Mar 082014
 
Final scene of Chitrangada

After a long absence from my blog, I thought I should mark International Women’s Day by publishing the part of our film version of Chitrangada in which Chitrangada reveals herself to Arjun. This is the version with English subtitles. We’ve also published the versions with French subtitles and with Spanish subtitles. Hope you enjoy it.

You can watch the full film here.

Oct 012012
 

Last Sunday, we had the charity gala premiere of our film version of Tagore’s dance-drama Chitrangada in Brussels in aid of Santiniketan Sishutirtha. Before the film, we had a live, multilingual performance The Story of Gitanjali. These presentations were complemented by two Tagore exhibitions from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations which were kindly provided by the Indian Embassy in Brussels, which actively supported the event.

Those who came really appreciated the evening. Many were amazed by the dance-drama and were inspired by Tagore’s poems and songs. Several Europeans who came told us that the evening had encouraged them to start reading Tagore’s work. See Obhi’s blog post A Tagore evening to remember for more details about how the gala premiere went.

Rehearsing the songs for The Story of Gitanjali
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

In the days leading up to the premiere, as we rehearsed with our friends from Santiniketan, it felt as though Santiniketan had come to Brussels.

Although we are very pleased with how the Brussels premiere went, our aim is that Chitrangada should reach a global audience. We spent some time considering which was the most appropriate online platform to achieve this. You may have noticed that we tested a number of alternatives with our first film Shyama.

As you can see, we have settled on Distrify for the global premiere of Chitrangada. It means that people can watch Chitrangada on any device, including iPhones and iPads. In addition, Distrify has been designed to encourage people to share the film online through social media – you can even earn a 10% commission for doing so!

So how can you take part in the Chitrangada global premiere? If you can watch the trailer above, you already have everything you need (a screen and an Internet connection). Whether you watch it on your own, with friends or at a public screening you’ve helped to organise, you can be part of the global premiere … so long as you do so by midnight on Sunday, October 28.

During this global premiere period, the rental price of Chitrangada is £3.99, €4.99, US$6.49, A$5.99 or C$5.99, depending on where you are watching it.

However big or small your Chitrangada global premiere event is, please do share photos of it on the Google+ event page. Please also help to spread the news about the global premiere via social media and feel free to sign up to receive 10% commission for doing so.

 

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 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 … ?

 

Jul 312012
 

Poster for premiere of Chitrangada

Here is the latest version of the poster for the charity gala premiere of Chitrangada in Brussels on Sunday, 23 September. It was designed by Obhi with advice from Debangana Banerjee, who designed the cover of my forthcoming book Tagore Dance. Comments are welcome. Slightly different versions will be provided to anyone hosting a screening of Chitrangada as part of the global premiere.

I mentioned the plan for the premiere in my post ‘Introducing Chitrangada to a global audience‘. Obhi is gradually preparing the live performance of The Story of Gitanjali which will be the first part of the premiere. In his blog post ‘Staging The Story of Gitanjali in Brussels‘, he explains what he has in mind. We are still looking for actors in some languages who could read one of the 13 poems in the show.

We are close to finalising the details of the evening in Brussels, 50% of whose profits will go to the charity Santiniketan Sishutirtha. Once they are settled, I’ll explain how people can buy tickets online. Just to forewarn you, those buying tickets before 1 September will get the cheapest price and there should be a discount for groups of 10 or more.

Jul 032012
 

In my previous post, I included the English trailer for Chitrangada. Here is the Spanish version of it:

And here is the French version:

For Shyama, the first film we made in what has become the Tagore dance film trilogy, various friends helped to translate our English subtitles into French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and, more recently, Arabic. These different translations are currently only available on the DVD. However, we will gradually make the complete versions of Shyama in these languages available through Distrify.

For Chitrangada, we have published this 36-second trailer on the dotsub.com platform with a transcript of the English captions. We’ve also added the French and Spanish captions. Anyone can now add translations in other languages.

If you register or login on dotsub.com and choose a language to ‘Translate into’, you will see that there are 11 short captions in the trailer. So if you know a language for which the captions haven’t already been translated, it would help us to spread the word about Chitrangada and Tagore if you could insert the translations of the captions into that language. We’d be happy to give you a credit in the film if you do so.

This would also show us which language versions of Chitrangada you think we should try to create before the global premiere on 23/24 September.

Jun 302012
 
Final scene of Chitrangada

Final scene of Chitrangada

First of all, let me introduce this 36-second introductory trailer for our film version of Chitrangada, which was designed by our friend Enrique Nicanor and Obhi:

As you’ll see, the trailer announces the global premiere of Chitrangada on 23/24 September 2012. Why two dates, you may be wondering? And what does ‘global premiere’ mean?

