Apr 032012
 

Kaberi and me just after the wedding ceremony

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!

Mar 122012
 

Last week, as part of an article about the Cinema Novo festival in Brugge, this 9-minute interview with us about Tagore and the dance film trilogy was published on Flemish cultural website cobra.be . On Sunday afternoon, Chandalika and Shyama were shown at the festival as part of its Focus on India. The films were invited to the festival thanks to an introduction from Mrs Pooja Kapur, Culture Counsellor at the Indian Embassy in Brussels.

Kaberi, my father and I attended the screenings, which clearly captured the attention of the people in the audience. Kaberi and I took part in question-and-answer sessions after each film. Those who watched the films were keen to know more and asked very interesting questions about Tagore, Indian dance and the Tagore dance form, as well as the extent to which Tagore succeeded in improving the situation of the ‘untouchables’, as featured in Chandalika.

Her Excellency Ambassador Ismat Jahan, the Ambassador for Bangladesh to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, very kindly attended both screenings with her husband. During the question-and-answer session after Chandalika, we invited her to say a few words about Tagore. She highlighted his social thinking, as illustrated by Chandalika. She pointed out that he was well ahead of his time in this. She also noted that all three of his dance-dramas (ChandalikaChitrangada and Shyama) were centred on women and that Tagore had campaigned for women to be given a bigger role in society – a reminder which was all the more appropriate in view of International Women’s Day.

After Chandalika and its question-and-answer session were over, I noticed that two men were still sitting in their seats, absorbed in deep debate. They were evidently fascinated by the caste system and I chatted to them for a while about it. As they left, one of them thanked me for ‘this masterpiece’. This, of course, was very gratifying, especially since someone had referred to Shyama as ‘a masterpiece’ after its world première.

Most of those who watched Chandalika in Bruges also watched Shyama. Even in India and Bangladesh, I suspect it’s not very often that people have the chance to watch both dance-dramas in one afternoon! Still, this illustrates how fascinating Europeans find Tagore’s dance-dramas – indicating once again that there could be a significant audience for live performances of the Tagore dance-dramas outside India and Bangladesh if they are presented in an accessible way.

After the screening of Shyama, we took the opportunity to present a 6-minute excerpt from Chitrangada , to give a taste of the third and final film in our Tagore dance film trilogy. Although Chitrangada is almost complete, we have postponed its release until September/October 2012 to allow ourselves more time to prepare and promote its world première. We hope to associate it with a live event and follow the marketing strategy devised for us by our friend Sheri Candler. Sheri has recently helped to release the documentary about the Joffrey Ballet.

Kaberi and I really enjoyed the afternoon. The atmosphere of the Cinema Novo festival, which shows feature films and documentaries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, is very warm, friendly and relaxed. We were, of course, very well looked after by Benny Haesebrouck, one of the organisers of the festival. He had invited us to join the opening night reception last Thursday evening and arranged for us to visit the International Women’s Day celebrations organised by Diversity Brugge on Saturday afternoon. These included Indian cooking, Ayurveda, ‘Bollywood’ dancing, as well as a performance by a Rajasthani folk group.

The Cinema Novo festival continues until next Sunday (18 March). There is also a related exhibition at the Brugge Cultural Centre, which includes a painting by Tagore.

Our congratulations to the organisers of the festival and our thanks to Benny Haesebrouck both for inviting Chandalika and Shyama to the festival and for his coordination. We hope to return to Bruges before the end of the festival.

Feb 122012
 

Kotal (Basanta Mukherjee), an agent of the King’s Guard

In Part 1, I explained the background to the tour and in part 2, I described the reaction to Shyama in Egypt.

The performances of Shyama in Egypt took place the week before the first anniversary of the popular revolution which made Tahrir Square the focus of international attention, deposed President Hosni Mubarak and launched the “Arab Spring” last year. It was an exciting time to be there.

