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 132012
 

Publicity photo for the Gold Hall, Square Brussels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.
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