May 012013
Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

On April 23, (with a little help from our friends AJ and Melissa Leon) people all over the world celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. Those who used Twitter to wish Shakespeare a Happy Birthday included Stephen Fry, Arianna Huffington and Geri Halliwell.

Shakespeare’s birthday is certainly one I cannot miss, since it happens to be my birthday too. It is also St George’s Day – and you can imagine that I have supported calls to make St George’s Day a national holiday for years, but to no avail … !

Next week, on May 7, it will be Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Apart from becoming known as ‘the Bard of Bengal’ for his major impact on Bengali literature, Tagore was quite strongly influenced by Shakespeare. One of the tasks he had been given by a tutor at the age of 13 was to translate Macbeth into Bengali. This probably contributed to his deep respect for Shakespeare’s work.

We came across this painting of the Three witches from Macbeth at an exhibition of Tagore’s paintings in Bruges last year, where our film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas Shyama and Chandalika were shown at the Cinema Novo festival. The collection of paintings had been brought together by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the exhibition was arranged by the Indian Embassy in Brussels.

In 1995, the then Indian High Commissioner, Dr L M Singhvi, arranged for a bronze bust of Tagore by Kolkata sculptor Debabrata Chakraborty to be installed in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The bust was dedicated in its current position on 20 September 1996. Flowers were laid by Jyoti Basu (then Chief Minister of West Bengal), Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (then Cultural Affairs Minister of West Bengal), Dr L M Singhvi and Professor Stanley Wells (then Chairman of the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace).

My parents were among those who attended the ceremony. When the then Director of the Indian Cultural Centre in London had told my father that he hoped that there would be a regular celebration at the bust, my father promised to make sure that Tagore’s birthday would be celebrated at the bust each year.

So on Saturday May 4, with the kind help of the Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Dr Diana Owen, and her team, we will be continuing this annual tradition started by my parents and their group Prantik in 1997.

This year, the programme will be as follows:

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 4 May

2.30pm Ceremony around Tagore’s bust in the garden at Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Introduction by the High Commissioner of India, His Excellency Dr J Bhagwati.

Tagore’s Nobel Prize – a show telling the story of how Tagore came to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, through his poetry and songs. I will be narrating the story, the English poems will be presented by Shakespeare Aloud! actors John Robert Partridge and Jennifer Hodges, the Bengali poetry and songs will be presented by Mousumi & Supratik Basu, Chhaya Biswas and Kaberi Chatterjee. We will be accompanied on esraj by Tirthankar Roy.

3.30pm Tagore archive exhibition

4pm UK film premiere: Chitrangada

Introduction by the High Commissioner of Bangladesh, His Excellency Mohamed Mijarul Quayes.

Chitrangada (90 minutes) – Our authentic, colourful, feature film version of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, 1936 dance-drama with an ensemble cast featuring leading dancers, singers and musicians from Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan, India. Perhaps best described as a cross between opera and ballet, Chitrangada was part of Tagore’s campaign to encourage women to have be given a greater role in society. It was based on his earlier play Chitra, which Tagore had directed and designed for a production at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1920.

Kaberi Chatterjee stars as Princess Chitrangada, with the singing voice of Manini Mukhopadhyay. Sourav Chatterjee is Arjun, with the singing voice of Jahar Kumar Dutta, and Nibedita Sen is Modon, with the singing voice of Ritwik Bagchi.

The dance director and production designer is Shubhra Tagore. The music director is Bulbul Basu.

The film completes the Tagore dance film trilogy of authentic, widescreen film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas, the others being Chandalika (1938) and Shyama (1939). Elements from Chitrangada were included in the promotional trailers and videos created for UNESCO’s Tagore, Neruda & Césaire programme. Chitrangada had its world premiere in Brussels in September 2012.

The film will be followed by a Question & Answer session with Kaberi Chatterjee and me.

