Dec 242014
 
Breakfast scene with Alph & Chah-lee
Breakfast scene with Alph & Chah-lee

Breakfast scene with Alph & Chah-lee

It has been over a year since my last post here. Let me explain why.

In January 2013, I wrote about Coconut oil: after the cataclysm. Almost two years later, I have just completed the film You must be nuts! which traces the journey I’ve been on since then.

It’s my fourth feature film – the first three being film versions of the three dance-dramas by Rabindranath Tagore: Shyama, Chandalika and Chitrangada. Of course, You must be nuts! is a very different film from the Tagore dance-dramas. However, after dealing with repressive regimes, prejudice and women’s emancipation in the previous films, the theme of You must be nuts! is probably just as controversial.

You must be nuts! is more like an investigative documentary, with puppets. Here is its 3-minute prequel.

As you will realise from the film, the situation is even more sinister than I had imagined when I wrote my blog post about coconut oil almost two years ago.

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with Tagore. After all, he was writing poetry right up to his death at the age of 80 on 7 August 1941 and he wrote his most accomplished stage work, Shyama, at the age of 78.

Well, here in the West, there is a convenient myth that more people are likely to develop dementia because people are living longer. Was Tagore an exception? Maybe it was because he kept himself mentally active?

In reality, there has been a surge of dementia in the last 30 years which cannot be explained simply by increased life expectancy. It was rare until the 1980s. Today, over half of people over 85 have Alzheimer’s, compared to 2% in the 1960s. In addition, 8% of people with dementia have Young onset dementia – they are between 30 and 65.

Even so, friends joke about having a ‘senior moment’ or ‘early Alzheimer’s’ when they forget a name or something slips their mind. There is a general fear that, as everyone gets older, they will get Alzheimer’s. Indeed, a recent UK survey revealed that ‘a third of people are worried about getting dementia’.

In what has been classed as one of the best non-fiction books of 2014 (The Big Fat Surprise), Nina Teicholz has provided a fascinating but tragic account of why scientists in the US and other countries started to advocate a low fat diet and lowering cholesterol 50 years ago. She summarised the story of what happened in an interview:

“It begins in the 1950s, when the desperate need to solve the heart-disease epidemic caused experts to jump the gun, launching dietary guidelines based on weak, incomplete science. As research dollars and institutions became invested in the idea, it became harder to reverse course, until, ultimately, the U.S. government’s adoption of the diet enshrined it in our federal bureaucracy. Biased science became a necessity. A once-loud group of critics was silenced … .”

When you realise that a low fat diet and lowering cholesterol may cause dementia, and that a (low fat), high carbohydrate diet increases the risk of dementia by a factor of almost 4, you start to see this seemingly harmless dietary advice in very a different light. Indeed, a study published last month concluded that, not only does eating more saturated fat not increase the level of saturated fat in the blood but also diabetes and heart disease are linked to diets high in carbohydrates.

Last week, Dr Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a feature article with the title Are some diets “mass murder”? . He concludes that:

“The successful attempt to reduce fat in the diet of Americans and others around the world has been a global, uncontrolled experiment, which like all experiments may well have led to bad outcomes. What’s more, it has initiated a further set of uncontrolled global experiments that are continuing.”

After all I have seen and heard in my research about dementia over the past three years, it seems to me most likely that the lives of millions of people, including my father, have been harmed by regulatory failure which failed to stop ‘bad science’ driving Government advice. That, in turn, seems to be costing public authorities millions, if not billions, in avoidable healthcare costs.

The clear stream of reason seems to have lost its way, whether because of corruption or complacency (the dreary desert sand of dead habit), over at least 30 years. Maybe there is even fear to admit that mistakes were made. Whatever the reason, it’s time for a full, formal investigation, possibly with criminal penalties for the individuals responsible, certainly with policies based on the latest scientific research.

As things stand, though, we in the West are far from being where the mind is without fear. At least by publishing You must be nuts! on YouTube, and by providing the underlying scientific references, knowledge is free and words come out from the depth of truth.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free:
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1912

Oct 072013
 

A version of this post first appeared on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust blog on 9 May 2013.

