Aug 312012
 

We are just over three weeks from our charity gala film premiere of Chitrangada, including a live, multilingual performance of The Story of Gitanjali.

These days almost every evening actors have been visiting us to rehearse or audition for the live performance. It is very nice to hear the same Tagore poem in different languages. Every language has it’s own flow.

For the last couple of evenings we are taking the audition and rehearsing with Hungarian actors. The actor we finally selected to read a poem in Hungarian for The Story of Gitanjali is Ágnes Kaszás. She is very enthusiastic about Tagore’s work and had read Tagore’s poetry in high school.

We were telling Ágnes about our experience in Balatonfüred, a small town on the shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary.

In 2009 we went to Hungary specially for Balatonfüred where Tagore has been treated in a heart hospital for three weeks when he had been taken ill while visiting Budapest in 1926.

The promenade along the shore of Lake Balaton is called Tagore Sétány.

The Tagore Sétány (promenade) at Balatonfüred, Hungary

We were in Balatonfüred for just over a week, staying at a guest house recommended to us by Hungarian friends in Brussels. We were thrilled to see different things associated with Tagore around Balatonfüred.

Before we went to Balatonfüred, Supriyo Da (Supriyo Tagore) had told me that there is a tree which Tagore had planted while he was there. Then we heard from Somen Da (Somendranath Bandyopadhyay) that, near the tree Tagore had planted, there was a sculpture by the great Indian sculptor Ramkinkar Baij.

However, the statue of Tagore on Tagore Sétány turned out not to be the original sculpture by Ramkinkar Baij we had heard about but a hollow and very simple bust!

The simple and modern bust of Tagore on Tagore Sétány

After two days, with the help of our host, we went to see the room in the functioning hospital where Rabindranath Tagore was treated.

Plaque on the door of the Tagore memorial room at the hospital

A nurse at the hospital kindly allowed us to see the room when she heard that I was from Tagore’s home town.

Tagore’s room in the heart hospital, Balatonfüred,Hungary

The study where we found the Tagore’s sculpture by Ramkinkar Baij.

As you see, the original Ramkinkar Baij sculpture was housed in the room Tagore had used as his study. He had written his poem Lekhon here.

Tagore’s association with Hungary is summarised in this article. Ketaki Kushari Dyson provided more details in her review of the book Hungry Tiger by Imre Banghe.

It is not obvious why the Ramkinkar Baij statue was moved from the promenade to the hospital and replaced by a more modern bust. We were told that the reason was that it was not a very flattering sculpture as Tagore was presented by Ramkinkar Baij leaning forwards with age. Unfortunately, the more recent bust has been placed on the same plinth, which means that Tagore now appears to look out over the heads of people at Lake Balaton.

With Obhi and the modern statue of Tagore over our heads

Aug 272012
 

Asit Ghosh during the recording of Chitrangada

Obhi and I have already introduced our two guest singers for The Story of GitanjaliManini and Sayan.

Now I am introducing another of our artistes: Asit Ghosh (Pintu). He will be accompanying us on tabla, pakhawaj and khol (Indian percussion instruments) for The Story of Gitanjali in Brussels on 23 September 2012.

He was the percussionist for our film version of Chitrangada. Asit has his own sweet and very gentle style. His playing doesn’t overpower the singers. He knows how to play softly with Tagore songs. The role of the percussionist in Tagore’s dance-dramas is quite tough as the percussionist sets the pace for all the dancers, singers and musicians.

Asit has trained with different Gurus from different gharanas (styles):

  • Professor Dulal Mukherjee – Banaras gharana (tabla)
  • Professor Manas Das Gupta – Farukabad gharana (tabla)
  • Professor Swapan Ghosh – Bishnupur gharana (pakhawaj)
  • Pandit Jayanta Bose – Benaras gharana (tabla).

He completed his BMus in Tabla & Pakhawaj in 1998 and his MMus in Tabla, Pakawaj in 2000, both from Visva-Bharati University.

He won first prize as an accompanist from three  different festivals: East  Zone Youth Festival in 1998, National Youth Festival in 1999 and SAARC Festival in 1999.

He has taken part in many programmes with different groups in Santiniketan, as well as on All India Radio and Doordarshan (Indian television).

He regularly accompanies performances by pupils of Santiniketan Sishuthirtha.

He was the percussionist for the CD Jete chai mon - Desh, the Musical journey – released by Prime Music.

Aug 202012
 

Manini Mukhopadhyay during the recording of Chandalika

Obhi has already introduced one of our two guest singers for The Story of GitanjaliSayan Bandyopadhyay. Now it is time for me to introduce the other: Manini Mukhopadhyay.

I am very pleased that Manini is able to join us for the charity gala premiere of Chitrangada. Manini has been the voice behind all three of the title roles I was dancing in our film versions of ShyamaChandalika and Chitrangada. The expression she gives when she sings comes from the bottom of her heart. As a dancer, that helps me a lot to express the emotions of the character through my dance. You can see an example of this in the clip from Shyama on the right of this page.

Manini is one of the leading singers of Tagore songs (Rabindrasangeet). We know from the reactions of people who have watched Shyama and Chandalika that they have been touched by her singing, even though they may not understand Bengali themselves.

Manini comes from a very musical family in Santiniketan. She was taught to sing by her parents, Sheetal Mukhopadhyay and Chhobi Mukhopadhyay. Since 1990, she has been trained by Alpona Ray.

She has taken part in many televised productions and has recorded six albums to date: Santiniketaner utsober gaan (2003), Sumongoli bodhu (2003), Asim gaaner resh (2003), Nrityodharer taale taale (2003), Aamaader Shantiniketan (2005), the video CD Abelay jodi esechho (2007) and Bichitrer Duth (2009).