The story of Shyama, which is based on a Buddhist legend, is primarily one of love and sacrifice. It is as much of a romantic tragedy as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

In the programme of its first performance in 1939, Tagore wrote:

“Let me confess that the story is immaterial. I ask my audience not to distract their attention by searching for meaning which belongs to the alien kingdom of language but to keep their minds passive in order to be able to receive an immediate impression of the whole, to capture the spirit of art which reveals itself in the rhythm of movements, in the lyric of colour, form and sound and refuses to be denied or described by words.”

The cause of the tragedy in Shyama is set out in its seemingly innocuous opening scene. Bojroshen, a foreign merchant, is examining his acquisitions when a Friend approaches. The Friend warns him that the Queen has heard of the emerald necklace he is carrying and has sent guards to look for him. Soon after the Friend urges Bojroshen to leave, an agent of the King’s Guard duly arrives.

As we heard while we were in Egypt, this idea of a “Queen” wanting a necklace may have reminded people watching Shyama there of another necklace which was the focus of news attention there last year. Allegedly, Suzane Mubarak, wife of former President Mubarak, had visited the jewellery museum in Alexandria and noticed that a gold necklace which had belonged to Princess Samiha Mohamed Ali had the initials ‘S M’ engraved on it and had asked whether the initials could stand for Suzane Mubarak. Allegedly, the following morning, the necklace was delivered to her. The Supreme Public Funds Prosecutor looked into the allegations but decided to hold back investigations after finding the necklace in its original display in the museum and asserted that the allegations were unfounded. An official apology was submitted to the prosecutor by the person making the allegations and the insult or libel lawsuits filed against him were dropped.

Returning to Shyama, we are next introduced to Uttiyo, who meets Shyama’s companions in her audience chamber at the palace. He is a regular visitor and has admired Shyama from a distance but has never expressed his feelings to her.

The character of Uttiyo, who is dressed in white to underline the purity of his thoughts, probably represents Tagore. Tagore too had been unlucky in love throughout his life.

After Shyama sees Bojroshen being chased and caught by the Guard on the pretext that Bojroshen is a thief, she falls in love with Bojroshen and resolves to help him. The Guard, who may also be in love with Shyama, tells her that there has been a theft from the Royal Treasury and they need to find a thief to save their honour – and who better than a foreigner?

With Bojroshen facing execution, Uttiyo answers Shyama’s call for someone to save him. Uttiyo offers to sacrifice his life to save Bojroshen. This then leads to a tragic moral dilemma for both Shyama and Bojroshen.

Uttiyo (Ambika Bhandary) offers Shyama (Kaberi Chatterjee) his life

Although the Guard appears on stage as the villain of Shyama, he is simply fulfilling the orders of his masters, the King and Queen, whom we never see. Of course, the Guard does seem to relish his unpleasant task.

Just over a year ago, a Facebook page called “We are all Khaled Said” highlighted the case of a young man who had apparently committed no crime but was pulled out of a cybercafé by Egyptian police and beaten to death, inspiring the revolution which started on 25 January 2011. During the protests which followed, centred on Tahrir Square in Cairo, snipers on the rooftops appeared to aim for the heads and hearts of protesters, leaving more than 800 dead. The question of who ordered them to do so has been a key aspect of the Mubarak trial.

Since our return from Egypt, the country has sadly seen further tragedy. Although Tagore created Shyama in 1939, at a difficult time in both pre-Independence India and Europe, Shyama is timeless and universal.

Our tour of Shyama in Egypt has illustrated that the dance concept he developed to express the meaning of his Bengali lyrics does cross linguistic and cultural boundaries as Tagore had intended, even today, because of its focus on the whole body language of the dancers. At the same time, Tagore’s humanist values expressed in the following song from Shyama are as appropriate for 1939 as they are for last year’s ‘Arab Spring’ and other current situations.

Shyama’s companions ‘The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it?’

The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it? Who?
The flow of tears from helpless, distressed eyes – who will wipe them away? Who?
The cries of distressed people sadden Mother Earth.
The attacks of injustice are poisoned arrows –
Under persecution from the strong, who will save the weak?
Whose generosity will call those who have been insulted into his embrace?