7 May 2013 was the 152nd anniversary of the birth of the Bengali creative genius and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. This year is also the centenary of Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

We celebrated the occasion at Shakespeare’s Birthplace on 4 May 2013, two weeks after the Shakespeare birthday celebrations.

tagore-ceremony-pic

Board in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace announcing the ceremony

I had outlined the connection between the two Bards and presented the programme for the afternoon in my blog post Two bards’ birthdays. The annual tradition of celebrating Tagore’s birth anniversary by the bust in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace was started by my parents and their Bengali cultural group Prantik in 1997, the year after the bust was installed in the garden.

This year, the event attracted many people, including HE Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, the High Commissioner of India to the UK, and HE Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to the UK.

As High Commissioner Bhagwati noted in his introduction, the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are songs which were written by Tagore.

high-commissioner-tagore-ceremony

HE Dr J Bhagwati,
High Commissioner of India

With the help of Shakespeare Aloud! actors Jennifer Hodges and Jenny Jenkins, we gave the first performance of Tagore’s Nobel Prize in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, by the bust of Tagore. The show explained, through poems and songs by Tagore, how he came to win the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The opening poem was recited in Bengali by Mousumi Basu, who was also one of the singers. The other singers were Supratik Basu, Chhaya Biswas, Kaberi Chatterjee and Tirthankar Roy. We were accompanied on esraj by Tirthankar Roy.

Of course, behind the scenes, there had been weeks of preparation by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust team: Dr Diana Owen (its Director), Julia Howells, Jennifer Stone (Shakespeare Aloud!), Chloe Malendewicz (Operations manager) and Charles Rogers (Centre manager).

Tagore’s Nobel Prize recalls how Rabindranath Tagore was invited to London by the painter William Rothenstein, a friend of Rabindranath’s nephew Abanindranath Tagore. In July 1912, Rothenstein introduced Rabindranath to his literary friends, including W.B. Yeats. They became mesmerised by Rabindranath’s English Gitanjali.

By February 1913, Tagore had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature by Thomas Sturge Moore, a member of the Royal Society of London. Meanwhile, 97 members of the Royal Society had nominated Thomas Hardy.

tagore-ceremony-pic-two

Me narrating Tagore’s Nobel Prize
in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

By September 1913, members of the Swedish Academy of the Nobel Committee were considering awarding the Nobel Prize to Emile Faguet, a French literary historian and moralist. However, a letter by Swedish poet and novelist Verner von Heidenstam (who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature himself) convinced them to give the Prize to Tagore:

“I read them with deep emotion and I cannot recall having seen for decades anything comparable in lyric poetry… and if ever a poet may be said to possess the qualities which entitle him to a Nobel Prize, he is precisely the man… we should not pass him by… the privilege has been granted us to discover a great name before it has time to be paraded for years up and down the columns of the daily newspapers. If this discovery is to be utilized we must not delay and lose our chance by waiting another year.”

We concluded the performance by moving next to the bust of Tagore and singing two Tagore songs which are usually sung on his birth anniversary.

tagore-ceremony-pic-three

Singing by the bust of Tagore
in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

After a break for tea and a chance to look at the Tagore section of the ‘Shakespeare Treasures’ exhibition, HE Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, the Bangladesh High Commissioner, launched the CD collection of all 2,222 songs in Tagore’s Gitobitan (the compendium of his songs) and presented a framed portrait of Tagore to the Shakespeare Birthplace. He then gave this excellent introduction to the UK premiere of our film version of Chitrangada.

You can watch Chitrangada here.

In his introduction, High Commissioner Quayes also mentioned the other two dance-dramas by Tagore: Chandalika and Shyama. Our film versions of these dance-dramas had their world premieres in Stratford in 2011 and 2009, respectively. Chitrangada completes the Tagore dance film trilogy.

You can watch Chandalika here.

You can watch Shyama here.

May 012013
 
Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

On April 23, (with a little help from our friends AJ and Melissa Leon) people all over the world celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. Those who used Twitter to wish Shakespeare a Happy Birthday included Stephen Fry, Arianna Huffington and Geri Halliwell.

Shakespeare’s birthday is certainly one I cannot miss, since it happens to be my birthday too. It is also St George’s Day – and you can imagine that I have supported calls to make St George’s Day a national holiday for years, but to no avail … !

