Category: Events

Return of the native



Pritish Nandy comes to the city which was once home, to rediscover the poet in him


Sayandeb Chowdhury

It was an evening that the city would relish for some time to come. Be it the lush spread at the Tollygunge Club, or the tony crowd that arrived in their finery, or the chirpiness of the birds that gave a more than fitting setting for reading of poetry, it is clear that such evenings do not come often. Those who matter in Calcutta seemed to be there. It was just a book launch session. But then it was just not another book that was being launched. On the dais, to talk about the book, the poetry, about writing and cinema were a galaxy of stars who had just descended. There was Anupam Kher, a friend of the author whose book was being released. There was Javed Akhtar, as poet and lover of letters. There was Prasoon Joshi, yet another man of words. There was Farrukh Dhondy, novelist and screenwriter and there was APJ Abdul Kalam, a man for all seasons and a poet at heart. But the chief attraction was the man whose book Again was being released along with the launch of  Nandy’s republished book Tonight the Savage Rite, co-authored by Kamala Das .  And he, in a white short-sleeved shirt coupled with a black waist jacket and Ray Ban shades looked as far from a poet as one can be. But that is what Pritish Nandy is all about: dandy and delectably cerebral at the same time, and it was he who had made sure that Calcutta gathered at the Tolly lawns on an early February evening.
The proceedings were no less interesting. Tapan Chaki, Nandy’s old friend, talked about the itinerant traveller, lover and performer in Nandy, the man who has more firsts to his name than most others before others took turns to talk about the man, his poetry and poetry in general. The poems were vintage Nandy. And they attained power when the beautiful and effervescent Vidya Balan , who called herself a wannabe Bengali, read out poems from Again along with Nandy, the latter’s voice reverberating across the foyer and lashing on to the great greens nearby. Surely poetry, even though Calcutta is a steady supplier of many of its famous practitioners, hardly finds itself at the centre of such bonhomie and sophisticated affection, that too in such salubrious settings. But one thing is for sure. Nandy who has been there and done that and has never looked back, seemed to have returned to poetry when he is riping inside and may be outside. This was his return to the comfort and warmth of letters. And the city which gave him words.


A flash of vision

Supreeta Singh

One fine morning in her hometown Minnesota, a young Annie Griffith Belt headed towards the golf course with a camera. As she focused her lens, she stepped onto water sprinklers strewn all over. The effect produced a photograph that captured droplets of water bursting in mid-air broken into tiny bubbles by light. It was an image that changed her life.
 “A camera is a window used to tell a million different stories. Sometimes photographers see a moment build up like a crescendo and sometimes a moment presents itself serendipitously. Whatever may be the case, you have to forget everything else and concentrate on your work,” said Belt at the 35th International Kolkata Book Fair where she held a discussion on photography.
 One of the youngest and first women photographers to join National Geographic (NG) in 1978, Belt is a prolific artist and an author of several books. Late last year, she edited Simply Beautiful Photographs, a collection of more than 50 images taken from the archives of National Geographic. “There is an enormous archive of pictures that have not been seen at NG. When a photojournalist goes on an assignment for six months he brings back a wealth of photographs out of which only 20 or 30 are printed at the most. The rest get archived. I selected a few pictures and used them in a way that challenges the conventional notion of beauty,” she said.
 Normally, a sunset or a beach or a landscape would appeal to an onlooker as pleasant. But Belt showed a few photographs from the book that defies traditional meaning of beauty. From a carrot, dog, jelly fish, flowers, fields, cityscape to nuns, children, birds, tunnels, deserts, trees and roads, the breathtaking images evoked gasps of surprise and admiration from the audience.
 Belt explained that there are six creative tools or elements that transform an ordinary setting into extraordinary. “The first and most important element is light. Then it’s the composition which is the only thing a photographer can control. What you choose to keep out of the frame is as important as what you choose to keep in. Next is the moment – the most sought after and the most elusive element, followed by colour and time. Last and most important is a sense of wonder. NG images should inspire everyone to discover a new perspective of a known or familiar thing,” pointed out Belt.
 However, the elements alone do not produce a beautiful image. What finally pleases the eyes is the impression of geometry brought about when the factors come together in the right proportion.
 As a photographer who excels in travel, documentary and nature documentation, Belt argued that although technical development has paved the way for better cameras, a photographer must get close to his or her subject to clinch the deal. “You must get busy with people long enough for them to trust you. The biggest mistake you can make is not get close enough to your subject,” Belt said.
 There are many photographers who take umbrage when their work is compared to a painting. Does that annoy her too? “Someone had said that the gift of the six penny photography is better than any acts of philanthropy. Photography taught painters how beautiful imperfection is. I guess a painter and a photographer felt threatened that one would trespass on the other’s territory. Personally, I don’t care because photography is fun,” she replied.
 Belt is also involved in social cause. She develops documentary programmes that help poor women whose life has been devastated by climate change. In India, she travelled to Jaipur, Sunderbans and a few slum areas in Kolkata. “With a team of people, we document stories through powerful pictures and present them to NGOs and policy-makers and effect their decision making process.”
 So is she one of those who only see the poverty and degradation of India? “Photographers come for a million different reasons to India like fashion, textile, Bollywood. When I visit a slum I go with a purpose and not for an easy picture. There are people in every profession who exploit their art to meet a certain demand. But I found India to be the single most compelling country to photograph,” she signed off.

