Jun 252017
 

In today’s Observer, Andrew Rawnsley writes that ‘That jeering sound you can hear is Europe laughing at Britain‘.

Though European leaders are too polite to put it so bluntly, they think that this country, once thought to be a nation of level-headed pragmatists, has taken leave of its senses. First, Britons narrowly vote to quit the world’s largest and richest free trade area. Then, at an election less than 12 months later, Britons split their support between the parties in such a way that there is no consensus in parliament about the terms on which Britain should leave. There is not even agreement about how to proceed on Brexit within the riven ruling party. Ridicule abroad is matched by ridicule at home.

Earlier last week, many on social media noted that even the Queen, who is not supposed to intervene in political matters, appeared to be sending a subliminal message through her choice of hat, the colour of her dress and her delivery of the Queen’s Speech. Some noted that, by putting her handbag on the floor as well, she was signalling that she was not amused by what she was obliged to read in the Queen’s Speech.

The ridicule is not limited to Europe. Here is a view from Australia’s ABC News:

Huw Parkinson turns to the fallout from the recent UK general election. Having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to “get on with the job of government” (and to seek the Holy Grail).

Meanwhile, in India, the Hindustan Times reported that the UK was looking to India to find nurses to fill a reported 40,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS. Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson and Carshalton & Wallington MP, Tom Brake, drew attention to the impact of Brexit on our local hospital, which is the opposite of the extra £350 million per week which Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners had said would be spent on the NHS if the UK left the EU:

At St Helier Hospital, they are no longer recruiting nurses from Spain, Portugal and Italy, partly because [the nurses] don’t know what their future is [without any guarantee from the UK Government of the rights of EU citizens in the UK], but also because the value of the pound has dropped and therefore they have less to send home as remittances and therefore they are not coming. So what the hospital is doing instead is to recruit nurses from India and the Philippines. The only difference, apart from the fact that it is harder, is that they have to pay £1,000 a visa to get them … really clever!”

Jolyon Maugham QC summarised the effect of the year since the EU Referendum in the UK as follows:

This is purely due to the uncertainty created by the Tories even before the UK has left the EU. Of course, all of this hardship and uncertainty for millions of people has been the result of attempting to keep the pro-EU and anti-EU wings of the Tory party together. So it is extremely rich for a Tory politician like Andrea Leadsom to interrupt a BBC Newsnight interviewer by saying that ‘if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic’ about negotiations with the EU to refuse to answer a question about what the UK Government actually wants to achieve with Brexit a year after the referendum. This from a political party which has put its own interests ahead of those of the people of the country and made the UK a global laughing stock.

So what was Brexit supposed to be about? Taking back control of laws, borders and money, apparently. Well the Queen’s Speech for the next two years included 7 new pieces of legislation to try to make up for the EU laws which would not apply if ever the UK were to succeed in leaving the EU.

And why would the UK want to take back control of laws? Well, it was all about reducing red tape. The sort of red tape that could have prevented the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. This disaster underlined why regulations and regulators are needed: it’s to keep the public safe.

Sky News Political Editor Faisal Islam revealed last week that the Building Research Establishment had prepared a presentation in June 2014 about The fire performance of building envelopes. The presentation included a list of such fires dating back to 1991.

Knowsley Heights – 1991

Basingstoke – 1992

Irvine – 1999

Paddington, London – 2003

The Edge, Manchester – 2004

Windsor Tower, Madrid – 2005

Berlin  2005

Hungary 2009

Dijon France 2010

Chechnya

UAE

USA

The presentation also included diagrams showing how fires spread in buildings with external cladding, such as Grenfell Tower.

The fire risks of such cladding were examined in 1999/2000 by the Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regulatory Affairs after the fire in Irvine, Ayrshire on 11 September 1999. Unfortunately, it seems that successive Government Ministers since then refused to adapt the Building Regulations fully to take these risks into account.

As Thomas Lane wrote in BDOnline soon after the fire:

There have been many calls for Part B, the regulation dealing with fire safety, to be revised in response to the risks of external fire spread via the cladding. As far back as 2000 a parliamentary committee investigating a fatal fire at Garnock Court in Ayrshire in 1999 where fire spread externally via the cladding said the guidance in Part B might not be adequate to prevent the external spread of fire. It said external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread. It also said it should not take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks. This advice was not incorporated into the 2010 revision of Part B. Since then there has been the Lakanal House fire where six people died. The coroner’s 2013 report into this disaster found problems with fire safety including the building’s fire resistance.