Next week, on May 7, it will be Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Apart from becoming known as ‘the Bard of Bengal’ for his major impact on Bengali literature, Tagore was quite strongly influenced by Shakespeare. One of the tasks he had been given by a tutor at the age of 13 was to translate Macbeth into Bengali. This probably contributed to his deep respect for Shakespeare’s work.

We came across this painting of the Three witches from Macbeth at an exhibition of Tagore’s paintings in Bruges last year, where our film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas Shyama and Chandalika were shown at the Cinema Novo festival. The collection of paintings had been brought together by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the exhibition was arranged by the Indian Embassy in Brussels.

In 1995, the then Indian High Commissioner, Dr L M Singhvi, arranged for a bronze bust of Tagore by Kolkata sculptor Debabrata Chakraborty to be installed in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The bust was dedicated in its current position on 20 September 1996. Flowers were laid by Jyoti Basu (then Chief Minister of West Bengal), Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (then Cultural Affairs Minister of West Bengal), Dr L M Singhvi and Professor Stanley Wells (then Chairman of the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace).

My parents were among those who attended the ceremony. When the then Director of the Indian Cultural Centre in London had told my father that he hoped that there would be a regular celebration at the bust, my father promised to make sure that Tagore’s birthday would be celebrated at the bust each year.

So on Saturday May 4, with the kind help of the Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Dr Diana Owen, and her team, we will be continuing this annual tradition started by my parents and their group Prantik in 1997.

This year, the programme will be as follows:

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 4 May

2.30pm Ceremony around Tagore’s bust in the garden at Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Introduction by the High Commissioner of India, His Excellency Dr J Bhagwati.

Tagore’s Nobel Prize – a show telling the story of how Tagore came to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, through his poetry and songs. I will be narrating the story, the English poems will be presented by Shakespeare Aloud! actors John Robert Partridge and Jennifer Hodges, the Bengali poetry and songs will be presented by Mousumi & Supratik Basu, Chhaya Biswas and Kaberi Chatterjee. We will be accompanied on esraj by Tirthankar Roy.

3.30pm Tagore archive exhibition

4pm UK film premiere: Chitrangada

Introduction by the High Commissioner of Bangladesh, His Excellency Mohamed Mijarul Quayes.

Chitrangada (90 minutes) – Our authentic, colourful, feature film version of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, 1936 dance-drama with an ensemble cast featuring leading dancers, singers and musicians from Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan, India. Perhaps best described as a cross between opera and ballet, Chitrangada was part of Tagore’s campaign to encourage women to have be given a greater role in society. It was based on his earlier play Chitra, which Tagore had directed and designed for a production at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1920.

Kaberi Chatterjee stars as Princess Chitrangada, with the singing voice of Manini Mukhopadhyay. Sourav Chatterjee is Arjun, with the singing voice of Jahar Kumar Dutta, and Nibedita Sen is Modon, with the singing voice of Ritwik Bagchi.

The dance director and production designer is Shubhra Tagore. The music director is Bulbul Basu.

The film completes the Tagore dance film trilogy of authentic, widescreen film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas, the others being Chandalika (1938) and Shyama (1939). Elements from Chitrangada were included in the promotional trailers and videos created for UNESCO’s Tagore, Neruda & Césaire programme. Chitrangada had its world premiere in Brussels in September 2012.

The film will be followed by a Question & Answer session with Kaberi Chatterjee and me.

6pm End

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 5-6 May

During the rest of the bank holiday weekend, the Shakespeare Aloud! actors will be including poems by Tagore in their performances in the garden. One of them will be the poem which Tagore wrote in 1916 for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death:

When by the far-away sea your fiery disk appeared from behind the unseen, O Poet, O Sun.
England’s horizon felt you near her breast, and took you to be her own.
She kissed your forehead, caught you in the arms of her forest branches.
Hid you behind her mist mantle and watched you in the green sward where fairies love to play among the meadow flowers.
A few early birds sang your hymn of praise, while the rest of the woodland choir were asleep.
Then at the silent beckoning of the Eternal you rose higher and higher till you reached the mid sky, making all quarters of heaven your own.
Therefore, at this moment, after the end of centuries, the palm groves by the Indian sea raise their tremulous branches to the sky murmuring your praise.

