Big boom on small screen
Mayor gift to house-owners
On your marks for heritage marathon
US top draw in campus queue
Cableman arrested
The City Diary
No buses in hospital zone
Teachers wrest tenure victory in DA war
Flyover takes its toll on Victoria
Govt to take power woes to Delhi

Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
Action! The setting can be anywhere in Calcutta, from the studios to a stadium. The stars are the ones shining brightest in Tollywood, from Soumitra Chattopadhyay to Rupa Ganguly. The money being pumped in is in tens of crores. The number of people involved is touching 10,000. And it’s all for television. Cut!

Small has never been bigger. With filmdom down in the dumps and the Bengali beam growing by the prime-time hour, television is what is keeping the floors busy and the dream factory afloat.

With almost 40 television productions, comprising serials, telefilms, talk-shows, game-shows, documentaries and pilots, on the floors every day and several new ones being launched every month, thousands are now dependent on the big small-screen boom.

Take this: At the ‘home theatre’, Rammohun ran for two years, Janani for three and Janmabhoomi is into its sixth. In the hall, Saathi is being hailed as “a phenomenal hit”, thanks to its six-week run.

If ‘show me the money’ is the line that dictates the entertainment industry, it’s all happening on television, generating around Rs 90-crore a year, against Rs 20 crore churned up by films, say industry estimates. For a daily soap or a mega serial, an actor can be assured of Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 a day; a cinematographer can pick up anything between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 for a 23-day turnaround; an editor around Rs 20,000.

The television blitz has breathed life into the studios, with all floors of Indrapuri, New Theatres and Technicians Studios taken up and the action also spilling over to empty flats anywhere in the city and garden houses on the fringes.

“While a mega serial runs for at least a year, thereby assuring the technicians of a steady income, film projects are not only few and far between, but some are not even completed. So, technicians now prefer serials over films,” say Vijay Agarwal of GP Films and Biswajit Guha of Tron Video. “We choose serials over films because the viewership is higher, returns are quick and, most importantly, they keep us going,” adds Agarwal.

Says cinematographer Pantoo Nag: “After years, everyone from the boom-man to the make-up man is busy. Some of my assistants have been able to book flats or buy vehicles, which they couldn’t have dreamt of even a couple of years back. Veterans like us still clamour for the grandeur of films, but let’s face it, the serial boom will now carry the industry on its shoulders.”

Veteran editor Arghyakamal Mitra has edited around 50 serials and 12 films. For him, the choice is clear: “Most films being churned out serve no purpose, so I prefer working for serials that have become experimental, besides assuring a steady income in a decent set-up.”

For young actors, even recognition these days is taking the TV route. As Jishu Sengupta and Sreelekha Mitra put it: “These days, recognition comes from doing serials or telefilms, rather than feature films. Moreover, channels are now churning out experimental telefilms with big stars, providing an alternative to feature films.”

It is this opening up that is attracting big names like Rupa Ganguly. “While actors will be actors, preferring films to television, with serials and telefilms becoming novel in theme and concept, things are becoming more interesting and challenging.”

But will the rise of TV spell doom for the big screen? The magic of the movies can never die, insists one of the first stars of the small screen, Sabyasachi Chakraborty.

Arijit Dutta of the Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA) feels the two media must co-exist. “Serial-makers do have the advantage, as piracy does not eat into their profits. But we have had three hit films already this year – Saathi, Annadata and Bangali Babu, which is not bad.”


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
For the city’s 600,000 owners of houses and flats, some relief from ‘inspector raj’ is in sight.

Fed up with complaint after complaint of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) assessment inspectors first fixing an inflated tax-slab and then scaling it down after “programmed” appeals during hearings, the authorities have decided to plug the loopholes.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, citing provisions in the CMC Act, has said that all hearing officers (who deal with complaints of ‘over-assessing’ against inspectors) will have to justify, in writing, the amount they fix as civic tax on any property.

Mukherjee has also directed hearing officers to put down points raised by the CMC assessment inspector and the owner of the property and pass orders only after “due consideration” of both. “These changes in the functioning of the assessment inspectors and hearing officers will stop their high-handed behaviour and benefit about 600,000 owners of buildings and flats in the city,” Mukherjee said on Sunday. The CMC has also decided to send every case to the hearing officer for proper assessment.

The convention, officials admit, has been to fix or revise tax that is “startlingly higher” than what it should be. Often, the assessment inspectors do not even visit the premises they “assess”. The disgruntled property-owner then approaches the hearing officer for a revision. The assessment department conducts ‘general re-evaluation’ of an assessed property every six years. Any enhancement of more than 10 per cent (if the property has not undergone any change) entitles the owner to approach a hearing officer.

