Apr 092020
 
Shyama and her companions

Many of us around the world are in ‘lockdown’ at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic. So Obhi and I thought we should share some of Tagore’s humanity and help people celebrate the Bengali New Year (on April 14) at home by making our film versions of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-dramas available for free this weekend.

Shubhra Tagore (Shubhra-di) was our Dance director for Chitrangada and Chandalika, while Bulbul Bose (Bulbul-di) was our Music director. We were rehearsing, filming and recording together for over a month in Santiniketan (West Bengal, India). I was very fortunate to have been able to learn the dance composition from Shubhra-di, continuing the tradition of ‘guru parampara’ (where a teacher passes on his/her art to their students, who, in turn, pass it on to their students).

Shubhra-di was also the narrator at the start of the film, setting the context for what follows. In the final scene of Chitrangada, we had the unique opportunity to include Brahmo recitations by Supriyo Tagore (Supriyo-da) and Shubhra-di.

K Jatindra (Jiten-da) Singh, my dance guru, was our Dance director for Shyama, with Ashok Ganguli (Ashok-da) as our Music director. Jiten-da reprised his famous role as Uttiyo for the film.

Each production was staged in Santiniketan especially for the films, first recording the soundtrack and then filming the dancers. Shyama was filmed and recorded at the Gitanjali complex in January 2008 while Chandalika and Chitrangada were filmed and recorded at the Lipika Theatre in December 2010/January 2011.

Of course, we also have to thank all the talented dancers, singers, musicians and crew without whom we would not have been able bring Tagore’s dance-dramas to life in these films. Our aim was to remain as authentic as possible to Tagore’s original concept (dance style, staging, costumes, make-up and hair), which I had studied as part of my doctoral thesis.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust kindly hosted the premieres of all three films in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK. Shyama was shown at the 2009 Kolkata Film Festival and also at the 2010 Ourense Film Festival in Spain. It was also shown in Tagore’s Udayan house in the Uttarayan complex in Santiniketan.

Click on the following links (or use the promotional code ‘BNY20’) before midnight on Tuesday, April 14, to watch each film for free:

  • Chitrangada (89 minutes) – Princess Chitrangada, who has been brought up as a man to inherit the throne of Manipur, falls in love with Arjun, the warrior prince. Tagore create this dance-drama in 1936 as part of his campaign for women’s emancipation.
  • Chandalika (73 minutes) – Prokrithi, an untouchable girl who is shunned by other villagers because of her caste, discovers a new life when Anondo, a Buddhist monk, asks her for water and tells her that she is no less a human than he is. Originally written in 1933 as a play, Tagore developed Chandalika into a dance-drama in 1938 as part of his campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the ‘untouchables’ and the unfairness of the caste system.
  • Shyama (90 minutes) – A court dancer, Shyama, falls in love with Bojroshen, a foreign merchant, who is falsely imprisoned and faces execution … unless Shyama accepts the offer of an admirer, Uttiyo, to take Bojroshen’s place. Tagore created this dance-drama in 1939 as an artistic critique of repressive regimes, in reaction to the growing tensions of pre-Independence India and the rise of nationalism in Europe.

After you click on the link, you will have 48 hours to watch the film.

We hope you enjoy the films. Please feel free to spread the word.

Apr 042018
 
Jitenda as Uttiyo

Jitenda as Uttiyo

Jitenda as Uttiyo awaiting his execution, in our film version of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shyama (2009)

I was saddened to hear on Monday that Jitenda had passed away. I had last seen him in early March, while he was in Pearson Memorial Hospital in Santiniketan. He had been suffering from cancer but he was such an active person that I imagined that he would recover soon. He was 72.

I first started to learn Manipuri dance from Jitenda when I was a child. He had started to learn Manipuri dance from his father, K Kamini Singh, in Lokhipur, Assam. He came to Santiniketan in 1965 with a National Scholarship to study Manipuri dance from A Amubi Singh at Visva-Bharati University. Towards the end of Jitenda’s National Scholarship, Shanti Dev Ghosh invited him to teach dance at Patha Bhavan.

While I was at Patha Bhavan, my parents arranged for me to have private Manipuri dance classes from Jitenda. From the first day, I realised two things:

  1. how to teach children patiently; and
  2. the importance of being on time.

The lessons would start at 8am on Wednesday mornings, when school was closed. Not at 8.01am or even at 7.59am. He maintained that insistence on timeliness to the end: he had predicted some days earlier that he would pass away on Monday.

Jitenda was an all-round artiste. He had a uniquely subtle dance style. Often, we say that people have magic in their hands. Jitenda had magic in his feet. When he danced, it would look as if he was dancing on air and that he was weightless.

Jitenda became famous for performing as Kamdev (Modon) in Chitrangada and as Uttiyo in Shyama. He had mastered a way of syncopating the rhythm to complement the percussion with his feet. This was one of his special techniques.

Not only could he dance but he could also sing, make Manipuri dresses and stage decoration, as well as cook Manipuri and other dishes. He was always very particular about presentation.

I was very fortunate to have been able to learn these talents from him, including his showmanship. In parallel with learning Manipuri dance from Jitenda, through performing Tagore works on stage at various events under his guidance, he also taught me Tagore dance. He also taught me various folk dances and the songs with which they were performed.

Later, after I received my MMus in Manipuri dance, I was awarded the National Scholarship for Manipuri dance in 1994-1996 and Jitenda was my guide. When I started to work on my doctoral thesis on Tagore dance, Jitenda was again one of my supervisors. By this time, he had become a Professor of Dance at Visva-Bharati.

I accompanied Jitenda to various workshops, both in India and outside India. We performed Tagore’s Shyama, Chitrangada and Chandalika several times, as well as Bhanushingher Padabali, Basanta and Shaapmochon. We also performed Manipuri Ras and various Indian folk dances.

When we decided to make a film version of Shyama, we were fortunate that Jitenda agreed to be the dance director, as well as performing the role of Uttiyo. We filmed Shyama at the Gitanjali Hall near Santiniketan in January 2007. It was a memorable experience for all of us, although it proved to be the last time we would work together professionally. In the extended clip from Shyama below, we see the duet between Uttiyo and Shyama during which Uttiyo offers to be executed in the place of Bojroshen, with whom Shyama has fallen in love.

On a personal level, having known each other for over 40 years, Jitenda and I were almost like father and daughter. Of course, that meant that we also quarrelled occasionally! Sometimes, days would pass when we would not talk to each other. Then we would be back in touch again for the next rehearsal or performance.

I keep remembering how he taught me my first Manipuri dance steps as a child.