Feb 102013
 
Left to right: Kaberi Chatterjee, Ranajit Roy & Shipra Roy at Bolpur Station in January 2004

Left to right (foreground): Kaberi Chatterjee, Ranajit Roy & Shipra Roy at Bolpur Station in January 2004

Ranajit Roy was renowned and widely respected for his integrity.

His father, Shibdas Roy, was one of the early students at the school Tagore founded in Santiniketan. Thanks to being a very good singer, Shibdas Roy became one of Tagore’s favourite students and, later, an honorary teacher at the China Bhavan, teaching English to Tibetan monks. The family used to live in their ancestral home in Moukhira, about 18km from Santiniketan.

One day, when Ranajit Roy was still a little boy, Shibdas Roy took him to Santiniketan to present him to Tagore. It was a Wednesday morning and Tagore was coming down the steps of the Mandeer after prayers. The young Ranajit was so impressed by the image of the strikingly handsome, long-white-haired Tagore in this setting that he asked his father, “Is this God?” Shibdas Roy introduced his son to Tagore, who gave him a toffee.

Later on, Ranajit Roy followed in his father’s footsteps and joined Tagore’s school, Patha Bhavan. This was probably the source of his keen artistic sense and his love of nature. The latter led him to study Agriculture at University.

He became very good at football and cricket, particularly as wicket keeper. He was an artist and a keen photographer, processing and developing his own photos. He also encouraged his wife Shipra Roy to follow art studies at the Kala Bhavan at Visva-Bharati University.

From 1970, he, his wife and daughter Kaberi started living in Ratan Palli, Santiniketan. As soon as he returned home from work, he would start a new drawing in his sketch book. Later in the evening, he would pick up the collection of Tagore’s songs (Gitabitan), select a song whose lyrics he appreciated and ask Kaberi to learn how to sing it. He would also advise and help his wife with her artwork.

As Block Development Officer for a number of different areas of the district of Birbhum in West Bengal over thirteen years, among other things, he was responsible for authorising licences to sell various commodities such as rice, cement, fertiliser and kerosene in those areas. This could have allowed him to accept gifts in return for preferential treatment but he always refused them, returning any which arrived nonetheless at his house. He always followed what he felt to be the fairest and most honest course of action.

The Ajoy River flood of 1978

‘Ranjitda’, as many knew him, became a local hero after saving many lives when the Ajoy River burst its banks in 1978. It was typical of his sense of responsibility that, if he heard that someone was in trouble, he would drop everything and do whatever he could to help. One rainy night, in the middle of a power cut, he was called to the Ratan Kuti Guest House, which had the only telephone in the area. As Block Development Officer for Illambazaar at the time, he was asked to oversee the situation at Illambazaar, which had been flooded.

The Chief Medical Officer’s car was going to pick him up from the Guest House and take him there. However, in the forest, they found that the road to Illambazaar had been blocked by a fallen tree and there was no way to cut through it to reopen the road until it was daylight. He didn’t return home but went to Bolpur Health Centre, where he stayed until dawn before heading back towards Illambazaar.

Daylight revealed that the water level had risen considerably and the 1km-long Ajoy Bridge at Illambazaar was shuddering as the swollen river flowed past it. ‘Ranjitda’ found hundreds of bewildered people waiting at his office. Those people and animals who had been lucky enough to hold onto something which would float (bales of hay, palm trees, sacks of wheat, etc) were being swept past the bridge by the fast current. An old lady, sitting on top of a sack of rice was praying and counting religious beads as she floated past.

‘Ranjitda’ sequestered nearby shops to find ropes which could be used to pull people to safety from the river. When the District Magistrate arrived later to see what was going on, the crowds rose to attack him. Many villages had been flooded and people had been made homeless. ‘Ranjitda’ was given District Magistrate powers to deal with the emergency. He ordered rice, lentils, utensils, etc to be taken from the shops so that they could be used to feed and shelter the homeless.

Meanwhile, many students from Santiniketan, where the school and university hostels had closed for the holidays, became stranded on the way to their homes in Calcutta, on the other side of the river. Supriyo Tagore, then Principal of Patha Bhavan, had decided to escort a group of the students. With ‘Ranjitda’s help, they made it across the river.