Diganta Guha

Bollywood’s famous music director Ehsaan Noorani of (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy fame), was seen in Kolkata, recently, for an event. This year will be a busy one for the trio. They have scored music for a number of big releases and have also composed the theme song De Ghumake for Cricket World Cup 2011. And now, Ehsaan is trying his hands at something different.
He is going to launch his signature line of guitars soon. Talking about it, Ehsaan could not hide his excitement. “I think it’s a big achievement for a musician. Thanks to Jasbeer Singh, the India distributor of the Fender line of guitars, I got this opportunity,” he said.
“I have been in this industry for quite some time now. I have done well, received global recognition. Jasbeer proposed that I launch my own line of guitars. Fender is one of the biggest brands of guitars in the world and is used by all leading musicians,” he said adding it was not an easy process. “There were lots of meetings before the deal finally worked out,” Ehsaan said. 
The musician-cum-composer confirmed that this will be purely a commercial line and he will go all out to promote it.
So what is happening on the Bollywood front? “We have our hands full. Right now the music of Patiala House is out. Then we have Don 2, Chittagong, a British film West is Best, Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and many more,” said Ehsaan. He is also meeting artists outside Bollywood and working on building global collaborations.
We have seen music, director teams parting ways but Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have been going strong and there has never been any news about infighting or problem between them. What is the secret? “We love our work and our entire concentration remains on coming up with good music. We don’t have time for petty bickering. The moment politics creeps in, complications arise,” said Ehsaan.
Bollywood music has undergone tremendous changes over the years. Ehsaan said change was for the better. “There has been a lot of improvement in this field, production wise, technologically,” said the composer. What about hordes of new singers trying to get a foothold in Bollywood? “It’s good since everybody has something new to offer,” he added.
 What about the music scenario in Bengal? “I have followed some rock numbers from Bengal. There are many musicians from Kolkata on my Facebook list of friends. We were supposed to work with Rituparno Ghosh. But somehow it didn’t work out,” Ehsaan signed off.



Diganta Guha

Veteran playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy was in town recently to perform at a concert organised by the Saradha Group of Companies. Excerpts:

There is no dearth of item songs now in Bollywood, but you are the pioneer of such numbers…
I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer. Yes I did sing songs like Hawaa hawaai, Jumma Chumma and Tu cheez badi hai mast mast. I believe those songs had better lyrics. Today’s songs just come and go, at least I can’t recall the lyrics and the antaras. 

How do you see the playback scenario these days?
Well, it’s always important for a singer to walk with time. I am not the type that says, “Oh! The old songs of my generation were far better.” You have to accept what we have today. But I do concede that there has been deterioration in terms of lyrics. We have grown up listening to Majrooh Sultanpuri and many other fabulous writers. Now we have just Gulzar Saab and Javed Akhtar. There is too much orchestra used nowadays. 

You have sung a number of Bengali songs. You should be happy to know that songs of Bengali films are again becoming popular.
That’s very encouraging. The songs are much better and more meaningful. I recently sang for a Rabindrasangeet album called Bhalobashi. It’s doing well and I have plans to sing a lot more in Bengali. 

