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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