story of how we met. However, by the time they arrived, I had realised that this would not look very interesting and persuaded them to do some role playing instead. You can see the result towards the end of this 8-minute excerpt from Adapting.
As you can imagine, we all had a lot of fun filming the sequence with Beatriz, Gemma and Vincent. I had given them two alternative scenarios, both of which we filmed. The first was where Vincent, the prospective groom, and Beatriz, the prospective bride, fell immediately in love at first sight and Gemma, the chaperone, was left to keep them apart. The second was where Vincent and Beatriz took an instant dislike to each other, so that they asked each other the most aggressive questions.
The latter version was the one which I kept in the film. I should mention that, in reality, Vincent and Beatriz are husband and wife. At the time, Beatriz was in the early stages of expecting their first baby, which added a certain relevance to the discussion about children. The dialogue was completely improvised, based on my outline of how each of their characters should behave.
Towards the end of the editing process, our then iMac was struggling to cope with all the processing involved and we had to buy a new, faster iMac. Adapting didn’t win anything in the competition but it was a good way of exploring what we could do on our computers.
I’d intended to finish Adapting in time for our third wedding anniversary, so that it could be my anniversary present to Kaberi. However, I had to find another present as it took me a lot longer to edit than I had imagined! Still, when we showed it to about forty of our friends the following month, several were quite moved by it.
Kaberi’s performance as part of the Bahar Festival in London in June 2006 was originally supposed to be on the 30m-wide stage of the Queen Elisabeth Hall. It was going to be a challenge for Kaberi to fill such a wide stage on her own. So I used Keynote to create a dynamic virtual set for her.
We hired a high definition camera to film some sequences and used them as part of an introduction to Manipuri dance which I presented while she was off-stage doing a dress change. The festival eventually took place in the Purcell Room since the competition from the World Cup was quite intense! We put the iMac on a corner of the stage so that I could see its presenter disply and control it using its remote control. The output from the iMac allowed us to project the virtual set onto a screen at the back of the stage.
For the rest of that summer, I was composing and recording the music for Kaberi’s Indian dance workout. The idea of making such a workout DVD came to Kaberi after a friend recommended that she could keep fit using fitness videos. She realised that a lot of the movements were similar to exercises and movements she knew from Indian dance.
The workout DVD has probably been the most technically demanding project we have done up to now because we wanted to create a fully interactive project. Kaberi first had to design the overall workout and break it down into sections. We studied a range of different workout DVDs to see how they had been structured and presented.
The music had to fit the sections and also had to be the right pace for the movements. This was why the easiest solution was for me to compose and perform the instrumental music specially for the workout, based on Indian classical themes and on songs by Tagore. Our living room became a recording studio.
We arranged to film the workout DVD over a weekend with six of Kaberi’s dance students. We cleared all the furniture from our living room and they came for rehearsals every evening for the five days before we filmed it. Since it would otherwise be quite late by the time everyone got home, each evening, Kaberi prepared an Indian dinner for all of us. After the others left, we still had to record Kaberi’s commentary over the music.
We were very lucky with the weather for the two days we were filming the workout. It was an intense schedule but the really nice people in the team helped to create a great atmosphere. Again, we hired a high definition camera over that weekend.
This trailer for the workout gives you an idea of the end result.
In preparing to edit the workout, I realised that I had outgrown iMovie and needed to upgrade to Final Cut Studio to achieve such a technically complex project. At about the same time, Kaberi went to India to collect her PhD. Meanwhile, YouTube was rising in popularity, having been founded in February 2005, and Google bought it in October 2006.
By the time Kaberi returned to Europe, she had had another idea. Initially, it had been to stage a performance of Tagore’s dance-drama Shyama in London with a team of dancers, singers and musicians from Santinketan. However, having grown up with my parents organising shows like this, I knew that this was going to take several months to prepare and, if it was to be a large team from India, would probably need to be part of a European tour.
It seemed to me less risky to make a film version of Shyama instead and use it both to create a permanent record and then use the internet and subtitling to allow people all over the world to see it. In any case, the first step was to film it.