“Proper orders are passed only in very rare cases,” says Shaktibrata Ghosh, officer-on-special-duty to the mayor. “Hearing officers are more often than not misled and misinformed by the inspectors and in most cases, the owner of a house or a flat does not get justice unless he/she resorts to a pay-off,” add officials.

The CMC now has 20 hearing officers — most of them retired WBCS officers — and 13 of them are posted at the civic headquarters on SN Banerjee Road.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
A statement that is all of seven kilometres long — ‘preserve the city’s past’. Come September 15, the city can put on its sprinting shoes and turn out for the Calcutta Classic Run. Organised by the Calcutta Hash, with Make-a-Wish Foundation, the race will take 300 Calcuttans down a seven-km heritage trail.

The aim of the race, a “first for Calcutta”, is to raise “awareness about heritage” and “funds for the Foundation working with thalassaemic kids”. The initiative for the race, inspired by the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, has been taken by the city’s Hash brigade, a group of expatriates, diplomats and their local acquaintances. The Hash is a tradition derived from the Hash House Harriers, formed in 1938 by a Briton, Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert, in what is now Malaysia. He gathered several expatriates to form a group that got its name from the local Selangor Club Chambers, commonly referred to as the ‘Hash House’ for its lacklustre food fare. There are currently around 1,500 Hashes scattered across the world.

The Calcutta chapter came into being about a year-and-a-half ago and meets every Sunday morning for jogging tours of “historic spots” like Dalhousie Square, the Park Street cemetery and the Botanical Gardens. “The best way to get to know a city is on foot. Calcutta does not have a big running culture, but we do hope to make this an annual event to give residents a chance to see their city from a different perspective and increase appreciation of its heritage,” says Michelle Esperdy of the US Consulate, who along with Paul Walsh of the British deputy high commission, is the moving force behind the event.

“The race is in the tradition of open-to-all marathons abroad,” confirms Puneet Bagrodia, president, Make-a-Wish. “But since people here are not used to running and the climate does not really support physical exertion, we are keeping the distance at seven km instead of the customary 26.2 miles.”

The fundraiser will be a competitive event, with prizes in different categories — men, women, professionals (including army or police officials) and teams (five members). “We may include a senior category for the 45-plus,” adds Bagrodia. Participation is open to citizens above 16, on payment of a token registration fee.

The race will get off the block at 7 am in front of Victoria Memorial, take a trip down Red Road, pass by Raj Bhavan, Writers’ Buildings and touch the finish line back at the Memorial after covering a few other monuments in the vicinity. “We will keep the course open for two hours. The logistics are being worked out with the police. Since it is a Sunday, traffic will not be a problem,” adds Michelle.

A keen runner, who took part in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, Michelle feels though the inaugural edition is aimed at local participation, the race could well develop into a tourist attraction. “The big races in the US draw people from all parts of the country,” she points out.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
The operative word on the Calcutta campus at this time of the year is ‘fall’, with the number of students headed for the US on a steady rise.

Prometric Testing Centre, the only city institute that offers students the opportunity to appear for entrance-cum-scholarship examinations to US colleges and universities on-line, is booked till November.

Calcutta alone contributes a hefty 10 per cent of the 15,000-plus students who queue up for entrance examinations, like SAT, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT. And this 10-per-cent chunk is growing at around 25 per cent per annum, with September 11 no deterrent to campus plans.

Agencies marketing varsities and other educational institutions in Australia and New Zealand, like Global Reach, are fast catching up and the British Council continues to send a steady stream of students to the UK.

But when it comes to popular draw, top-notch US varsities and undergraduate colleges score easily. And training centres are cashing in on this.

For aspirants to the US, Rukmini Bose is now something of a trend-setter.

“She has been one of the very few select undergraduate students from the city to score 2350 (out of 2400) in GRE,” said Rahul Dutt, corporate communications deputy director of George Edcare, the Calcutta-based training institute with the longest bound-for-USA queue.

Though Rukmini’s was a “dream score”, Calcutta students now regularly break into the 2300-plus category in GRE.

“The high scores help them outscore their counterparts from most other cities when it comes to taking the scholarship route to the US,” says Dutt.

According to the figures available, at least half of Calcutta students who manage to take the SAT, TOEFL and GRE route, do so with a scholarship.

Gaining scholarships to management programmes, however, is much more difficult, with only about five per cent of the aspirants managing full scholarships, admit officials of George Edcare, which now enlists Presidency, Calcutta and Jadavpur University toppers to train the US-bound.

The Calcutta stereotype is evident in the break-up of streams of choice.

