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.

Aug 152012

Sayan performing at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan, Kolkata, 10 September 2011

Oops! While translating the subtitles of the penultimate scene of Chitrangada last night, I missed my turn to give you an update on our daily progress. So here it is – better late than never.

I realise that my introduction to Sayan Bandyopadhyay in my post about gathering the team for The Story of Gitanjali was quite brief. Now I have the opportunity to provide more detail.

Sayan’s solo performance at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan, Kolkata, September 2011

Kaberi and I began yesterday by exploring Sayan’s page on ReverbNation. We ended up listening to all 12 of his songs published there, which included 8 from his solo performance at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Kolkata on 10 September 2011. If you are one of the many millions of fans of Rabindrasangeet (Tagore songs) around the world, you will be impressed. We are very pleased and honoured that Sayan has agreed to join us in Brussels for The Story of Gitanjali on 23 September.

Later in the day, I spoke to flamenco teacher and dancer Luisa Castellanos about reciting one of the Gitanjali poems in Spanish for The Story of Gitanjali. Meanwhile, Kaberi continued to explore online ticketing options.

I also started to prepare the sequence which will be projected above the performers during The Story of Gitanjali. It’s quite a challenge to include live subtitling but I now know how we’ll be doing it.

I also realised that the Wikipedia article on the Gitanjali hardly did justice to its subject. At least I think I’ve managed to resolve the long-running conflict between authors disputing how to reflect the distinction between the Bengali Gitanjali and the English Gitanjali. It still needs further fixing – perhaps someone else would like to do so?

A friend mentioned that Pankaj Mishra refers to Tagore in his new book, From the ruins of empire. This article about A Poet Unwelcome is an adapted extract from the book about Tagore’s ‘unkind reception in China’ in 1924.

This reminded me to see if we could make contact with the team which has been translating Tagore’s works into Chinese. In doing so, I noticed that the first Chinese collection of Tagore’s songs was released recently and that Chitrangada was staged at the Lanzhou University.

The day ended with going back to translating Chitrangada … and my missing my blogging cue!

Finally, as today is the 65th anniversary of Indian independence, a ‘happy birthday’ to Indians around the world. A reminder of my blog post exactly a year ago about Tagore and the Indian national anthem.

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.
Jul 172011

Rabindranath Tagore

For his 80th birthday in 1941, Tagore wrote what was to be his last speech. It was entitled Civilisation’s crisis. As Western countries struggle to deal with an economic crisis, the speech is in some ways as relevant today as when he wrote it.

An English version of the speech was featured by in a special series of Great speeches of modern India to celebrate the 60th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. They have divided it into five parts. Part 1 – Introduction; Part 2 – What is civilisation?; Part 3 – An intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism; Part 4 – The social fabric is being rent to shreds; Part 5 – Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East . To read the speech in Bengali, see সভ্যতার সংকট.

Some sources suggest that the speech was delivered in Santiniketan in Tagore’s presence to mark the Bengali New Year on 14 April 1941. However, as the speech begins literally “Today, my age has completed eighty years”, it seems more likely that it was delivered during the celebrations of his 80th birthday on 7 May 1941.

At the time the speech was made, Tagore was reflecting on a Europe embroiled in the second World War. As we approach the 70th anniversary of Tagore’s death on 7 August 1941, many Western countries find themselves struggling to recover from an economic crisis. At the same time, an international media organisation finds itself at the centre of attention over an apparent lack of scruples at one of its most popular publications when obtaining information for its news reports.


Tagore begins by observing that, in the late 19th century, the English were viewed by Indian political leaders as a generous race since “England at the time provided a shelter to all those who had to flee from persecution in their own country. Political martyrs who had suffered for the honour of their people were accorded unreserved welcome at the hands of the English. … This generosity in their national character had not yet been vitiated by imperialist pride.”

What is civilisation?

After initially holding the English concept of ‘civilisation’ in high esteem as representing ‘proper conduct’, Tagore refers to “a painful feeling of disillusion when I began increasingly to discover how easily those who accepted the highest truths of civilization disowned them with impunity whenever questions of national self-interest were involved. … As I emerged into the stark light of bare facts, the sight of the dire poverty of the Indian masses rent my heart. Rudely shaken out of my dreams, I began to realize that perhaps in no other modern state was there such hopeless dearth of the most elementary needs of existence. And yet it was this country whose resources had fed for so long the wealth and magnificence of the British people.”

An intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism

Tagore contrasts the efforts of Russia to fight disease and illiteracy with the approach in India: “when I look about my own country and see a very highly evolved and intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism, I cannot help contrasting the two systems of governments, one based on co-operation, the other on exploitation, which have made such contrary conditions possible.”

The social fabric is being rent to shreds

Tagore’s references to Iran and Afghanistan appear odd today as countries which “were marching ahead, [while] India, smothered under the dead weight of British administration, lay static in her utter helplessness. Another great and ancient civilization for whose recent tragic history the British cannot disclaim responsibility, is China.” Of course, it is India and China which are now considered to be among the economic superpowers while the recent histories of Iran and Afghanistan are less fortunate.