What keeps you busy nowadays?
I am doing a lot of projects that are ‘non-filmi’. The film offers I get are all inconsequential songs. There are lots of new music directors and lyricists who have come up, but their offers are not interesting enough. But music is an integral part of my life and I am keeping that alive by singing in concerts and  for projects like spiritual albums. 

I know it’s tough, but if you are to list three of your favourite numbers, which ones would those be?
My selection doesn’t depend on the song’s popularity. It has something to do with my sentiment. There are certain songs that changed my career graph and I am very sensitive towards them. I like       Hawaa hawaai, the songs of 1942 A Love Story and of course the numbers in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. I would rate the songs of HDDCS as really special because they were so different and there was so much of variety in them.  
Who are your favourite singers from the current crop?
They are all good individually. I like Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and KK.

What is it like to perform in Kolkata?
It’s always a wonderful experience because there is a strong culture of music here. Kolkata genuinely loves good music. It is always heartwarming to perform here.

Stars twinkle in reality show shoot

Actor Dev adds more color to Soham-Raima’s TV stint on Mahuaa Bangla

Agnibho Gangopadhyay

High on glamour quotient, Rajarhat studio was buzzing with activities where Mahua Bangla show, Twinkle Twinkle Dancing Stars, was being shot. Actress Raima Sen who judges the show and the emerging star of Bengali films Soham, who hosts the show, were there to take care of the rest. But the reigning superstar of Tollywood, Dev upped the ante like no one else could.
Venkatesh Films, producers of the show, has left no stone unturned to make the show a success. An opulent set, with guest-stars gracing the show from time to time make for a unique way to groom the participating child-dance artsites of Bengal. A representative said, “We never cash on negativity, fights and dramatised conflicts to make this show popular. It runs on its own merit.”
Dev came to the show late in the evening with a two-pronged intention, inspiring and encouraging the children of the show, as also promoting his forthcoming film, Dui Prithibi, a Raj Chakraborty directorial. However, we managed to catch up with Soham and Raima right before the shoot started.
Soham, who won accolades for his performances in Prem Amar and Amanush, said, “I was chosen as the anchor because the producers thought I encapsulate the successful transformation of a child artiste into an accomplished actor.”
TV for him is homecoming of sorts, but Soham would concentrate on his film career after this. Soham is very close to the kids, he finds them super-talented and feels bad every time one of them is eliminated. “In fact, I urged the makers of this show to do away with the elimination process,” he added.
When asked about the way he dealt with guest-stars, he said, “There is healthy competition between us actors when it comes to on-screen performances. But outside, its a congenial atmosphere. Both Jeet, who came earlier, and Dev, who was expected, are his close friends. There is no amount of discomfort.” Soham also talked about the sensitivity that permeates the show. For example, the children of the show had been taken to an old-age home where they made the senior citizens take part in little gaieties. Soham informed that he was working on certain scripts, and his next film would be from the Venkatesh stable.
Raima’s job was more difficult than Soham’s responsibilities. She actually had to evaluate the kids in strict numerical terms. “It kills me to disappoint the hard-working children”, she rued. Raima was also impressed by the selection and training methods used in this show. “It’s top-class, but not overtly tough on the kids,” she added. When enquired on her credentials as a judge, she said candidly, “I do not know the technical nitty-gritties of dance, but I have an intuitive understanding of the holistic, aesthetic appeal of a perfromance.”
Like Soham, she also corroborated the fact that this show was really concerned about the mental and physical well-being of the kids. Talking about her forthcoming films, Raima informed, “I’ve quite a few lined up for release. Vinay Shukla’s Mirch, a multi-narrative film about women’s empowerment, a cinematic adaptation of Tagore’s novel Noukadubi and Sanjoy Ghosh’s Memories in March, which also stars Dipti Naval. Raima was vocal about the fact that even after this pleasant experience, she wouldn’t do any more TV any time soon.
By then, Dev reached the venue. He was kept away from the prying eyes of the media, to retain the surprise factor. Indeed, he emerged out of nowhere to storm the stage, as shooting began. The charismatic actor was in a light mood, sharing jokes and playing pranks, teaming up with his friend Soham. He also mouthed the hybrid language his character speaks in his film Dui Prithibi. On a more serious note, he said he was hugely impressed by the talent of the kids. However, he didn’t forget to promote his film, Dui Prithibi, explicitly. “This is a film which viewers of every age would find extremely entertaining”, Dev said.
The episode will be aired on September 29, on Mahuaa Bangla.