Manini has given many live performances. These included accompanying my dance performance at the opening of the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Kolkata by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 - we had been invited by the late Professor Kazuo Azuma, who played a key role in the foundation of the Bhavan. In February 2009, Manini gave a solo recital at Madhusudan Manch, Kolkata, where she was introduced by Professor Somendranath Bandyopadhyay (an internationally recognised authority on Tagore). Manini’s performance at an all-night concert at the 12,000-seat Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata in 2010 was highly commended by music critics.

Manini frequently performs at productions organised by Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. Indeed, she will be performing in Sri Lanka as part of a team from Visva-Bharati a few days after singing in The Story of Gitanjali during the Chitrangada charity gala premiere in Brussels on 23 September.

As well as her performance career, Manini Mukhopodhyay has a Masters degree in Bengali literature and a Masters degree in Rabindrasangeet, both from Visva-Bharati. In March 2002, she was selected by the Visva-Bharati Music Board as a research scholar to prepare a variorum edition of Tagore notations. She is currently researching her PhD thesis on Rabindrasangeet under the guidance of Dr Ashok Kumar Ganguly and Dr Indrani Mukhopadhyay.

Aug 162012
 
Photo of Scandic Hotel Grand Place, Brussels

Scandic Hotel Grand Place, Brussels – photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

Whenever I have had to travel for a performance, someone else has taken care of the travel and accommodation arrangements for us. As a result, I have had a lot of experience of different standards of accommodation being provided. I also know how important it is for the peace of mind of the performers, and for a good performance, that these practical arrangements are carefully sorted out, ideally well in advance.

Today, I booked the accommodation for all four of our visiting singers and musicians for The Story of Gitanjali. I thought they should stay somewhere close to the Gold Hall. This would make the travel arrangements within Brussels much simpler and would also allow them to be within a short walk of the main places to visit while they are in Brussels.

I had thought that renting a large apartment for their visit would be easiest but then discovered that hardly any holiday rental apartments in central Brussels offer so many bedrooms or have more than 2 bathrooms. This didn’t seem like it would be a good idea.

So, to make things simpler for us and for our artists, I found a hotel within a short walk of both the Grand Place and the Gold Hall where each of them have their own room with attached bathroom. The hotel has been highly rated by people who have stayed there and, thanks to a special offer, is less expensive than renting a large apartment would have been.

Enrique in Galicia

We were pleased to hear that our friend and Chitrangada associate producer Enrique Nicanor will be coming to Brussels for the premiere. He has kindly agreed to stay with our artists to help them during their visit.

Judy, who loves all things Indian

Another friend, Judy Stowe, has kindly offered to help us, including joining us to meet the artists at the airport and dropping them back.

In the coming days, I’ll need to prepare a timetable for the weekend so that we and the artists know when and where they should be during their stay in Brussels.

Aug 142012
 

Final poster for the Chitrangada premiere

Today, I placed the print order for the final version of the poster I introduced in my previous post. Obhi and our designer, Debangana Banerjee, thought that my name should appear on the poster. I preferred to leave it out as Chitrangada is a team effort.

However, in the end, I made a deal with Obhi that my name could appear on the poster on condition that his did too. Hence the above result.

I also ordered a set of ‘visiting cards’ about the premiere. Here are the front and back:

Front of visiting card announcing the premiere

Back of visiting card announcing the premiere

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apart from this, we made progress with various things, including narrowing down our search for a cost-effective online ticketing system. More about that soon.

That was all I had intended to write for today but, this evening, a retweet by @Peacelovingguy reminded me of a comment made by UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the end of last week: “a lot of schools were meeting [the target of two hours a week of sports in schools] by doing things like Indian dancing or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport …”. This apparently led to an item on Newsnight including members of Bollywood Dance London ”bringing a highly-athletic Indian dance which is taught in schools all over south-east [England] including, it seems, Eton College” (David Cameron’s former school).

Mira Kaushik OBE, Director of Akademi Dance, commented on Saturday. Shalini Bhalla of Just Jhoom!, “the only accredited Bollywood dance-fitness company based in the UK”, published their response to David Cameron, which ended with an “open invitation to you to participate in a Just Jhoom! dance session alongside a group of school children.”

Even in the early days of the school Rabindranath Tagore started at Santiniketan, he included dance in the curriculum, although he had to do so discreetly. In early 20th century India, educated parents would not want their children to dance. So he explained to parents that the children would be “exercising to drum rhythms”.

It took him almost almost three decades to overcome this negative attitude to dance before he could create and stage the three dance-dramas we have filmed, including Chitrangada. It was a social revolution for which Tagore was largely responsible and which allowed Indian dance to be seen on stage.

By the time I went to the school, all the pupils were taught dance from an early age. Tagore believed that culture, including dance, music, arts and crafts, allowed children to express themselves. He had seen that his two-year-old grand-daughter displayed her excitement at his arrival one day through her body language, even though she did not yet have the vocabulary to do so verbally.

Perhaps it would be wise for UK schools to take another look at Tagore’s educational philosophy, which Supriyo Tagore expressed succinctly in Dipu’s Story, the documentary by Séamas McSwiney about Santiniketan Sishutirtha. It has been responsible for several distinguished people, such as former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.

So maybe UK schools should include dance in the curriculum, but as culture rather than as a sport.

Oh, and real Indian dancers have to do much more than 2 hours’ physical exercise per week! I wonder if David Cameron would like to try Kaberi’s Indian dance workout … ?

 

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