Feb 062012
 

Article in Egyptair in-flight magazine about Shyama

Kaberi Chatterjee dressed as Shyama, in lift at Alexandria’s Metropole Hotel Photo: Obhi Chatterjee

In Part 1, I explained the background to the Shyama in Egypt tour.

Enrique Nicanor and I had decided to join the team at our own expense. We reached Cairo from Europe a day ahead of the team. Enrique had noticed that there was an article about the performances of Shyama at the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses in the Egyptair in-flight magazine, Horus. The article was the same size as one about the performances of Aida at the Cairo Opera House at the end of January! The performances were also included in the magazine’s events calendar for January.

Unfortunately, the last leg of the team’s journey to Cairo – a flight from Jeddah – was cancelled. This meant that they had to catch the next flight from Jeddah and arrived in Cairo in the early hours of the day of their first performance. This was not only at the Cairo Opera House but would be attended by the Egyptian Culture Minister and other VIPs. The team was so tired when they arrived that we had to abandon the stage rehearsal we had intended.

As became our routine on all the performance days, Mithuda (Debanshu Majumder), Enrique and I went to the theatre first to supervise the technical setup, including lighting, sound and projection of the subtitles. Essam A helped us to communicate with the theatre technicians.

Egyptair in-flight magazine’s January 2012 events calendar

Although we tested the projection of the subtitles at the Cairo Opera House with the first part of the sequence, as time moved on, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to finish adding all the Arabic subtitles, together with all the necessary video processing, in time for the start of the performance that evening. So, rather than showing the subtitles for part of the show and then leaving the audience without them for the rest, we decided to present the show that evening without the subtitles.

We knew that we had a receptive audience at the Cairo Opera House when there was a round of applause each time I introduced a new character and they appeared on stage one-by-one. As the show went on, there was applause after each scene. Naturally, this spurred the team on.

In our film version, we had deliberately kept the timing on the soundtrack very tight to avoid giving any opportunity for the attention of the audience to wander. The team had to be very focused to match this timing on stage, including costume changes. It would have been obvious to anyone watching the show the team had been rehearsing for weeks before the tour.

Soon, the show was over and the Egyptian Culture Minister, the Indian Ambassador and Mrs Durai, Director of the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture, came on stage to presented flowers to all the performers. We all returned from the Opera House exhausted but happy that it had been so well-received.

The next morning, we travelled to Ismailia. Unfortunately, once we arrived, we realised that there was a fault with some of the technical equipment at the hall, which limited our ability to adjust the lighting and set up the backdrop. We also thought it would be too difficult to add the problem of projecting the subtitles to these technical challenges.

So it was the performance at the beautiful Alexandria Opera House which became the world’s first subtitled, live performance of Shyama. The technicians from the Cairo Opera House very kindly came to Alexandria with their digital projector especially to make this possible. I cannot describe the thrill of seeing the subtitles appear as the show began – the audience could experience the combination of my novel, digital technique with the dancing! Finally, after all the preparations, they had the option of referring to the Arabic and English subtitles during the performance.

I should take a moment to pay tribute to all the technicians at each of the theatres in which we presented Shyama. Without their help, it would not have been possible to present such a technically demanding show.

Ambassador R Swaminathan and Mrs Durai very kindly attended almost all the performances. After each performance, there were often people from the audience coming up to the dancers, asking to be photographed with them. Especially at the the Giza performance, though, several people, particularly Egyptian women and children, came onto the stage seeking autographs, photographs, and so on. It was clear that Shyama had struck a chord with them.

Kaberi and Ohoud Al Shuaibi at the Safir Hotel, Cairo Photo: Obhi Chatterjee

The day after the final performance at Beni Suef, where Mahmoud helped us to communicate with the technicians, it was time for the team to return to India. As Kaberi was having her last lunch at the Safir Hotel, where the team had been staying, their guest relations Director, Ohoud Al Shuaibi, came up to her.

