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.