6pm End

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 5-6 May

During the rest of the bank holiday weekend, the Shakespeare Aloud! actors will be including poems by Tagore in their performances in the garden. One of them will be the poem which Tagore wrote in 1916 for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death:

When by the far-away sea your fiery disk appeared from behind the unseen, O Poet, O Sun.
England’s horizon felt you near her breast, and took you to be her own.
She kissed your forehead, caught you in the arms of her forest branches.
Hid you behind her mist mantle and watched you in the green sward where fairies love to play among the meadow flowers.
A few early birds sang your hymn of praise, while the rest of the woodland choir were asleep.
Then at the silent beckoning of the Eternal you rose higher and higher till you reached the mid sky, making all quarters of heaven your own.
Therefore, at this moment, after the end of centuries, the palm groves by the Indian sea raise their tremulous branches to the sky murmuring your praise.

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.
Sep 262010

Hoy es el día europeo de las lenguas y espero que me disculpen por intentar publicar el mismo arículo en inglés, gallego y castellano. Esto se debe en parte al apoyo y a la idea de Antonia Mochan de hacer un día de blogs multilingüe para faciltar la búsqueda de Rabindranath Tagore por sus escritos (sobre todo en su lengua natal, bengalí) para cruzar las fronteras lingüísticas y también como un signo de respeto a los lectores de gallego y español.

Debo dar las gracias a Enrique Nicanor, Director del Festival de Cine Internacional de Ourense, no sólo para la inclusión de un sección “Homenaje a Rabindranath Tagore” en el festival de este año para conmemorar el 150 aniversario del nacimiento de Tagore, en colaboración con la Biblioteca Tagore de Ourense fundada por José Paz, sino también para invitar a Kaberi y a mí a tomar parte en él. Es uno de los primeros tributos, bastante completo, del 150 aniversario del nacimiento de Tagore, que la UNESCO ha establecido para 2011.

El programa de la sección es el siguiente:

Sábado, 2 Octubre
21:30 Ceremonia de apertura, durante la cual Kaberi realizará dos bailes Tagore para inaugurar el sección “Homenaje a Rabindranath Tagore” – Auditorio Municipal

Domingo, 3 Octubre
13:00-14:00 Homenaje a Tagore, con José Paz, fundador de la Biblioteca Tagore de Ourense, en la que Kaberi y yo vamos a dar una presentación ilustrada sobre el viaje de Tagore de la poesía a la danza, incluyendo actuaciones en directo – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

Lunes, 4 Octubre
20:00-22:00 Estreno de la versión en español de Shyama (que ha sido traducida con la ayuda de nuestro amigo Carlos Moreno-Leguizamon), presentada por José Paz y yo mismo – Teatro Principal

Martes, 5 Octubre
16:30-18:30 Masterclass: Shyama y la revolución digital, en la que se explica cómo nuestra versión cinematografica de la opera-ballet clásica de Tagore (quizás una de las primeras películas ‘digital end-to-end’ ) aprovecha la producción, la distribución global y las oportunidades de promoción creadas por la revolución digital para aumentar la conciencia internacional de Tagore y la forma de danza creada por Tagore hacia el final de su vida – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

17:00-19:00 Proyección de Charulata Satyajit Ray (La mujer solitaria), basado en Nashtanir Tagore (El nido roto) – Teatro Principal

Miércoles, 6 Octubre
17:00-18:15 Proyección de Monihara Satyajit Ray (de Teen Kanya) basado en el cuento de Tagore – Teatro Principal

Jueves, 7 Octubre
17:00-19:30 Proyección de Ghare baire Satyajit Ray (O mundo de Bimala) basado en la novela de Tagore – Teatro Principal

Viernes, 8 Octubre

17:00-17:30 Ceremonia de plantación de un arbol en Ourense, al estilo de Tagore (Brikkhoropon), dirigida por Kaberi, enseñando a un grupo de bailarines de la Escuela de Teatro y Baile de Ourense los pasos para la procesión

23:00-00:30 Proyección de la versión en español de Shyama – Cinebox 8

Sábado, 9 Octubre
17:00-19:00 Proyección de Charulata Satyajit Ray (La mujer solitaria), basado en Nashtanir Tagore (El nido roto)

17:00-18:30 Proyección de la versión en español de Shyama – Cinebox 8

20:00-22:30 Proyección de Ghare Baire Satyajit Ray (O mundo de Bimala), basado en la novela de Tagore – Teatro Principal

Para los que echen en falta la película documental sobre Rabindranath Tagore de 1961, reaizada para las celebraciones del Centenario del nacimiento (como la trilogía adolescente de Kanya), no fue posible localizar una versión de buena calidad de la película que pudiese ser proyectada en el festival hasta el momento. Si usted puede ayudarnos a localizarla, por favor hágamelo saber.