A recently launched book on cinematographer Dilip Gupta is a collector’s item for movie buffs

Supreeta Singh

Champa Roy is finally at peace. She has been able to deliver what she promised her ailing father, the late cinematographer and one of Bengal’s unsung heroes, Dilip Gupta. Best remembered for films such as Dena Paona (1931), Kapal Kundala (1939), Deedar (1950), Biraj Bahu (1954) and the unforgettable classic Madhumati (1958), Dilip Gupta passed away on October 16, 1999.

Since then, his daughter Champa had been striving to bring out his biography. It was released recently and is called A Portrait of Dilip Gupta – The Artist Who Painted with Light and Shade.

When asked what took her so long, she says, “My mother was ill and the project got shelved. After her demise in 2007, I could again attend to it.”

Work had begun on the book way back when Dilip Gupta was convalescing after an eye operation. Champa, the second of his five daughters, used to speak to him about his early life and keep notes. Sadly, the first-time author had a difficult time getting sponsorship for publishing the book. After being kept at bay by an established film institute, Champa decided to publish the book on her own. “My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He had done a lot of running around for me so I wanted him to see the book before he shut his eyes,” says Champa.

The book is an ode to a man whose vision and skills gave Bengali cinema one of its golden periods. It provides a detailed account of Dilip Gupta’s life and times woven together with personal accounts of some of the most illustrious film personalities like Dilip Kumar (who has also written the foreword), Asha Parekh, Tanuja, Shammi Kapoor, Gulzar, and Shashi Kapoor, among others. The biography ends with a chronological list of Dilip Gupta’s films. There are also dedications by his family and friends interspersed with photographs.

Talking about the actor Dilip Kumar, Champa says, “Everybody had warned that I won’t get any response either from him or his wife Saira Banu. I was told that he has Alzheimer’s. But I was pleasantly surprised when he not only remembered my father but readily agreed to dictate the foreword. Gulzar was difficult. Shammi Kapoor was sweet. When I called him up, he straightaway asked me, “Do you have a pen and paper?”

Reminiscing about her father, Champa says that Dilip Gupta was very disciplined and health conscious. Since she was the youngest daughter for nine years before her third sister was born, she was pampered a lot by her parents. She writes in the book: “Baba was a health freak, he did his daily exercise early in the morning and in his younger days he was a body-builder too. He would be the first one to wake up early in the morning and in order to discipline us, would wake us up at 6am and make us dress and go out with him for morning walks…I was very fond of participating in our school elocution and singing competitions and when I won the first prize, Baba would be very happy and congratulate me with a big kiss.”

What hurts Champa most is the sheer apathy of the concerned departments in the government who take no initiative to create awareness or pay due acknowledgement to a man of his stature.

Dilip Gupta was one of the first technicians to go aboard and in 1933 and study at the New York Institute of Photography. His learned about animation from none other than Walt Disney who had taken him under his wing. His film Gotama, the Buddha, had fetched him President Award in 1966. In 1997, he was felicitated with the Bimal Roy Memorial Award for lifetime contribution. But is there anyone to take note?

Rues Champa, “No government body has taken any interest so far. Director Gautam Ghosh personally called me up and thanked me that for the first time someone like my father has got his dues, at least through a book. Next year, I hope to organise a small film festival, if all remains well.”

Nasreen Khan

The setting is Kolkata. The time is late 1950s. A young and handsome Briton working in an insurance company meets an attractive American woman working for the US diplomatic service in India. With only the cursory “hello” there is no conversation though the man’s eyes keep travelling to this pretty woman. The couple meets again at Tolly Club over Independence Day dinner. He walks up to her and says, “It’s been a long time!” She replies, “Yeah, right!” and walks off with a huff typical of a heroine. He pursues her and by the end of the year they are married at the St Paul’s Cathedral.

The plot is so striking similar to a Mills & Boons (M&B) romance that you wonder why it did not get written about. “Well, it could be,” smiles Clare Somerville, general manager, India, UK, Mills & Boon, sharing the reason behind her visit to Kolkata. Her parents met and married here and Claire and her brother were born in this very city. Though they shifted when Claire was only three, the lady came back to capture her roots through the lens. And she clubbed it with her business interests as well. “The city has a long tradition of literature and India is a growing market for books,” she shares.