She explained that she and her husband loved Indian films and had become very fond of the team during their stay at the hotel. They were always smiling, polite, and never apart, as well as being very popular with the hotel staff. She and her husband had hesitated before taking up the invitation of staff at the Indian Embassy and Cultural Centre to attend the Giza performance: they hadn’t been sure if she would enjoy a performance in a language she wouldn’t understand.

However, she had been very impressed by the show and particularly by Kaberi’s performance as Shyama. She told Kaberi that her dancing had been so expressive and her body language so clear that they had understood everything. Kaberi was very moved by her comments – it is the highest praise a dancer can receive is to hear from someone in the audience that they were so touched by the performance.

The video below is an excerpt from the interview Enrique filmed with her shortly afterwards, after Kaberi and the rest of the team had set off for the airport. I think it illustrates how deeply moving and memorable our Egyptian audiences found Shyama and the team’s performances.

Jan 292012
 

The ‘Shyama in Egypt’ team at the Giza pyramids          Photo: Enrique Nicanor

I know already that I will need more than one post to do justice to the experience of presenting Rabindranath Tagore’s last dance-drama, Shyama, on tour in Egypt. The tour by Kaberi and a team from Santiniketan was organised by the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture in Cairo, together with the Indian Embassy there, to celebrate Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. It was sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations as part of a cultural exchange programme between Egypt and India, in association with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

Kaberi and the dancers in the team were performing to an adapted version of the soundtrack from our film version of Shyama , with Arabic and English subtitles projected above the stage. The English subtitles came from our film version of Shyama, as translated by Jayanta Chatterjee (my father), Kaberi and myself. The Arabic subtitles were kindly provided by translators at the Indian Embassy and reviewed with the help of Essam A of the Maulana Azad Centre. The lighting design and control was provided by Debanshu Majumder, who had also done the lighting for our film version.

The performance schedule was quite intense:

– 15 Jan: Cairo Opera House

– 16 Jan: Ismailia Cultural Palace

– 18 Jan: Alexandria Opera House

– 20 Jan: Academy of Fine Arts, Giza

– 21 Jan: Beni Suef Cultural Palace

Bojroshen (Sourav Chatterjee) escapes from Kotal (Basanta Mukherjee)

The inaugural performance at the Cairo Opera House was attended by the Egyptian Culture Minister and other VIP guests. Before each performance of Shyama, there was a short performance by Padmashree Sumitra Guha and her team illustrating the way Tagore based the tunes of some of his songs on Indian classical ragas.

The ‘Shyama in Egypt’ team, led by Kaberi and supported by local technicians at each venue, comprised:

Principal dancers

– Kaberi Chatterjee (Shyama, a court dancer)

– Sourav Chatterjee (Bojroshen, a foreign merchant)

– Ambika Bhandary (Uttiyo, an admirer of Shyama who has never expressed his love for her)

– Basanta Mukherjee (Kotal, a member of the King’s Guard)

Dancers in the roles of Friend / Shyama’s companions

Sunipa Chakraborty, Tamalika Dey, Puja Gupta, Tuli Mukherjee & Trina Ruj

[Unfortunately, shortly before the team set off for Egypt, Sharmistha Mukhopadhyay, who was supposed to be one of the six dancers in this group, fell ill and had to miss the tour.]

Dance director

Kaberi Chatterjee

Additional choreography for Uttiyo and Bojroshen

Shubhra Tagore

Technicians

– Debanshu Majumder (Lighting designer)

– Ambika Bhandary (Make-up)

– Enrique Nicanor (Digital projection/’Making of’ documentary)

– Obhi Chatterjee (Director/Subtitling/Soundtrack)

With thanks to Sangeet Bhavana, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan for the use of the Sangeet Bhavana stage for rehearsals, as well as for the participation of Asst Professor Basanta Mukherjee and Sangeet Bhavana students.