Los aeropuertos más cercanos a Ourense son Oporto, en Portugal (que es servido por varias líneas aéreas internacionales, incluyendo Easyjet y Ryanair), Vigo y Santiago de Compostela (que cuentan con vuelos nacionales de otras partes de España).

Sep 262010

Today being the European day of languages, I hope you will excuse me attempting to write essentially the same post in English, Galician and Castellano (please let me know of any embarrassing errors!). This is partly to support Antonia Mochan’s idea of a day of multilingual blogging, partly to note Rabindranath Tagore’s quest for his writings (mainly in his native Bengali) to cross linguistic boundaries and as a sign of respect to any Galician and Spanish readers.

I should begin by thanking Enrique Nicanor, Director of the Ourense International Film Festival in Galicia, Spain, for including a ‘Homage to Tagore‘ section in this year’s festival to mark Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, in conjunction with the Tagore Library of Ourense founded by José Paz. It is one of the first, fairly comprehensive tributes to Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, which UNESCO is marking in 2011.

The programme for the section is as follows:

Saturday, 2 October
21:30-midnight Opening ceremony, during which Kaberi will perform two Tagore dances to inaugurate the ‘Homage to Tagore’ section – Auditorio Municipal

Sunday, 3 October
13:00-14:00 Tribute to Tagore, with José Paz, founder of the Tagore Library of Ourense, at which Kaberi and I will give an illustrated presentation about Tagore’s journey from poetry to dance, including live performances – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

Monday, 4 October
20:00-22:00 Premiere of the Spanish version of Shyama (which has been translated with the help of our friend Carlos Moreno-Leguizamon), introduced by José Paz, Kaberi and me – Teatro Principal

Tuesday, 5 October
16:30-18:30 Masterclass: Shyama & the digital revolution, at which I will be explaining how our film version of Tagore’s classic ‘dance-drama’ (which is perhaps one of the first ‘digital end-to-end’ films) is taking advantage of the production, global distribution and promotion opportunities created by the digital revolution to raise international awareness of Tagore and the dance form created by Tagore towards the end of his life – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

17:00-19:00 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The lonely wife) based on Tagore’s Nashtanir (The broken nest) – Teatro Principal

Wednesday, 6 October
17:00-18:15 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Monihara (from Teen Kanya) based on the short story by Tagore – Teatro Principal

Thursday, 7 October
17:00-19:30 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Ghare baire (The home and the world) based on the novel by Tagore – Teatro Principal

Friday, 8 October
17:00-17:30 Tagore-style tree-planting ceremony (Brikkhoropon) led by Kaberi, who will be teaching the steps for the procession to a group of dancers from the Escuela de Teatro y Baile de Ourense

23:00-00:30 Screening of the Spanish version of Shyama – Cinebox 8

Saturday, 9 October
17:00-19:00 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The lonely wife) based on Tagore’s Nashtanir (The broken nest) – Teatro Principal

17:00-18:30 Screening of the Spanish version of Shyama – Cinebox 8

20:00-22:30 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire (The home and the world) based on the novel by Tagore – Teatro Principal

For those who note the absence of Satyajit Ray’s 1961 documentary Rabindranath Tagore, made for the 100th birth anniversary celebrations (like the Teen Kanya trilogy), we weren’t able to locate a good quality version of the film which could be projected at the festival … so far. If you can help us find one, please let me know.

The nearest airports to Ourense are Porto (which is served by various international airlines, including Easyjet and Ryanair), Vigo and Santiago de Compostela (which have mainly domestic flights from other parts of Spain).

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.

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