“If in its place [the British] have established, with baton in hand, a reign of ‘law and order’, in other words a policeman’s rule, such mockery of civilization can claim no respect from us. It is the mission of civilization to bring unity among people and establish peace and harmony. But in unfortunate India the social fabric is being rent into shreds by unseemly outbursts of hooliganism daily growing in intensity, right under the very aegis of ‘law and order’.” Perhaps this image is now more closely associated with countries such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East

Tagore notes that he has been fortunate to meet “really large-hearted Englishmen”, particularly referring to C F Andrews, considering them to be “friends of the whole human race”.  However, he is concerned about what kind of India would be left after the British granted it independence. “When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth they will leave behind them!”

Nonetheless, he looks forward to a period “after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises.” From references earlier in the speech, he may have had Japan in mind. However, the economic crisis appears to have affected Asia far less than it has Western countries.

Tagore’s closing remark seems from the perspective of 2011 to be remarkably prescient:

“Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: ‘By unrighteousness, man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.'”

70 years on, as people in various countries have come together with the help of social media to demand collectively a more honest and less brutal regime, and as the economies of countries once referred to as “Third World” prepare to overtake those of their former rulers, Tagore seems to have been proved right.

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: . 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.

Jun 082010

Poster for My Name is Khan

Kaberi and I went to see this film last weekend. It’s quite a remarkable film in several ways and I’d recommend you to see it.

My name is Khan is an Indian film. To many in the West, this may bring to mind a 3-hour romantic film with a good-guy-falls-in-love-with-nice-girl-who-falls-for-bad-guy-but-is-rescued-by-good-guy-and-falls-in-love-and-they-live-happily-ever-after plot in which the main characters burst spontaneously into song on the slightest pretext and dozens of dancers appear from nowhere to join them in a series of dazzling song-and-dance routines.

At 2 hours 41 minutes, My name is Khan certainly has the right dimensions. Its main stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol are also a classic ‘Bollywood’ pair. But that’s where the stereotype ends because this is a very topical story about love, prejudice, tragedy and basic humanity with no singing (well, there is some) and no dancing.

Rizvan Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) is the older of two brothers who grows up in a middle-class household in Mumbai. He can repair anything but he is clearly different from other children and suffers their taunts. Only his mother makes the effort to understand him, to the envy of his younger brother, who leaves home at the earliest opportunity and goes to the US to find his fortune.

After his mother’s death, Rizvan travels to the US, where his sister-in-law notices his aversion to physical contact and eye contact, as well as his sensitivity to noise, the colour yellow and his tendency to repeat the actions he sees others doing. She realises that these characteristics and his social awkwardness are symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

After this, the film takes us through his romantic pursuit of single-mother hairdresser Mandira (played by Kajol). A more conventional film would have ended there, with them getting married and enjoying life with Mandira’s son Sam. Here, though, My name is Khan moves into the next phase of the story, which is triggered by the 9/11 attacks.

From this point on, the film takes a more serious turn, showing the hostility shown by Americans towards Muslims after these attacks and the reason behind Rizvan’s mission to tell the US President that ‘My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist’.  [You can read a more complete review of My name is Khan here .]

For me, although the style is very different from that of Tagore and Shyama, I recognised the underlying message of compassion and humanism triumphing over hatred and revenge. In this respect, the film shares Tagore’s vision. Unfortunately, the release of My name is Khan in India was marred by violent protests, with over 1,800 people arrested in Mumbai for vandalising cinemas advertising the film even before its release and the head of the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena group telling Shah Rukh Khan to move to Pakistan, or face ‘dire consequences’.

Now, my name is Chatterjee and I am not a Muslim but I do find it deeply disturbing that the intolerance which the film complained of in the US is also very present in India. Long before the partition of India in 1947 as part of its independence from Britain, Tagore, who was a Brahmo (a branch of Hinduism), was extremely concerned by the growing tension between Hindus and Muslims – India had long been a secular society. This was part of the historical context which led him to create Shyama in 1939.

In any case, I think My name is Khan is remarkable for having tackled the issue of intolerance in such a moving way. It is also remarkable for being very well made, out-doing many Hollywood films on style, acting, direction, music, photography and plot. The performances particularly by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol are very convincing and could have led to Oscar nominations … except that there is a certain intolerance among the Academy Awards which leads to all the non-English speaking films released in the US to be obliged to compete for only the ‘Best Foreign language film’ Oscar. Achieving a successful release in cinemas in several countries around the world is impressive too (thanks to Fox Searchlight, which also released Slumdog Millionaire).

Finally, a friend of ours pointed out a review which dismissed My name is Khan as ‘a US-set Bollywood film with a post-9-11 message and a disturbing similarity to “Forrest Gump”‘ and concluded that ‘While lacking big musical numbers, it still has Bollywood’s broad sentimentality and a cavalier attitude to reality. Bizarre but different.’ Those comments could have been written just by reading the synopsis … but perhaps they reveal a certain prejudice?

International trailer for My name is Khan

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