Uttiyo (Ambika Bhandary) and Shyama’s companions (Sunipa Chakraborty, Puja Gupta, Tamalika Dey, Trina Ruj & Tuli Mukherjee)

The recorded soundtrack for the performances was an adapted version of the soundtrack from our film version of Shyama, which was performed by:

Principal singers

Manini Mukhopadhyay (Shyama)

Jayanta Chatterjee (Bojroshen)

Prasanta Kumar Ghosh (Uttiyo)

Ashok Kumar Ganguly (Kotal)

Friend – singer

Priyam Mukherjee

Shyama’s companions – singers

Ritapa Bhattacharya, Sikha Chatterjee Chakroborty & Manini Mukhopadhyay

Musicians

Sunil Kabiraj (Esraj)

Dipak Das (Sitar)

Animesh Chandra (Synthesiser & esraj)

Debasis Hazra (Pakhwaj, tabla, khol & dhol)

Ch Bocha Singh (Manipuri pung)

Dilip Birbonshi (Mandira)

Music director

Ashok Kumar Ganguly

Music arrangers

Animesh Chandra

Debasis Hazra

 

The performances were very well-received. In Part 2, I’ll describe how the tour went.

The team on stage during the presentations after the Giza performance   Photo: Enrique Nicanor

Kaberi Chatterjee preparing to present an uttoriyo to the representative of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture on behalf of the team. On the right is Mrs Suchitra Durai, Director of the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture.   Photo: Enrique Nicanor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 112011
 

Inner Eye’s Tagore dance film trilogy with Kaberi Chatterjee in the title roles

Five years after starting to prepare filming Shyama, we are now close to completing Chitrangada, the third and final feature film in our trilogy of authentic versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas (the other two being Chandalika and Shyama). As a result of making these films and translating Tagore’s texts for their subtitles, I have now had the opportunity to explore all three dance-dramas intensively and from a western perspective. This has made me realise that they are no less worthy of the international stage than classical western ballet or opera. Perhaps it’s time for a new dawn in the world of ballet and opera to come from the East … .

Up to now, few outside the Bengali diaspora have been aware of Tagore’s dance-dramas, even though they attract large Bengali audiences whenever they are staged and most of their songs are well-known to Bengalis. This is perhaps because the dance-dramas have not been translated before and their performances outside India and Bangladesh tend to be one-off events aimed at Bengali-speaking communities. As a result, even among those around the world who are aware of Tagore’s literary genius but who do not understand Bengali (and perhaps the children of Bengali parents brought up in non-Bengali environments), Tagore’s dance-dramas might appear to be little more than a quaint experiment in his later years.

In reality, the dance-dramas are probably the most accomplished works created by Tagore, combining his poetry with music, drama and the semi-classical dance form he created. The plots of all three were based on legends which Tagore adapted to express his humanist message about powerful, timeless and universal themes: the hurt inflicted on people by social prejudice, the difficulties of reconciling public image with private life and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for love. Kaberi’s forthcoming book ‘Tagore Dance’, based on her PhD research, reveals the original creation of the Tagore dance form. Kaberi has made the introduction to her book available as a free download from her website.

In the case of Chitrangada, which is based on an episode from the epic Mahabharata, Tagore had written a play based on the same episode almost 50 years earlier. It was called Chitra, which you can read in the Internet archive. It’s not clear exactly when Tagore wrote Chitra: there are online versions with the dates 1892 and 1896 but, according to the preface of the 1913 edition printed in English by the India Society, it was written ‘about twenty five years ago’, ie, in about 1888.

Incidentally, thanks to Dr Asok Chaudhuri, I learned that the Tagore notebook from autumn 1928 which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on Tuesday includes the lyrics of two songs which were later included by Tagore in Chitrangada.

In recent years, opera houses around the world have been equipped to show subtitles of operas being performed in their original language, whether above the stage or on the backs of seats. We will be using the subtitles from our film version of Shyama (in English and, we hope, Arabic) when Kaberi and her team from Santiniketan perform Shyama live next month in Egypt, including at the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses.