Well, Chitrangada is the third and final film in our Tagore dance film trilogy. The world premiere of Shyama was organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in May 2009. The world premiere of Chandalika was also organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in May 2011, at the end of their special Tagore weekend to mark the 150th birth anniversary.

Preparing these three films, and particularly translating Tagore’s poetic Bengali into English for their subtitles, has made us realise that the international opera and classical ballet scene comprises a fairly limited repertoire of (Western) works. However, ChandalikaChitrangada and Shyama would fit very easily into this repertoire … if only they were more accessible to Western audiences.

My tour of Shyama in Egypt earlier this year, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, included several of the dancers who performed in Chitrangada.

With Enrique at the Giza Pyramids

We performed Shyama with a specially adapted version of the soundtrack from our film version of it, projecting its English and Arabic captions and subtitles above the stage. The performances were greatly appreciated by the audiences, mainly because we made them accessible to an international audience.

The intention underlying Tagore’s dance innovation was to make his Bengali poetry accessible to audiences across cultural and linguistic frontiers. Unfortunately, although the dance-dramas are widely staged for Bengali audiences, few non-Bengalis were aware of them, or indeed the Tagore dance form, before we completed Shyama. Over 70 years after his death, the possibilities of digital distribution created by the Internet now allow us to help him achieve this objective.

This is why we thought of doing something special to launch Chitrangada and celebrate the completion of the Tagore dance film trilogy. We’d liked the idea of a global premiere ever since seeing how the environmental film Age of Stupid organised one almost three years ago, centred on a live event in New York.

I’m still finalising the details but here’s what we have in mind. The central event will be a charity gala premiere at the heart of Europe, at a major hall in Brussels, Belgium, on the evening of Sunday, 23 September. This should not only give our friends a chance to have their ‘red carpet moment’ but also help to raise some money for the Sishutirtha children’s home and school in Santiniketan, which is run according to Tagore’s educational principles.

I used to be a volunteer dance teacher at Sishutirtha and, through our dance director and production designer Shubhra Tagore, Sishuthirtha provided some elements of the costumes for Chitrangada. Supriyo Tagore and Shubhra Tagore, who both kindly took part in Chitrangada, helped to found Sishutirtha to restore basic rights to children.

Before the film, there will be a 1-hour live show The story of Gitanjali, marking the 100th anniversary of Tagore completing the English Gitanjali in September 1912. Obhi will direct a special, stage version of the show we presented in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace to celebrate Tagore’s 151st birthday in May. We’re hoping that an internationally well-known actor will take on the role of the narrator.

In the same way that opera, ballet, theatre and concert performances are relayed live to cinemas around the world, the live show will be relayed to venues around the world and then the film will be shown with the subtitles in the local language. A US firm is making the premiere available to screens not only in cinemas but also in museums, libraries and colleges. Of course, it’s only realistic for people to watch the premiere live if they are in Europe or West of Europe. For those in countries East of Europe, such as in Australia, the premiere will have to be on Monday, 24 September.

If you’d like to help us bring the art of Tagore’s work to the whole world by being part of the global premiere, please comment on this post.

Jun 112012
 

Shyama team on stage after the performance at Cairo Opera House

It has been a long time since my last post! In the meanwhile, I performed the role of Shyama in a production in India, I performed Shyama in Egypt with my team from Santiniketan and our film versions of Shyama and Chandalika were shown at the Cinema Novo festival in Bruges, Belgium.

The tour of Shyama in Egypt 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.

We 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 also came from our film version of Shyama, as translated by Jayanta Chatterjee (my father-in-law), Obhi and myself. The Arabic subtitles were kindly provided by translators at the Indian Embassy in Cairo and reviewed with the help of Essam A of the Maulana Azad Centre.

As a dancer it is very rewarding for me when I am invited to perform on stage. It’s a direct interaction with the audience. The Egypt tour was a memorable experience for me and also for my team members. I have led other high profile performance tours in past but the Egypt tour was very special for me: I had an opportunity to perform while visiting a country I had always dreamed of visiting.

Obhi has written about the tour in more detail in his blog. Particularly with the performances at the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses, we had the opportunity to present a Tagore dance-drama at major international opera houses.

As some of you know, we have now filmed all three of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-dramas. If you aren’t already familiar with Tagore’s dance-dramas, they are like a cross between ballet and opera. They contain lyrics, music, dance and drama. The dialogue takes the form of songs and dancers express the songs through dance.