We finally decided to go ahead with the project in November 2006. It was clear that we would not finish the workout before travelling to India to film Shyama. The plan was for Kaberi and the team to rehearse for it in Santiniketan in January 2007 and we would record and film it during seven days in early February 2007 at the main theatre there.
We looked into the costs of hiring two high definition cameras in India but discovered that each camera would come with a minder, a cameraman, a sound recordist and a sound man with a boom microphone. They would have to travel from Kolkata the day before filming began and return the day after filming ended. We didn’t need the sound to be recorded live since we were recording the music first. Since this team would have to stay in a hotel for four nights, and we would then need to hire another camera back in Europe to edit the material.
In the end, we bought two, small high definition cameras from the US (so that they were filming in NTSC, which is easier to convert to the film frame rate of 24 frames per second than using the European and Indian PAL standard). These were portable enough for us to carry with us to and from India, together with a laptop, on which we did the sound recording.
By the time we came back to Europe, I had all the material from Shyama and all the material from Kaberi’s Indian dance workout to edit, in between my daily work, which was and is quite demanding. As a result, the process of editing both projects took over a year.
A test screening of the workout in autumn 2007 revealed that people would need a slower explanation of the movements as they were too difficult to grasp at the normal speed of the workout. So we used our own video cameras to film some additional sequences in which Kaberi explained each movement in slow motion. Putting this onto a DVD so that it was fully interactive meant I had to learn how to program a DVD using DVD Studio Pro.
Meanwhile, I realised that we would have to translate Shyama from scratch as it hadn’t been translated before. My father did the initial translation, which Kaberi and I refined to match the on-screen movements of the dancers.
Test screenings of Shyama led to the addition of explanations of the characters at the beginning and captions during the film to explain where the action is taking place. They also led to a number of friends volunteering to translate our English subtitles into their own languages.
Kaberi’s Indian dance workout was finally launched on DVD in July 2008, with the double soundtrack album being released online. Shyama had its world première at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in May 2009.
We added the various language versions to the DVD of Shyama by September 2009. In parallel, we filmed two episodes of what should ultimately be an 8-part podcast series about Shyama and Tagore. Each episode requires a lot of background research, which is the main reason why we haven’t gone beyond part 2 yet.
Over summer 2010, at fairly short notice, we filmed three episodes of Kaberi’s Indian cooking – a web series published on Facebook. Only the first of these has been published so far. The other two are still in the pipeline!
In October 2010, we accompanied Shyama to the Ourense Film Festival for its Spanish première. This was about the time when I started this blog. It was also when we started thinking about making film versions of Tagore’s other two dance-dramas, Chandalika and Chitrangada, to complete the Tagore dance film trilogy to mark Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.
The première of Chandalika was in May 2011 in Stratford-upon-Avon, courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The tour of Shyama in Egypt in January 2012 with Kaberi and her team from Santiniketan perhaps marks the start of the next phase of our adventure. Of course, we still have to launch Chitrangada (probably in September 2012) before this phase is complete. Nonetheless, we do hope to be able to get back to our friends, who haven’t really seen us for the past five years thanks to all of these projects!
While our ideas and projects have become more and more ambitious, the possibilities offered by the digital revolution have accelerated. These projects have brought us many new friends around the world, especially through Facebook and Twitter.
Looking back over the past nine years reminds us how much the world has evolved. A whole generation has been growing up without knowing what the world was like before the internet, a feeling eloquently presented by Piotr Czerski in his article ‘We, the web kids‘. Even Kaberi and I have forgotten what that world was like, that we couldn’t speak to friends and relatives around the world for free and that we didn’t always avoid staying at hotels without wifi. As our friend Sheri Candler says, people are having to find their digital mindset.
Our creative projects have allowed Kaberi and me to work together very closely on a subject in which we have a passionate interest: Rabindranath Tagore and particularly the dance form he created. None of it would have been worth the effort if Kaberi hadn’t been the amazing, gentle, loving, modest but extremely talented person she is.
It has been a wonderful nine years … and there seems to be even better to come!