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French affair with a local accent

A fresh French accent with pronounced local overtones. That is what Alliance Francaise de Calcutta (AFC) has set out to acquire.

The cultural wing of the French government, for the first time in its 63 years of existence in the city, has launched a major brand-building exercise. “We are not just a foreign institution. We are very much a part of the city’s culturescape,” says Daniel Kuhn, AFC director, in his new office at Khalil Manzil on AJC Bose Road.

The acquisition of the premise will act as the launch pad for the AFC’s plans. The institution, which has been on the backfoot ever since the fire at its Park Mansions address in 1997, shifted to West Range, near Beckbagan, in 2001. At present, the office and the library have shifted to Khalil Manzil, another building a few blocks away, and efforts are on to bring the classrooms and the cafetaria under the same roof, as well. “We have to stop this daily shifting and stabilise,” Kuhn stresses.

First up, the roof of the old-fashioned, spacious building will be thrown open for a variety of events. And there need not be a French connection to these dos. “The space will be used to promote local artistes, be it through book-readings or poetry or performances.” And everyone will be welcome to attend. “We are not an embassy, so security should not be a problem,” smiles Kuhn. A cafetaria may also come up in the garden.

Screenings of French films which used to draw in hordes of Francophiles at the Park Mansions will resume in “a month or two”. “We may invite a specialist to come over and talk about the film,” Kuhn adds.

The AFC’s activities will not be restricted only to its premises. It has entered into collaborations with a number of organisations — Oxford Bookstore, Max Mueller Bhavan, Birla Academy, Rabindra Sadan, Swabhumi, Calcutta School of Music, GD Birla Sabhagar, Taj Bengal, Oberoi Grand…

While as many as 30 events were organised in 2002, this year also promises to be a busy one. On February 21, the AFC will bring over a medieval music troupe to perform monodies at the Calcutta School of Music. On February 24, the city will witness a creation of “one of the greatest choreographers in modern Europe”, Karine Saporta. Entitled Charmes, the dance production will use mythology, tragedy and history to explore the major female characters in European culture.

On the educational front, too, AFC is spreading its wings. “We are sending our teachers over to elite schools like St Xavier’s and Loreto to take classes while there are already similar agreements with management schools like IIM-C and IISWBM. The luxury hotels are also coming to us to train their staff,” the director says.

The library is set for a revamp with the launch of a website which will allow readers to loan titles from the entire Alliance Francaise network of libraries in India. “We will increase our holdings by 10 per cent annually,” clarifies Kuhn. French is the flavour of the season across the country. “There is an increased interest in the language. Our admissions rose by 30 per cent in 2002. With a new session starting in March, the figure is set to rise further,” says Kuhn.

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