Of the 1,500-odd students leaving for the US, more than 60 per cent opt for science, 25 per cent for humanities and the rest for an MBA or related degree.

Officials, however, add that this last sector is registering a faster growth than the other fields.

When it comes to the choice of university, again, the stereotype rules. Educational institutions and varsities on the East Coast — like those in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts — still score over New England states like Pennsylvania, followed by some mid-western states.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
The Enforcement Branch (EB) has arrested a cable operator from Rishra, in Howrah, on charges of screening pirated cassettes on his video channel. Inspector-general of police, EB, Prasun Mukherjee, said on Sunday that Gautam Das was held and his equipment impounded during a raid on Saturday. This is part of the crackdown on video piracy, following complaints from the film industry. RPG Netcom chief executive Ashim Dutta said the network was flashing an anti-piracy message. “We are educating operators and warning them of police action,” he said.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 

Management school sealed, two held

Police sealed Association of Management, a private institute on Lenin Sarani, and detained its directors, Beena Ghosh and Sudip Ghosh, on Sunday. The duo was arrested after the students lodged a complaint with Taltala police. Deputy commissioner, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said the institute had advertised in major newspapers that it was conducting management courses with Central affiliation and promised 100 per cent placement. The students stated in the complaint that the advertisements were misleading and they had been cheated.

Twin tankers jump tracks

Two tankers of a goods train jumped the rails at Gurudas Halt, near Bidhannangar station, on Sunday morning. The tankers, carrying oil, skidded off to a market. There were no injuries as the spot was deserted.

Festival specials

To cope with the Puja and Diwali rush, South Eastern Railway (SER) will run 11 pairs of Mail and Express trains, from September 30 to December 3, to Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur and Tatanagar, SER sources said.

Tagore tribute

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the screening of three films and video documentaries to mark the death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore at Nandan II on August 7. The films have been produced by the Centre for Mass Communication, Rabindra Bharati University.

Sapling drive

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee planted saplings at Azad Hind Park, in north Calcutta, as part of a greenery drive. Deputy mayor Minadevi Purohit and former mayor Kamal Kumar Basu were present.

Science seminar

A seminar on ‘Science, technology, environment and development’ will be held at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, in Jadavpur, on Tuesday, to mark the silver jubilee of the Science Association of Bengal.    

Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
The dearth of basic communication facilities is taking the sheen off the state-of-the-art healthcare facilities in Salt Lake.

The elite township’s “hospital para” in sector III, which houses at least five major medical institutes, is plagued by an acute lack of public transport, with buses scarce at the busiest hour and totally absent after 7.30 pm.

The health clinics situated in the area are Suraksha (a general hospital), Susrut (a super-speciality eye clinic), the National Institute of Homoeopathy, the Calcutta Heart Clinic and Hospital (a cardiology clinic that will soon be the first in the township with an exclusive geriatric centre), and the Institute of Reproductive Medicine, founded by Baidyanath Chakraborty.

For all these facilities, the area is served by only four bus routes — 47/1, 32A, 239 and 239A — with all the buses going off the road after 7.30 in the evening.

Bidhannagar Municipality had given some “definite proposals” to Calcutta Tramways Company, Calcutta State Transport Corporation as well as operators of private buses to divert some buses through the area, but to no avail, according to Ashim Guha, convener of the municipality’s transport sub-committee. Guha feels “internal pressure” could have forced CTC and CSTC to shy away from the area.

“Only the Regional Transport Authority and the State Transport Authority can issue permits and fix routes and the civic body does not have anything to do beyond what it has already done,” Guha said.

Though patient intake at these institutes has risen over the past two years, no new bus route has been added, say spokespersons for the hospitals.

“The number of patients we receive has gone up by over 50 per cent,” said Institute of Reproductive Medicine medical superintendent R.N. Ghosh. “But with public transport not available in the evening, returning home is a struggle for the patients’ families,” he added.

Sushmita Sen, an employee of the institute, has to walk nearly a kilometre to the GD Island to catch a bus. “I feel very insecure, as the stretch is completely deserted after dusk,” she said.

Secretary of the Calcutta Heart Clinic and Hospital Kishan Pradhan said the institute had approached the government for a redress of the problem.

“It becomes particularly difficult for nurses who leave after the shift that ends at 8 pm,” he added, explaining that a fair sprinkling come from outside Calcutta and are often stranded in the hospital itself.

With taxis out of reach for most middle-class patients, nurses and hospital staff, and shuttle-cabs missing because of a recent police crackdown, those leaving after the evening shift face a serious problem getting back.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
Bowing to pressure from the teachers of Anglo-Indian schools, the state government has agreed to pay them dearness allowance at par with teachers of state-aided institutions.