Back at his house, after waiting for three days, the 10-year-old Kaberi started sitting at the window crying because her father hadn’t come back while other fathers had returned for the puja celebrations. ‘Ranjitda’ was busy helping people. Mrinal Mukherjee (the father of Tuli Mukherjee, who was a dancer in the Shyama in Egypt team) was then working for ‘Ranjitda’ and ferried clothes and food from the house for him.

Moukhira too had not escaped the floods. The villagers made their way to Illambazaar so that they could have something to eat at the shelter.

‘Ranjitda’ found the mental strength to deal with the emergency with the moral support of his guru Mohonanda Maharaj. Although ‘Ranjitda’ had originally been sceptical of gurus, his father had been a friend and devotee of Maharaj. Reluctantly accompanying his father to see Maharaj, he had been astonished to find later that Maharaj had correctly made a number of predictions.

Encouraging Kaberi

Kaberi and her father understood each other very well. When she was nervous about sitting her Higher Secondary exams, he reassured her that she shouldn’t be afraid and that she should carry on and do whatever she could. Everything would be fine.

When it came to the decision to study dance at the Sangeet Bhavan of Visva-Bharati University, he was the one who encouraged her to do so as that was the subject she was most passionate about. He had also told her that if she did something else and the passion went away, she would never be able to come back to it.

When she had initially decided not to try for the Indian national scholarship in Manipuri dance because she didn’t think she would get it, her father had told her that, even if it meant that they would have to travel to Delhi for the exam, they could all take the opportunity to do some sight-seeing once the exam was over. Even if she didn’t succeed, he told her that at least they would all have been on holiday together.

Of course, she did succeed and it was also through his encouragement that she started her PhD in dance and became one of few people in India to have such a PhD.

Later years

Although, ‘Ranjitda’ had been known for telling humorous anecdotes, in recent years, he fell increasingly silent. As well as being separated from his beloved daughter after our marriage, he became absorbed with the property-related tension between him and his younger brother, who had been very close.

‘Ranjitda’ was the eldest of four children but, other than identifying parts of the land in Santiniketan and Moukhira for ‘Ranjitda’, their parents had not left a will setting out how the rest of their property in Santiniketan and in Moukhira was to be divided between the children. It became apparent that the younger brother had been selling off agricultural land around Moukhira which had been assigned to ‘Ranjitda’, without his knowledge and without giving him any share of the proceeds. The younger brother refused to register a division of the property which had been agreed by the four siblings and had not spoken to ‘Ranjitda’ since 2004.

That was the last year ‘Ranjitda’ went to the annual Durga Puja festival he used to enjoy at the ancestral house in Moukhira. His near-exile from Moukhira was an open secret among the villagers. Having brought up his younger brother like a father and paid for his education, ‘Ranjitda’ felt a deep sense of betrayal and shock. This was probably the main reason for the depression and Alzheimer’s which eventually led to his death on Friday, four days before his 85th birthday, after several years of suffering. Unfortunately, we found out too late that coconut oil might have helped to treat the Alzheimer’s.

Tagorean spirit

Through everything I have seen and heard about my father-in-law, I recognise his sincere belief in Tagorean values and humanism, including his sense of social justice and his aversion to corruption and insincerity. Needless to say, we got on with each other very well as a result and he always gave me a very warm welcome.

Of course, these beliefs and principles live on in Kaberi and they are the common message of the dance-dramas we have filmed together. He was always keen to watch dance, music and theatre performances. If ever he wasn’t able to attend one himself, he would want to hear a full account of the performance from anyone who went.

In spite of his illness, he continued to encourage us as we made the films, enjoying the rehearsals and filming of Shyama in 2007 and making a special effort to visit us in the Lipika Theatre as we were filming Chandalika and Chitrangada two years ago.

However, my favourite memory of him is probably from the first visit of Kaberi’s parents to Europe in 2005. Together with my father and Kaberi, we had all spent a gloriously sunny day in Belgium’s Ardennes. Towards the end of the day, as we sat having a drink at a riverside bar in Dinant, Kaberi had asked him how he felt. He had replied that he thought he was in heaven. Perhaps it was the combination of the beauty of the natural scenery, being with Kaberi again and being away from the family tensions in Santiniketan.