Tagore is best known as a poet and philosopher. However, he also composed songs, wrote short stories, novels and plays, painted and created a unique dance style. His dance form, which was the subject of my PhD thesis, is hardly known outside India and Bangladesh. That is why Obhi and I are trying to open the door for people all over the world to appreciate it.

Our hope is that at least Tagore’s dance-dramas will join the repertoire of operas and ballets which are performed regularly at leading opera houses and dance theatres around the world. In any case, we have created a permanent record of these works which can serve as a reference for future generations.

I should mention that Tagore did not perform often as a dancer himself. He created his new dance style with the help of members of his family, as well as teachers and students from his school. From time to time, he did dance in his own dramas, though.

Tagore wrote three dance dramas: Chandalika, Chitrangada, ShyamaChandalika is a critique of the caste system, highlighting the plight of the untouchables. Chitrangada is about women’s emancipation. Shyama is a story of love and sacrifice, set against the background of a repressive regime.

With the help of digital technology, we have created and filmed authentic productions of these works, added subtitles in different languages and are making the films available worldwide. You can already watch Shyama and Chandalika on my website. The première of our film version of Chitrangada will be on Sunday, 23rd September. I’ll be able to tell you more about that soon.

Oct 012011
 

Kaberi dancing, age 7

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1915 (from The Gardener – poem 45)

When I was a child of 3, before I started to take dance lessons, my dancing was just an expression of happiness. I didn’t necessarily understand the meaning of the lyrics but I would dance to the rhythm of the music.

Gradually, as I grew older and developed my dancing skills, as well as my understanding of the lyrics, I started to express the meaning of the songs in my dancing. This was helped considerably by the compulsory dance classes at my school (Patha Bhavana, Santiniketan) from the age of 6.

Pure dance without expression is also possible. To distinguish it from expressionist dance, Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra gave it the name ‘nritto‘. According to this treatise, nritto was born much later than expressionist dance (nritya).

There are some forms of art which can stand alone, without containing any expression. These include designs (alpona), musical scales (taan) and dance steps (such as adavus in Bharatanatyam).

Apart from being mainly a poet, Tagore was also a musician. He had learned Indian classical music since childhood. However, he never liked pure classical music without expression.

So, when setting his words to music to create songs, he didn’t apply the pure classical ragas directly but adapted them in his own way to bring out the expression of his lyrics.

Similarly, in the case of dance, Tagore preferred expressionist dance to pure dance steps. In this case, perhaps he followed the same line of thinking as Bharat Muni. Bharat Muni put more emphasis on nritya than on nritto, probably because he wanted to use nritya as a medium for drama.

In novels, poetry and plays, the author’s main role is to express his or her thinking in the form of words. This type of art typically combines art and expression to form the message of the author.

Tagore had always enjoyed drama and plays. His main objective was to find ways of expressing his poetry better. Having first used music to achieve this, he felt that the medium of dance could be used to enhance the expression of his songs. His final artistic achievement, in the last decade of his life, was to combine the three dimensions of songs, drama and dance in his dance-dramas, Chandalika (1933), Chitrangada (1936) and Shyama (1939).

Sep 112011
 

Kaberi

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;
I forgot that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others,
wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life
who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.
When one knows thee, then alone there is none, then no door is shut.
Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose
the bliss of the touch of the One in the play of the many.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1911

That is exactly how I feel as I sit down to write my first ever blog post. It is only possible for a great poet like Rabindranath (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913) to explain it in this way. It is amazing how Rabindranath managed to express the different feelings of human life.

Rabindranath has had a major influence on my life. Very often I look to his words to express my feelings.

I grew up in his home town of Santiniketan – “the abode of peace.” My grandfather Shibdas Roy joined the school set up by Rabindranath in Santiniketan. He was a very good singer and a musician. Thanks to his singing, he was one of Rabindranath’s favourite students. He became an honorary teacher at the China Bhavan, teaching English to Tibetan monks.

Later on, my father also joined Rabindranath’s school.

Years later still, it was my grandfather who took me along and enrolled me in Rabindranath’s school. I was lucky enough to grow up in such a wonderful, artistic and open air environment.

From time to time, I feel like sharing different things with those around me with similar interests. That’s why I decided to start this blog.

People often ask me about Tagore dance, Manipuri dance, our Tagore dance film trilogy, Indian cooking and my Indian dance workout. However, I don’t usually have the opportunity to give a complete answer. I hope my blog will provide at least more of the answer.

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