Through the Tagore dance film trilogy and its subtitles, apart from preserving Tagore’s original concept, we would like to ensure that Tagore’s dance-dramas join Western operas and ballet on the world stage. We have decided to postpone the release of Chitrangada until around 7 May 2012, the end of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary year. This is to allow more time to arrange its gala charity world première in a way which brings Tagore and his dance-dramas to the attention of dance and opera lovers around the world.

If you would like to help us, please comment below or post on the wall of the Facebook page of the Tagore dance film trilogy. Your help could take one or more of a variety of forms:

  • telling your friends about Tagore, the dance-dramas and the films;
  • downloading the introduction to Kaberi’s book Tagore Dance and joining the mailing list for news about it (see button below);
  • hosting a screening of one or more of the films; translating the subtitles into more languages;
  • helping out at the gala charity world première of Chitrangada;
  • persuading a local hall with a digital projector to join a global première by screening the (live) introduction from the main gala charity event followed by Chitrangada subtitled in the local language;
  • recommending potential sponsors for the première, including the online global promotion and distribution of the films;
  • moral support by liking this post and/or the Facebook pages of the trilogy and each of the films;
  • any other help or advice you would like to offer.
Apr 272011
 

Inner Eye's logo for the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore

In less than two weeks, it will be the 150th birth anniversary of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who was born on 7 May 1861. Strictly speaking, his birthday was on the 25th of the Bengali month Boishakh, which is the first month of the Bengali calendar. This is not always the same date in the Gregorian calendar. The Bengali New Year (poila Boishakh) is celebrated by Bangladesh on 14 April and by Bengalis in India on 15 April.

Since setting up the Tagore150 Facebook page and the @tagore150 Twitter account last year, I have been thrilled to discover and relay the activities that people all over the world are organising to celebrate the anniversary. I’ve also seen that, every hour, many people are tweeting Tagore quotes in various languages. This is especially impressive since, apart from being written at least 70 years ago, the majority of Tagore’s work still hasn’t been translated from Bengali.

It is no surprise to me that Tagore’s words resonate with people all over the world, even today. Much of his writing is based on his observation of human nature, and is in a style which is both timeless and universal.

For our own contribution to the birth anniversary celebrations, Kaberi and I have been busy making film versions of his dance-dramas Chandalika (1933) – see trailer below – and Chitrangada (1936).  We filmed them in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan in December and January respectively with the help of a very talented team of singers, dancers and musicians who are based there. We are especially fortunate that, for both productions, Subhra Tagore agreed to be the dance director and production designer and that Bulbul Bose agreed to be the music director.

Chandalika will have its world premiere on 8 May in Stratford-upon-Avon as the concluding event of the Tagore weekend being organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – see details below. Dr Shamimul Moula, one of our Facebook fans who is based in Bangladesh, has very kindly drawn our attention to a paper by Dhriti Rai Dalai and Panchanan Dalai which explores the connection between Chandalika and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as possibly A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For more background about Chandalika, you may also find this paper by Sutapa Chaudhuri worth reading.

Here is the programme for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Tagore weekend. To reserve a place at any of the events in the Tagore weekend, please email friends@shakespeare.org.uk or call 01789 204016.

Saturday, 7th May

 3pm Tagore-style tree-planting ceremony (brikkhoropon)
Celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore with a dance procession and tree planting ceremony led by Kaberi Chatterjee at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage to commemorate his birth.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage


Sunday, 8th May

1pm Celebrating Tagore
Join Kaberi, Jayanta & Obhi Chatterjee and friends at Tagore’s bust in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace for a special musical ceremony commemorating Tagore’s birth.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace Garden

2.30pm Tea with Tagore
Join Obhi Chatterjee as he recites excerpts from Tagore’s poetry. Diana Owen, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will speak about the influences of Shakespeare on Tagore. Refreshments will follow.
Tickets are £7.50 (£5 Friends)
The Shakespeare Centre, 2.30pm

7.30pm Chandalika – world première
World première of Obhi Chatterjee’s feature film version of ‘Chandalika’, one of Tagore’s three dance-dramas. Introduced by Kaberi and Obhi Chatterjee, with live dance illustrations, and followed by a question-and-answer session.
Tickets are £5. They are available inside the Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse at Windsor Place, online or by calling the booking line: 0871 902 5741.
Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse Cinema

Nov 132010
 

Shyama releases Bojroshen

In case you don’t know, I’m about to make my second and third feature films back-to-back. Like the first film (Shyama), they are ‘dance-dramas’ by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

We will be filming in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan, India, at the university set up by him. In both of the films, Kaberi will be dancing the title role, as she did in Shyama.

