Oct 062011

“Death is not extinguishing the light, it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

Rabindranath Tagore

This morning, I woke to the sad news of the premature death of Steve Jobs. He is acknowledged in the end credits of all three films of our Tagore dance film trilogy. This is not because we had any direct contact with him. It is because we simply would not have made the films (or indeed any of our audiovisual and musical output) without the affordable creative tools resulting from his visionary role at Apple.

The enthusiasm with which he would announce the endless possibilities of revolutionary new product after revolutionary new product was always infectious and inspiring. The only limits were those of our own imagination and creativity. Without that inspiration, I wouldn’t have sat down to see whether iMovie, which had just appeared as standard software on my then-iMac, could be used to put together a 45-minute documentary about Tagore dance for Kaberi’s PhD thesis.

From that adventure, my exploration of iMovie moved on to the trailer for Kaberi’s Manipuri dance performances and the promotional DVD it introduced. The DVD (made using iDVD) helped her to secure her first solo performances in Europe, including at the Nehru Centre in London and the Museum of Asian Arts in Nice.

None of this, though, was really what I considered to be a ‘film’ … but then I started wondering what the difference between film and video was. As a pure experiment, I took up the challenge of a Satyajit Ray Foundation competition to make a short film of up to 25 minutes on the experience of Asians. The result was Adapting, combining video we had shot since when we first met with sequences specially filmed to complete the narrative.

The film didn’t win anything in the competition. However, it gave me at least the satisfaction of documenting the major change of environment Kaberi had to go through after our marriage … as well as observing that everyone who watched it laughed in the right places and that some were even moved to tears by the end.

Our next audiovisual challenge was to devise a stage backdrop which would allow Kaberi to hold the attention of her audience for 90 minutes at London’s Purcell Room, despite being the only performer on the stage. By then, we were used to watching Steve Jobs introducing Apple products as the only performer on the stage against a huge, projected backdrop.

This led to us using Keynote – the cinematic presentation software originally developed as the medium for Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations – to project a virtual revolving set on a screen as a backdrop for Kaberi’s solo Manipuri dance performances. Maybe parking the iMac in a dark corner of the Purcell Room stage was a little unorthodox but it allowed me to introduce Kaberi’s dance performances, while using the iMac’s remote to change from one scene to the next.

By the time we started thinking about Kaberi’s Indian dance workout, I realised I’d outgrown iMovie and iDVD, not to mention Standard Definition. Final Cut Studio was needed. Seeing all the possibilities that offered, I suggested to Kaberi, perhaps rather rashly, that I could make a film of her performing in Santiniketan in a dance-drama. This was the birth of our film versions of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-dramas Shyama, Chandalika and Chitrangada.

Of course, as for millions of others, our iPod, iPhones and iPad have all become essential parts of our daily lives today, to the extent that we only stay in hotels with free wifi! All this to say that the visionary genius of Steve Jobs has had a profound and inspirational impact on our lives. Offering our special thanks to him in the end credits of the Tagore dance film trilogy is the least we could do.

The 15-minute video above of his Stanford University address to graduates encapsulates his advice to a younger generation, based on his personal experience of life – see here for the text.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs

Jun 152010

Rs150 & Rs 5 coins issued to commemorate Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary

Many have been looking forward to celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, which will be on May 7, 2011. So much so that some started celebrating over a year in advance.

UNESCO announced that it would be celebrating the anniversary, in the same way that it had celebrated Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961. That was marked by several notable events all over the world, including Satyajit Ray’s documentary Rabindranath Tagore and Teen Kanya, his trilogy of Tagore’s short stories The Postmaster, Monihara (the lost jewels) and Samapti (Conclusion). It was also the year when the classic HMV recording of Shyama was released with a memorable cast of singers, including Kanika Banerjee singing the role of Shyama.

Note that ‘Teen Kanya’ literally means ‘three daughters’ in Bengali. However, Teen Kanya was released internationally with only the first and last films of the trilogy (The Postmaster and Samapti) under the title ‘Two daughters’. The running time of each film is just under an hour and Monihara is just over an hour long – presumably this was the only reason for the disinheriting the middle sibling!

Last month, with a year to go before the 150th anniversary, the celebrations started getting more serious. India issued 150 rupee and 5 rupee commemorative coins to mark the occasion. Although the news of the release of a commemorative coin was widely reported, none of the articles included a photo of the coins themselves. I came across this photo on the Facebook page of India Coin News , which apparently spotted it in an article by Ravi Shanker Sharma.

Although Rabindranath Tagore is frequently referred to as being Indian, it is important to remember that the partition of the Indian subcontinent took place at the time of independence from British rule in 1947, six years after his death. Tagore is revered by Bengalis on both sides of the border between India and what is now Bangladesh. The national anthems of both countries are songs by Tagore, making him the only person ever to have written the national anthems of two countries.

The most comprehensive tribute to Tagore I have read remains the article ‘Tagore and his India‘ by another Nobel laureate: Amartya Sen, who was given his name by Tagore and studied in Santiniketan under the educational approach pioneered by Tagore.

Tagore's bust in the garden of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Small wonder, then, that Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, are overseeing the joint celebrations of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary . The Chancellor of the university set up by Tagore, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, is traditionally the Indian Prime Minister.

UNESCO launched its year-long celebrations in Paris on 12 May at Maison de l’Inde, City University. The event was attended by the acting Deputy Director General of UNESCO, Mr Hans D’Orville, who referred to a very appropriate quote from Tagore in connection with the current Millenium Development Goals: “No great civilisation is possible in a country divided by the constant interruption of steep mountains, as they retard the natural flow of communication. Large fortunes and luxurious living, like the mountains, form high walls of segregation. They produce worse divisions in society than physical barriers.”

As in previous years, Kaberi, my father and I marked Tagore’s birth anniversary this year at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Last year, we had introduced the first public screening of Shyama there as part of the Stratford Poetry Festival with a short performance including live music and dance tracing Tagore’s journey from poetry to dance.

Jun 072010

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

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

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

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