Instead the government has sat on its hands and Part B remains unrevised allowing the use of cladding systems such as the one used on Grenfell Tower.

I should mention that my father was Head of Building Regulations for England and Wales in the late 1980s. So I grew up knowing that he was investigating High Alumina Cement, whose tendency to become porous had been responsible for a series of building collapses – including the Morden Swimming baths, where I learned to swim. When he took over the job, my father decided to go back to first principles, to why Building Regulations first started to be put in place. Their origin was the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666, when a small fire in a bakery had destroyed most of the city. That would appear to have been forgotten lately, perhaps as part of David Cameron’s pledge to “kill off the safety culture” to permit a “bonfire of red tape” to liberate the UK economy.

Yesterday, Sutton Council Leader Ruth Dombey said of the Grenfell Tower disaster that “All I do know is that their cladding was the cheap stuff. Their cladding was the stuff that you use when you want to cut corners. … We have two Council-owned tower blocks here in Sutton with cladding. They have both been tested. They are both up to the highest possible standards but, in spite of that, at 9:00 on Monday morning, we are taking off a panel from each of those two tower blocks to get it tested, just to be absolutely sure it’s OK. In the meantime, one of the two tower blocks already has a sprinkler system. We believe it was the first tower block in the whole country to have a sprinkler system installed and the other tower block will have a sprinkler system installed very soon.

“But what was so different between our response and the response of Tory-run Kensington & Chelsea is that, a few hours after we realised the tragedy, we were knocking on doors on every single flat in those tower blocks, together with the Fire Service, and the organisation that runs the Tenants’ Association. And we were talking to people who live there, reassuring them, listening to their concerns and answering their questions. The Council and Councillors have to be present. They have to be visible. They have to be there to deal with things when they go wrong as take the credit when things go right.”

So far, the Leave campaigners who got the country into its current mess of starting negotiations to leave the EU without much of a plan, then calling an inconclusive General Election without any clear consensus of what the plan is now, have been rather invisible.

As David Allen Green noted in the Financial Times, the diminishing public enthusiasm for Brexit is similar to the story of the Poll Tax, which was originally proposed as a brilliant idea by Margaret Thatcher, until everyone realised how unfair (and unpopular) it really was.

And maybe, since the UK Government appears to be singularly unprepared for the Brexit negotiations, Gina Miller’s observation could be quite astute.

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!

Dec 312012
 

Candle image posted by Google India

Sexual violence in India

Over the past two weeks, India’s news has been dominated by the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi while on her way home with her fiancé after going to the cinema. By Western media standards, it is almost a miracle that her real name has not been published. Instead, the Indian media have named her Nirbhaya (fearless one/braveheart), Amanat (after a TV soap opera about a father with seven daughters) or Damini (after the heroine of a hit film who refuses to let a rapist escape justice).

Unfortunately, this was just one example of the violence faced by women in India. Even as the protests mounted, an 18-year-old gang-rape victim committed suicide in Punjab after coming under pressure from police either to come to a financial settlement with her attackers or to marry one of them! According to Russia Today, “Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women. However the real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police.”

Several of our friends and relatives in India have joined the online protests, with some changing their social media profile pictures to a black square or a black circle following news of the death of Nirbhaya/Amanat/Damini on Friday night. On Saturday morning, “RIP Nirbhaya” was the #1 topic on Twitter in India, where 8 of the top ten trending topics were related to it.

Some have been calling for the death penalty for rapists, although there is no evidence that this would discourage rape. Rather, as suggested by a protestor and social worker interviewed by the BBC, it could encourage rapists to kill their victims to ensure that their crime was not reported.

The public outcry has led to a number of analyses of how India treats its women and drew attention to its “rape culture“. A male Indian MP, who is the son of India’s President, dismissed the protestors as “pretty women who were dented and painted” who had “no contact with ground reality”. However, the fierce reaction to his remarks (such as this ironic open letter) obliged him to withdraw them.