In any case, probably this poem by Tagore sums up how he felt:

যাবার দিনে এই কথাটি
বলে যেন যাই —
যা দেখেছি যা পেয়েছি
তুলনা তার নাই ।
এই জ্যোতিঃসমুদ্র-মাঝে
যে শতদল পদ্ম রাজে
তারি মধু পান করেছি
ধন্য আমি তাই —
যাবার দিনে এই কথাটি
জানিয়ে যেন যাই ।

বিশ্বরূপের খেলাঘরে
কতই গেলেম খেলে ,
অপরূপকে দেখে গেলেম
দুটি নয়ন মেলে ।
পরশ যাঁরে যায় না করা
সকল দেহে দিলেন ধরা ।
এইখানে শেষ করেন যদি
শেষ করে দিন তাই —
যাবার বেলা এই কথাটি
জানিয়ে যেন যাই ।

রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর (গীতাঞ্জলি ১৪২)

Tagore’s English version of this poem was as follows. The phrases in square brackets come from his manuscript, which seems to me to be closer to the original than the published version (which is recited by Prajña Paramita in the video below from The Story of Gitanjali):

When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus [yonder] that expands on the ocean of light, and thus I am blessed—let this be my parting word.
In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him [that eludes all forms].
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes here, let it come—let this be my parting word.

by Rabindranath Tagore (English Gitanjali – poem 96)

Jan 012013
 

Wordpress.com 2012 blog statistics image

So 2012 is over. If you click on the above image, you’ll find the statistics for my blog in 2012 (courtesy of wordpress.com and Jetpack).

Just to give you an overview, my blog had about 9,200 views during the year, of which just over 4,000 were in September. My most popular post was actually one I’d written in 2010 about our experience of watching the film Julie & Julia ! The next most popular posts in 2012 were:

Celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary
Civilisation’s crisis – Tagore’s last speech
Tagore and the Indian national anthem
Celebrate nature & Tagore the environmental pioneer

My thanks to all who have found my blog posts of interest.

Looking ahead, 2013 is the centenary of Rabindranath Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you are on Facebook, you may wish to ‘Like’ the Facebook page Rabindranath Tagore: Nobel Prize centenary. Even if you are not on Facebook, you can see the contents of the page.

For now, here is a 50-second audiovisual tribute to celebrate the start of the centenary year and to allow me to wish you a Happy New Year!

Nov 232012
 

The Earth seen from Apollo 17 – NASA

Last month, the makers of the film Sleepwalk with me proposed an evening where they were “encouraging everyone to host a pizza party and watch the movie with friends (pizza figures prominently in several scenes in the movie). And here’s the deal: Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia will be video chatting with as many of these parties as possible.

That was just in the US. It made me wonder what would prevent us from doing a global Q&A about Tagore dance and the films in our Tagore dance film trilogy. So we’re wondering if we should encourage people to host an Indian theme evening on 26 December (Boxing Day) to watch one or more of the films after having had an Indian dinner.

Wherever you are in the world this Sunday, if you have Skype and/or Google+ hangout, would you like to help us test how this could work? See here to book an appointment.

 Posted by at 12:35 am
Oct 012012
 

As you will have realised, last Sunday was the world premiere of Chitrangada in Brussels. The English-subtitled version of the film is now available worldwide via the Internet. Before midnight on Sunday, 28 October, if you watch it or host a screening of it for friends or for people in your area, you can be part of its global premiere. If you can watch the trailer above, you have everything you need to be part of the global premiere: basically a screen and an Internet connection.

Singers and musicians from Santiniketan
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

At the start of the evening, the audience was greeted with a glass of champagne, courtesy of a well-wisher. Thanks to the Indian Embassy in Brussels, the audience was able to see two Tagore exhibitions from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. One exhibition was of framed, digital prints of some of Tagore’s paintings. The other exhibition comprised a series of panels describing Tagore’s travels.

The evening was introduced by our guest of honour, His Excellency Shri Dinkar Khullar, the Indian Ambassador.