On the agenda is to have more Indian authors writing because worldwide the Indian female population is looking for romance from the Indian basket. With M&B selling in over 100 countries and 30 different languages there are chances that soon there will be some in Indian languages as well. A whopping 50 new books are launched every month.

Though they have been importing to India since 1950s the Indian company was launched only in 2008 and it is expanding rapidly. In fact the growth rate is more than double. The content too is evolving, reflecting the changes in the role of women today. And even though the story talks about the contemporary woman, the basic premise of the M&B romance has remained the same.

There are 14 new M&B books for India every month targeted at young working women with disposable income. This is unique to India alone. “Before marriage these young women get hooked to M&B so despite the lull for a few years when they are busy with the new environment they come back after some years. Marriage does not shatter the illusion,” laughs Claire. The reason she says is that in M&B you get very special exclusive relationship between the man and the woman. After marriage the Indian women crave more peaceful time with their partner so M&B fulfills the aspiration. “Single working women are the easy catch as far as our marketing strategy goes. It is followed by the younger generation. For them we would like to introduce the nocturnal and paranormal,” shared Manish Singh, country manager, Mills & Boon India.

Probably the only publishers who ask wannabe authors to submit manuscripts directly to them; M&B is in expansion mode. An Indian hero hasn’t made the mark yet. But the hero, be it an Englishman or a Sheikh has remained irresistible, rich and sexy.  “The kind we want to meet since we are three and we never grow out of it. That is why they are read by all from 18 to 80,” Claire laughs. The first book to be written by an Indian is going to be Love Asana by Milan Vohra which speaks of love conquering all in a yoga class. The release is awaited.

Nasreen Khan
Kiran Bedi is a busy woman. She has lot of ladies to please before she will get down to answering questions. Her book might be about instilling basic civic sense in the common man, but for the time being she is selling it to the elite English speaking gathering of FICCI ladies at a five star hotel. Translations even in Bengali will follow, she assures.
That this former police boss has good sense of humour is evident as she shares funny anecdotes with the motley gathering of high society ladies. She shares how the Delhi police pass on her mobile number to any woman in trouble even though it is not her job anymore. She talks of how she dreads switching on her mobile on Sundays. Highlighting the lack of basic manners she points out the menace of mobiles ringing when we are in the middle of a gathering. As if on cue, a mobile rings out loud. Like a school teacher talking to little children Kiran Bedi points out, “Isn’t that a Broom and Groom situation?” referring to her just launched book.
She is not just the person who brought sweeping changes in the conditions of inmates at Tihar jail or other postings. She is a social reformer who is making every effort to define that role. She reminds about the time when a police officer under her towed away the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car. It had earned her the sobriquet of Crane Bedi. She reiterates that it is important to do your job “fearlessly”.
This Magsaysay Award winner reminds the gathering, “You can be what you want to be if you choose to be.” She is at her convincing best when she draws parallels to drive home her point about how women can be the harbingers of civility. She talks about worries of good skin and manicured nails and how one has to care about them from before they can be flaunted. Clearly Bedi knows her subject. And she repeats how this book of hers is the answer to a better society. Of course, she invites suggestions from her readers as well. She also uses the opportunity to invite sponsors to “adopt” underprivileged students under her NGOs and talks of how she is making the effort worldwide.
What attracts you to Kiran Bedi, apart from the fact that she is THE Kiran Bedi, is her playfulness and her sense of purpose. She winks as photographs are being taken, smiling at the importance of posing right. Next minute her Aap Ki Kachehri self is evident when she answers queries to various problems cited by the women in the audience.  And the very next she is sharing her childhood memories or talking about “moving on if you are in a bad situation”. She is not the one to talk of how the law takes a long time. She believes in finding a solution to the problems and being amicable about it as well.
She points out her four “C’s” to success — competency, confidence, compassion and crucibles. The crucibles being the troubles and difficulties one has to face in life. That she has been clear about her future is evident when she says, “I never dreamt of being a bride and decking up. No way! I knew I wanted to run the country rather than run a home.” Is there a political ambition? That query is overlooked. For now she is sticking to her social work. It seems this policewoman and now social worker is fast becoming a lifestyle guru. Her new book is just the beginning.

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