The initially muted reactions of senior politicians contrasted sharply with the emotional reactions of the protestors. Perhaps the underlying reason for the former is the challenge of changing attitudes which have been endemic in Indian culture for centuries. For example, this article identified 10 reasons why India has a sexual violence problem and the above Al Jazeera discussion explores what it would take to confront India’s ‘culture of rape’.

Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation

Tagore was clearly conscious of this and the women in his works are often strong and outspoken, while suffering from tradition. His campaign for women’s emancipation was decades ahead of equivalent thinking in the West. There have been many scholarly analyses of the female characters in his works and some see his legacy regarding women’s role in society as being one of his most important contributions (see, for example, Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy lies in the freedom-seeking women of his fiction).

“Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

As well as being one of the media names for the Delhi gang-rape victim, Damini is the name of the female protagonist in Tagore’s 1916 novella Chaturanga (Broken Ties or, more literally, Quartet). Damini’s role in Chaturanga, in which she represents truth and innocence, has been compared to those of Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Stella in Rattigan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. All the female characters in Chaturanga suffer at the hands of men, with two of them committing suicide as a result.

In his novel Jogajog, (Contact), Tagore highlights the issue of marital rape. In his short story Shasthi (Punishment), two brothers work in the fields all day while their wives stay at home to cook, clean and bring up a child. When one of the brothers kills his wife for explaining that there is no food because he hadn’t brought home enough money, the ‘pillar of the village’ (a man) helps them to pass the blame onto the other wife, who is subsequently executed.

In 1936, Tagore campaigned more overtly for women to step out of the precincts of their homes and play a greater role in society. His paper Nari (Women) was part of his campaign, which included speeches and his dance-drama Chitrangada. Perhaps it is no coincidence that 1936 was also the year in which Victoria Ocampo, Tagore’s “distant muse“, co-founded the Argentine Union of Women.

In fact, all three of Tagore’s dance-dramas (ChitrangadaChandalika and Shyama) are centred on female characters who live at the fringes of society – a warrior princess, an untouchable and a courtesan. Dr Sutapa Chaudhuri has written an interesting analysis of the expression of self and female desire in Tagore’s dance-dramas. She provides more detail in her paper on class, caste and gender in Chandalika.

Tagore created a social revolution by pioneering coeducation at his school in Santiniketan. However, parents still resisted allowing their daughters to dance on stage for many years for fear that they would be viewed by society as prostitutes. The criticism of women dressing “provocatively” is perhaps the modern version of this attitude, without daring to challenge the indecency of those men who molest women.

Where the mind is without fear …

Not surprisingly, several commentaries on the Delhi rape have cited Tagore’s poem Where the mind is without fear as being an as-yet unfulfilled dream for women. Some have pointed out that several elected Indian politicians have been charged with rape – a factor which would be a major electoral liability in Western democracies. Yet it seems to be viewed as being acceptable/unavoidable, male behaviour by a patriarchal, Indian society in which the ratio of girls to boys is one of the lowest in the world.

“Rape happens everywhere: it happens inside homes, in families, in neighbourhoods, in police stations, in towns and cities, in villages, and its incidence increases, as is happening in India, as society goes through change, as women’s roles begin to change, as economies slow down and the slice of the pie becomes smaller — and it is connected to all these things. Just as it is integrally and fundamentally connected to the disregard, and indeed the hatred, for females that is so evident in the killing of female foetuses. For so widespread a crime, band aid solutions are not the answer.” – Urvashi Butalia, The Hindu

Just before Christmas, Valerian Santos wrote to India’s Prime Minister proposing stronger laws to ensure better security for women in India. His son Keenan Santos, together with his friend Reuben Fernandes, was stabbed to death by a mob for taking on a man who had harassed their female friends in Mumbai in October 2011. In addition to the comments from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon above, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has called for profound change in India in the wake of the gang-rape tragedy.

Of course, India is not the only country in the world where women suffer sexual violence. However, as I write just after the start of 2013 there, it seems to be the only country whose people have found the collective will to begin to tackle the problem. As India’s people, particularly the younger generation, seek a new dawn in attitudes towards women, they (and indeed people of other countries) may find that Tagore’s works could offer inspiration on changing society to empower and respect women.