Obhi narrating The Story of Gitanjali
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Our multilingual performance of The Story of Gitanjaliexplained how Tagore came to write the English Gitanjali – the collection of English poems which led to his international fame and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Each of the thirteen poems were recited in a different language, while the Tagore songs corresponding to most of them were performed by a team of singers and musicians from Santiniketan. For the cast and their biographies, please see here.

Almost all the actors who read poems from the Gitanjali in their native languages.
(Photo: Ekaterina Tarliouk)

The talent on the stage was complemented by a large-screen display above the singers and musicians for the subtitles. You can get an idea of the setting from this photo.

View of the stage with the on-screen subtitles
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Many in the audience were apparently inspired by the show to read Tagore’s poetry. One of them, Sandeep Kalathimekkad, was even moved to write a poem as he was watching the show – he kindly gave me the poem on a slip of paper during the interval. The Story of Gitanjali was filmed. So you will have a chance to see it in due course, together with the subtitles.

After the interval, the world premiere of Chitrangada was introduced by Her Excellency Ambassador Ismat Jahan of Bangladesh. Tagore is a national icon in both India and Bangladesh, whose national anthems are both Tagore songs. Ambassador Jahan, who is a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, introduced the film as being part of Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation.

Many people came up to congratulate us about the film as well. Even before we had got home after the premiere, a post by Sophie H on Facebook summarised the feedback we have had ever since about the evening: “Thanks to Obhi Chatterjee and Kaberi Chatterjee for an amazing evening! The first part, with the poems in different languages was beautiful, and the second part, the movie, was excellent! Such a pleasure! I also discovered (a small piece ) of the art of Tagore. Thank you!”

Aug 132012
 

Publicity photo for the Gold Hall, Square Brussels

The Story of Gitanjali may not be as elaborate as the opening ceremony of the Olympics. However, it does need careful preparation and planning. Apart from the audience in the Gold Hall of the Square Brussels, where we will be on stage, we also need to keep in mind those who will be watching it on screens elsewhere.

On Thursday, I visited the Gold Hall with the team which will be filming the show. It’s quite a large auditorium which is part of a complex which was built in 1957, at the same time as the iconic Brussels Atomium. The complex used to be known as the Palais des Congrés but was extensively renovated a few years ago. It reopened in 2009, since when it has been called the Square Brussels. The annual Magritte Awards ceremony (the Belgian equivalent of the French César Awards and the American Academy Awards) is held in the same hall.

The foyers we will be using for the charity gala premiere have original murals by the Belgian surrealist painters Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. Courtesy of the Indian Embassy in Brussels, we should have two exhibitions in the foyers, one on Tagore and the Romance of Travel and the other of digital prints of some of Tagore’s paintings.

The Story of Gitanjali begins with the above poem. I haven’t yet decided which language it will be recited in – that will depend on the actors. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been looking for actors in Brussels who could each recite one of the 13 poems in a different European language. Several actors have come forward, particularly thanks to our friend Lilian Eilers and the English language theatre groups in Brussels, as well as my colleagues Béla Dajka and Stephanie Mitchell.

The languages and actors confirmed so far are French (Arlette Schreiber, a leading actress with the Belgian National Theatre for many years) and English (Prajna Paramita, who recently performed as Cleopatra in a production of Anthony & Cleopatra). Both already knew Tagore’s poems. I’ve also heard from/about Czech, Danish, Dutch, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak and Spanish actors.

The 11 songs in The Story of Gitanjali will be performed by a small team of singers and musicians. The singers will be Manini Mukhopadhyay, Sayan Bandopadhyay and Kaberi.

Manini is one of the top Bengali female vocalists in this style (known as Rabindrasangeet). She sang the title roles in all three of our film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas, including Chitrangada. You can hear her singing in the clip from Shyama on the right of this page.

Sayan is a rising male vocalist in this style. Has will be singing at a concert on 22 August at the 1,100-seat Rabindra Sadan hall in Kolkata. He is also the grandson of Professor Somendranath Bandopadhyay, the internationally recognised authority on Tagore who has been our mentor throughout the Tagore dance film trilogy project.

In parallel with this, I will need to prepare what will be projected on the screen above the singers and musicians, including the English and French subtitles of whatever is happening on stage. This draws on our experience of using a screen to provide a virtual set at London’s Purcell Room when Kaberi was giving a solo Manipuri performance there, as well as the technique we used to project English and Arabic subtitles for the  tour of Shyama in Egypt with Kaberi and her team.

Aug 122012
 

Poster for the premiere of Chitrangada & The Story of Gitanjali

This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain comes in the wake of the summer.

Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies, greet me and speed along the road. My heart is glad within, and the breath of the passing breeze is sweet.

From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when I shall see.

In the meanwhile I smile and I sing all alone. In the meanwhile the air is filling with the perfume of promise.

Gitanjali poem 44 by Rabindranath Tagore

With the Olympics drawing to a close this evening, we are six weeks from the global premiere of Chitrangada, including a live, multilingual performance of The Story of Gitanjali. At the end of each day, Kaberi and I will be giving ‘behind the scenes’ updates about our progress in the run up to the evening of Sunday, 23 September.

The Story of Gitanjali begins with the above poem. All our planning and preparation for the global premiere of Chitrangada will need to have been completed by the time the audience hears this poem that evening!

 

 Posted by at 11:12 am
Jun 032012
 

Still from the final scene of Chitrangada

A couple of weeks ago, Kaberi and I invited a select audience to watch a private preview of Chitrangada, the third film in our Tagore dance film trilogy, at the place where we stay during the Cannes Film Festival. Even though we showed a work-in-progress version of Chitrangada, the very positive feedback we received was reassuring.

As you may remember, we had filmed Chitrangada in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan in January 2011. It has taken a while to bring the film to its current, near-complete state both because of other personal commitments and because we were waiting for a suitable opportunity to give Chitrangada a high profile première.

We now seem set for a charity gala première of Chitrangada in late September 2012 at a major concert hall in Europe, where Kaberi and I will take part in a live show before the film. The première will mark the 100th anniversary of the completion of the English Gitanjali by Tagore in September 1912. The English Gitanjali was the collection of Tagore’s poetry which led to him becoming the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The 32 nominees that year included Thomas Hardy, who had been nominated by 97 members of the Royal Society for Literature, while Tagore had been nominated by the English poet, author and artist Thomas Sturge Moore.

The live show before the film will be a more elaborate stage version of The Story of Gitanjali, which we performed in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate Tagore’s 151st birth anniversary on 7 May 2012. On that occasion, we performed with my father Jayanta Chatterjee, our friends Chhaya Biswas, Tirthankar Roy, Mousumi & Supratik Basu, and Shakespeare Aloud actors Charlotte Ellen and Richard Bunn.

Tickets for the charity gala première will go on sale from Kaberi’s website in the coming weeks. In addition, we are hoping that the live show and Chitrangada will be shown more or less simultaneously in various venues around the world so as to create a global première. This should offer an opportunity for people around the world to discover Tagore and Chitrangada, which will be presented for the first time ever with subtitles in at least English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, as well as possibly other languages.

We have started to prepare a wiki for the Tagore dance film trilogy which will provide study guides for all three dance-dramas (Chandalika, Chitrangada & Shyama). The wiki study guides follow a format similar to the study guides for Western operas developed by the Manitoba Opera, which seem to be the most comprehensive available. In the wiki, we will be summarising the research we have done to prepare the Tagore dance film trilogy. We hope other Tagore enthusiasts will help to improve the study guides, which should be multilingual eventually. This is intended to encourage teachers worldwide to introduce their students to the Tagore dance-dramas and possibly to present Chitrangada at their schools or colleges as part of the global première, and maybe even Chandalika and Shyama as well.

Through the Tagore dance film trilogy, which presents Tagore’s dance-dramas in their authentic form, we have already created a permanent record of these classic examples of Tagore’s original dance concept. Modern technology allows the trilogy to make these works accessible to international audiences across cultural and linguistic frontiers – as Tagore had intended.

Of course, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, the overall objective of the project is to provide a convincing case for Tagore’s dance-dramas to be added to the international circuit of operas and ballets. We know from the reactions to the first two films in the trilogy that we have already stimulated fresh interest in Tagore’s immense cultural legacy among people who were previously unfamiliar with it.

So, just as we look back in wonder at the past few years, we look ahead with alacrity to what the future will bring.

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