UNESCO will be celebrating Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary next year, although the celebrations started in May this year. Last month, the Spanish version of Shyama had its premiere at the Ourense Film Festival, Galicia, as part of a special section dedicated to Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.

Kaberi also performed at different events during the week. See my blog post Shyama at the Ourense Film Festival for more details, including links to the extensive press coverage of our activities during the festival.

There’s a 2-minute video explaining the project on its crowdfunding campaign page: http://trilogy.fundbreak.co.uk . You’ll find rewards ranging from updates and digital downloads of all three films to a one-to-one dance lesson with Kaberi via Skype and your name in the end credits of the films. To become a supporter, the minimum pledge is just £1 (US$1.61 / €1.18 / Rs72).

If you could circulate the link to your various networks, that would be very helpful. We have to reach our ‘seed money’ funding goal of £5,000 by 17 November at midday UK time, to avoid all the pledges made by then going back to the supporters. We still have quite a long way to go!

You may be interested to read these two articles about the trilogy. ‘Embracing the Recognition Economy‘ in Digital Cinema Report focuses on the business model behind the trilogy. ‘Dance film trilogy highlights Tagore’s humanist message‘ in the Jim Luce Stewardship Report explores the humanism underlying these three works by Tagore.

Aug 222010
 

Online artwork for webseries Kaberi's Indian cooking

You may be wondering why Kaberi and I have suddenly turned our attention to Indian cooking. Well, it’s not the first time Kaberi has thought of something less specialised than pure Indian dance – see Kaberi’s Indian dance workout. We’ve been thinking about this cooking webseries for a few months but never quite found the time to launch it. A discussion last month with our friends Martin and Nathalie, which I mentioned in my blog post ‘Food for thought’, spurred us into action.

At the beginning of August, we invited them and our friends Judy and Ian to spend a Sunday evening with us to help us film the first episode. The concept is that Kaberi explains to a maximum of four guests how she is preparing the evening dinner for all of us, including how she allocates her preparation time between the different dishes (a practical detail quite often absent from cooking programmes). The videos and recipes are published on a dedicated Kaberi’s Indian cooking Facebook page, inviting people to post their feedback, photos and experience of making the recipes. The contents of the Facebook page are visible to anyone but only Facebook members are able to ‘Like’ the page and contribute to it.

If nothing else, we would spend a series of pleasant evenings in the company of our friends preparing and eating original, Indian food. However, we hope that the series will find an audience, whether among non-Indians interested in learning how to make quick, healthy Indian food or among expatriate Indians in search of ways to recreate familiar dishes in unfamiliar surroundings.

Kaberi wants to use the series to pass the message that not all Indian food is served with a rich, heavy sauce – a practical shortcut taken by many Indian restaurants outside India – or so hot as to require a fire extinguisher to hose down the remains of your taste buds after the meal. From the initial feedback on the Facebook page, we’ve realised that the series will be of particular interest to those who relocate outside India whether for work or after marrying – an experience Kaberi went through herself, as documented in my short film Adapting.

We already have two HD cameras since filming Shyama, which we’ve been using to film the Shyama podcast series. Having seen in Gerd Leonhard’s presentation about the future of film and cinema that the HD video capabilities of the iPhone 4 have already been used to make a short film, we used my iPhone 4 as a third HD camera.  With one camera on a tripod, the iPhone 4 mounted discreetly in a serviette holder on top of the microwave oven (you’ll spot it if you look very carefully in the video), and the other camera on a Steadicam Merlin, we covered all angles of the worktop and cooking area, while following the action and explanations.