School education minister Kanti Biswas assured a delegation of the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools that the total years of service of the teachers would be taken into account while fixing their dearness allowances. The team met Biswas on Friday.

The decision has come as a major victory for the teachers’ association, as the government had turned down the same appeal when a delegation of the Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools placed it a few months ago.

Having slashed dearness allowance grants to teachers and non-teaching employees of Anglo-Indian schools in February — which prompted the heads of these institutions to raise their tuition fees — the government had also announced that it would consider a maximum of six increments while fixing the dearness allowance.

This implied that even a senior teacher, with several years of experience, would draw the same amount of dearness allowance as one who had joined the service only six years ago.

This had sparked off serious resentment among the Anglo-Indian school employees, as several senior teachers were deprived of the benefits of a pay-scale higher than their juniors, despite being in the profession for a long time.

“We are happy that the government has finally realised our difficulties and agreed to take into consideration the total years of service,” said Ismail Nehal, president of the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian School and a senior teacher at St James.

The association had organised a rally on July 30 to highlight the plight of the employees and teachers of Anglo-Indian schools, who had stopped receiving their dearness allowances from February 2002.

Matters were compounded after their dearness allowances were further reduced, with the government deciding to consider not more than six years of experience.

The government had stopped providing dearness allowance to the Anglo-Indian schools after the authorities of several institutions under this category refused to accept its decision to slash the amount from 132 per cent to 41 per cent.

However, a senior official of the education department said the government was firm in its decision to grant dearness allowance at 41 per cent, which is at par with the rate provided to state-aided institutions.

The official added that the Anglo-Indian schools have been asked to submit the new bills so that the teachers are able to draw their salaries by August.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
The Victoria Memorial Hall authorities on Sunday blamed the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) for the damage caused to the monument’s wall during construction of the AJC Bose Road flyover.

Secretary and curator Chittaranjan Panda said construction workers had dumped mud along the south-western wall of the memorial over the past three months. “The wall is tilting and is on the verge of collapse. A portion of it is completely damaged,’’ Panda added.

Panda has written to Governor Viren J. Shah with details of the damage. In the letter on Saturday, Panda has urged the Governor to take up the issue with the state government.

The Memorial authorities said the wall was constructed in 1905. Forty feet of it has tilted and “may collapse at any moment. It will take about Rs 80,000 to repair the structure. This is the first time the wall has been damaged,’’ Panda wrote.

Victoria Memorial officials said the flyover construction workers have been accumulating mud along the wall for the past six months. A major chunk of the AJC Bose flyover work is in progress near the southern gate of the Memorial. The HRBC authorities have cordoned off the area with tin sheets.

“The workers are dumping construction material along the wall. Our officers had brought it to the notice of the local authorities and urged them to remove the dumped material from the boundary wall. But the pleas have been ignored so far,’’ Panda added.

According to the curator, half-a-dozen hawkers sitting near the southern gate add to the problem. They scatter their litter along the walls and within the gardens. The police were informed but the hawkers were not removed.

Officials of the HRBC said they regretted the construction damaging Victoria Memorial. “It is unfortunate. It has not been brought to our notice so far,’’ said HRBC vice-chairman A.K. Pal. “We will atone for the damage. I request the Memorial authorities to let us know the extent of damage,’’ he added.

HRBC officers supervising construction of the flyover said they would ask engineers to be careful and ensure that waste is not dumped near the Memorial gates or along the walls.


Calcutta, Aug 4: 
The western grid failure last Tuesday has prompted the government to lodge a complaint with Union power minister Suresh Prabhu against frequent instability in the eastern grid.

State power minister Mrinal Banerjee will attend a meeting called by Prabhu in Delhi tomorrow to find ways of providing electricity to drought-affected states where hydel generation has come down.

For instance, Orissa’s 1,500-mw hydel capacity has plummeted to around 650 mw, leading to overdrawing of power. Orissa’s Gridco is also overdrawing about 550 mw from the National Thermal Power Corporation’s plants at Farakka, Kahalgaon and Talcher.

The present instability in the eastern grid is due to overdrawing of power by Bihar and Orissa.

“We will definitely report to the Union power minister about the problems of overdrawing and instability in the eastern grid. We will also assure him that we are ready to supply power to drought-hit states during off-peak hours,” said the state power minister.

Power officials said despite strict instructions from the Eastern Regional Load Despatch Centre, no other member states like Bihar and Orissa had installed the sophisticated devices that allow power supplying agencies to isolate themselves during grid disturbances.


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