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 182012
 

Poster for the Brussels premiere of Chitrangada

On Thursday, we received the posters and ‘visiting cards’ for the premiere from the printers. Kaberi and I were both excited to see the results. Between this and travelling, I am again running over a day behind schedule with my blog post. To catch up, I include an update for yesterday’s developments as well.

One of these was the confirmation that our friend Adriana Opromolla, who translated the subtitles of Shyama into Italian, will be in Brussels to recite a poem in Italian during The Story of Gitanjali at the premiere of Chitrangada. While looking for the Italian translations of the poems in The Story of Gitanjali for her, I discovered that there have been around 12 Italian editions of the Gitanjali over the years.

Adriana had also kindly provided the Italian voiceover of one of our first audiovisual efforts: a trailer for Kaberi’s Manipuri dance performances.

I had mentioned in my previous post that Tagore’s works are being translated into Chinese. Yesterday morning, I heard that Chitrangada has been translated into Chinese by Professor Mao Shichang of Lanzhou University. In March 2012, at his initiative, students at Lanzhou University staged a Chinese language production of Chitrangada for the first time.

In January 2011, Professor Shichang wrote a paper on Tagore’s philosophy of universal love – Tagore and China. Professor Shichang is clearly a fan of Tagore. His PhD from Jawarhalal Nehru University in Delhi was on the depiction of women in Tagore’s literature.

According to an article in China Daily reporting on the performance of Chitrangada in March, when Tagore visited China in 1924, an English adaptation of his play Chitra was performed to celebrate his birthday. Tagore had originally written Chitra in 1892 and returned to it over four decades later to develop it into the dance-drama Chitrangada in 1936.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Professor Shichang revealed that his association with Tagore began in his childhood, when he had read Tagore’s poems, “which refreshed and warmed my thirsty soul like spring wind”. It was his dream to study Tagore in India, as he did from 2002. The performance of Chitrangada in Chinese with 60 students from eight departments of Lanzhou University became a tribute that he had never imagined he would be able to give to Tagore.

According to Professor Shichang, “Chinese people like the natural and fresh style of [Tagore’s] writing. His spiritualism echoes in people’s hearts. … [Chinese people], no matter whether they believe in religion or not, feel some supernatural power through his works. …Modern people can seek peace and sobriety, and avoid the hustle and bustle of their lives, through Tagore.”

Ambassador Jaishankar, the Indian Ambassador to China, added that “There is a sense of Tagore as an intellectual bridge between India and China, and as a person who stood up for China during difficult days. There is also a much greater appreciation of Tagore today, and of the things he said back in the 1920s. … there isn’t a single Chinese university where they do not know Tagore.”

I hope some day Kaberi and I have the opportunity to meet Professor Shichang.

Jul 282012
 

Performing ‘The Story of Gitanjali’ in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

As I mentioned in a recent post, to celebrate Rabindranath Tagore’s 151st birth anniversary in May, a few of us performed The Story of Gitanjali in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This year is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the English Gitanjali, the collection of poetry which led to Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

In particular, September 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Tagore completing the proof of the English Gitanjali, which was first published by the India Society of London in November 1912. The collection was Tagore’s own translation of 103 poems he had written originally in Bengali and included a preface by W B Yeats.

The Gitanjali was widely translated, especially after Tagore won the Nobel Prize. So far, I have found the following translations of the Gitanjali online: english español ελληνικά français हिंदी magyar nederlands română. I would be happy to hear about other translations.

The global premiere of our film version of Tagore’s dance-drama Chitrangada on September 23 will be centred on a charity gala event in Brussels in aid of Sishutirtha children’s home and school in Santiniketan, India. Kaberi explained the connection between our film and Sishutirtha in her blog recently. We will be restaging The Story of Gitanjali before the film especially for the event, both as an introduction to Tagore and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his completion of the English Gitanjali.

Since the charity gala event will be in the capital of Europe, I thought it would be nice if each of the 13 poems in the 1-hour show could be presented in a different European language. We are still looking for actors in some languages, so please let me know if you are or if you know an actor based in Brussels who would like to take part.

A small team of singers and musicians from India will be performing the corresponding Bengali songs. As at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, I’ll be narrating and directing the performance. The Story of Gitanjali will be relayed live to audiences in other venues participating in the global premiere. English and French subtitles will be projected on a screen behind the performers.

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.

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.
%d bloggers like this: