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City Lights
Animation action in debut run

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Space JamBhagmati – The Queen of Fortunes. The countdown has begun for India’s first 2-D animation-cum-live action film to hit the movie halls. Bhagmati — which has Hema Malini, Tabu and Milind Soman sharing big-screen space with an animated cast — is slated for release in four months. “The film is in the final stages of post-production work. We are in talks with distributors abroad for a worldwide release,” says Rajiv Sangari, head of Zee Institute for Creative Arts (ZICA), which has created the animation wonder.

The film tells the legendary love story of Prince Quli Qutb Shah of Hyderabad and the beautiful Bhagmati, who was born of humble origins. For the live action part, there is Milind Soman and Tabu meeting in today’s Hyderabad.

“Eighty of us have been working on the project for about four years now,” says senior animator Abhijeet Anpat. The product has seen 7,00,000 sketches clad in 16th century finery, flying through the sky, diving underwater and going hunting in the woods. “The sketches are supposed to resemble us. But the prince is so much more handsome,” laughs model-turned-actor Milind, who went over to ZICA’s Esselworld studio out of sheer curiosity to have a look. Hema Malini, in a cameo, reportedly said she looked younger, dancing with animated characters.

Tabu and Milind meet at Golconda fort in Hyderabad. Tabu, a history student researching the Quli Qutub-Baghmati story, is courted by Milind but she refuses to accept love on a scale less than the grandiose proportions that history showcases. It is at the climax that they meet the animated characters and realise that love is forever, across all ages. “The encounter lasts for about 10 minutes and is technically the trickiest part,” affirms Sangari.

It was a first for everyone in the team. While the animators “stuck to basic principles and looked for whatever information was available on the Net”, according to Anpat, director Ashok Kaul had a tougher job at hand. “We were using bluescreen technology for the portions where live action and animation had to be fused. The live shooting was done against a blue screen so that the animated background and characters could be easily inserted,” Kaul recalls. The crux was to ensure that the angle of vision of the live character matched that of the animated one.

But was it not tough looking into thin air and addressing someone who was being sketched in the studios' “Not so much,” says Milind. “After all, we have to look straight at the camera when giving close-up shots or if we are doing a double role.” What made things easier for him was the experience of having starred in Captain Byom, a sci-fi serial on the small screen where a similar technique was used.

For Mahima Chaudhary, who dubbed for Bhagmati, it was a “great challenge”. “I have never dubbed for anyone else, but the producers said my voice quality and diction were perfect for the job,” says the Pardes girl, who is “thrilled” to be a part of history in the making. “When I dub for myself, I try to improve my on-screen performance. But here they had painted the princess so beautifully that it was a question of matching up to her.” Baghmati, says Mahima, has such a softness and feminity about her that she decided to use a “comicky voice with lots of oohs and aahs”, reminding her of the “Amar Chitra Katha fairy tales when the girl would meet the prince on horseback”.

Bhagmati’s rushes received “a tremendous ovation” at Cannes, where it has been reportedly invited for screening at the next festival. After Pentamedia's Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists, which was screened on Fox Network, Bhagmati — The Queen of Fortunes could well place India more firmly on the animation map.

— Sudeshna Banerjee


Act One

East will meet west and professionals will work with amateurs in a theatre workshop next month. Kinaetma Theatre Company, based in the UK, is an alliance of theatre practitioners from Indian and European performance traditions. In August, Royona Mitra and Nigel Ward from the Kinaetma Theatre will be in Calcutta, and will work in collaboration with actress Konkona Sen Sharma to produce a unique piece of theatre, based on European styles.

In a three-week workshop with young theatre enthusiasts at the Calcutta International School (CIS), new forms of music and dance, visual and movement-based storytelling will be explored to present a production to be staged on August 22, hosted by British Council and Patton India.

During the first week of the workshop, the theatre trio will work with around 35 participants, with about 15 figuring in the final production. Some participants will have the opportunity to experience behind-the-scenes action as stagehands, and to gain first-hand knowledge and expertise on backstage management, sets and costume from those who know.

Royona, a city girl, had earlier worked on the much-acclaimed Sita, in Wolverhampton, UK, which uncovered hidden histories from the myth through an exploration of the character. The kathak dancer and lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, who has received training in Indian contemporary dance, is currently researching experimental theatre and the relation between cultural and performance theory.

As a director, Nigel Ward has worked in the London Fringe directing classical and contemporary play texts and as an assistant director with the Royal Shakespeare Company on three productions. The senior lecturer at Wolverhampton is researching directing theory, performance theory and experimental theatre.

Workshop forms are available at the British Council Helpdesk till July 28.


Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee, Priyanka Trivedi and Jeet take a break at a Salt Lake hotel during the shooting of Sangi. Picture by Pabitra Das

Notes from the alley

A group of musicians had sat down to brainstorm. After hours, one of them put his hand up: Kyun na patli gali pakar lete hain (Why not step off the beaten track)' The idea caught on. Patli gali became Skinny Alley, just the name that the quintet was searching for.

“The name suits the kind of music we do. After all, the mainstream is not available to us. So we are forced to take a detour,” says lead singer Jayashree Singh, on the eve of the English rock band's maiden album launch on Monday.

The members of Skinny Alley have been on the scene for years, albeit playing for other bands. Which is why the names Amit Datta, Jeffrey Menezes, Jeffrey Rikh and Gyan Singh strike a familiar chord with most Calcuttans. “In the mid-90s, three of us started writing music. After some years we realised we had enough for an album,” recalls bassist Gyan.

The band’s lyrics have a unique element, being the voice of a woman. “The themes vary from childhood and sibling rivalry to friendship and heartbreak,” says Jayashree, who penned the 10 songs in the album, Escape the roar. “Rock has always been male-dominated. Only today women with distinct voices are emerging. Even then, a band with a woman song-writer is uncommon in India,” smiles the mother of a 17-year-old. Having been exposed to a wide variety of music, the Skinny Alley sound does not have distinct influences. “Even in those three years of melody-making, we have explored and evolved. All we can say is the album is rock and we hope it rocks,” Gyan laughs.


Launch-time variety

It’s a furniture showroom, but with a touch of art. Above is the open sky, below is a garden, around it are four walls displaying art works, and in the centre is a café. So, sip a cup and enjoy the ambience at the open-air art gallery. Akar Prakar, at Hindustan Park, is opening its doors to the gallery-cum-café on Saturday for an exhibition of paintings by Susmit Biswas, to be inaugurated by writer Amitav Ghosh. The aim is to provide a platform for upcoming artists, and the guarantee is affordability and originality.

It’s party time tonight at Punjab Club, at an event featuring model Shyla Lopez and DJ JC from Delhi. The occasion is the launch of the smart card at the club, designed by Spaceage and co-sponsored by Shaw Wallace Distilleries Ltd. This “first-of-its-kind-in-the-country” club card will be used on the premises for access control, to utilise any facility and as an e-purse.

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