Then, editing with Final Cut Pro and titling using Motion, as well as composing and recording the title music using Logic Pro, Soundtrack Pro and a couple of the Indian instruments I play, we have arrived at episode 1 of the webseries. As you will see, it’s around 30 minutes, divided into two parts of just under 15 minutes each. Apart from recognising that people have limited time these days, this fits within YouTube’s recently increased upload limit, as well as Facebook’s slightly longer limit of 20 minutes. Episode 2, which we filmed last weekend, should require less time and effort to complete!

The choice of focusing on the Facebook page rather than on Kaberi’s website is not entirely accidental: apart from Facebook now having over 500 million members, the Facebook community page on Cooking is one of its most popular, with over 3.5 million fans at the time of writing. Facebook provides an impressively well-connected way for people to find out about and interact with content such as Kaberi’s Indian cooking. People, starting with our immediate circle of Facebook friends, can ‘Like’ the page [please take a look and do so now if you’re on Facebook], post their own comments, photos and recipes and interact directly with Kaberi. Each time they do so, they raise awareness of the page, the webseries and Kaberi among their friends.

The webseries is available free to its viewers. Like all of the audiovisual works, music and books produced by Kaberi’s company Inner Eye, it is released under a Creative Commons licence allowing personal copying. If enough people like it (as evidenced, for example, by the number of fans on the Facebook page and/or the number of views and the rating on YouTube), maybe a sponsor might be interested in having their logo at the start of future episodes but certainly more people would be aware of Kaberi … and perhaps follow the link to her website or explore the favourite pages on the Facebook page of Kaberi’s Indian cooking to discover her other projects related to Indian dance and Tagore. Maybe a broadcaster or cable channel might pick up the series. Maybe the people who like it might even join the crowd funding effort for our next two film projects (film versions of Tagore’s other two dance dramas, Chandalika & Chitrangada, to complete our Tagore dance film trilogy). The episodes and recipes (fine-tuned via the Facebook discussion) might even be combined for an iPhone/iPad app and the recipes might go into a book to accompany the series which people could consult more easily while cooking. Who knows?

This is where I should thank our friend Sheri Candler (@shericandler on Twitter), the independent film marketing and publicity specialist, for all the information and advice in her tweets and for recommending me to follow media futurist Gerd Leonhard (@gleonhard on Twitter). As Gerd noted in his recent article about the future of content in a connected economy, “transactions are always a consequence of attention and attraction, interaction, communication, engagement, and trust. It is never the other way round.” This is why, as well as being fun to do, Kaberi’s Indian cooking should contribute to the revenues of Kaberi’s company in due course, one way or another.

Thanks also to Luci Temple (@lucitemple on Twitter) for drawing my attention to the TED talk by Johanna Blakley on what creators can learn from fashion’s free culture – note particularly her graph comparing the relative turnovers of the fashion industry and the entertainment industry (although I see from her latest blog post that that hasn’t stopped certain US politicians from feeling they have to do something ‘protective’). Finally, thanks to Ross Pruden (@rosspruden on Twitter) for setting up the Infinite Distribution panelsearch for #infdist on Twitter – and to all the panellists for sharing their ideas, links, advice and encouragement, all of which continue to inspire Kaberi and me in designing, distributing and promoting our creative projects.

Jun 072010
 

If you have been wondering where Kaberi and I disappeared to, perhaps this leaflet about our Tagore dance film trilogy will give you an idea.

I have finally succumbed to the suggestion of various friends, particularly Lambros, that I start a blog. Through our Shyama podcast, Kaberi and I are trying to offer answers to the many questions about Shyama and Rabindranath Tagore which people watching our film version of Shyama have been prompted to ask us.

This blog is more about my personal interests, though the link with our Tagore dance film trilogy is inescapable since the trilogy brings together my interests in films, Tagore and digital thinking. I hope you’ll find them interesting too.

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