The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Taking Bard on flights of fancy

There was some criticism about the theme of this year’s British Council school drama festival, ‘As You’ll Like It!’ Students were to come up with original one-act plays “based broadly” on the Bard’s works. Too complicated was the general view.

Most regulars of the New Connections festival would, however, agree that this dismissal was to underestimate the maturity of the performers. Brilliant efforts have shone through on a platform that has brought out the best from the city’s young theatre lovers.

But detractors stood vindicated. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the selection of 17 plays at Vidya Mandir on Saturday and Sunday were nowhere near the usual quality. And, sadly, the scripts held ample evidence of the declining popularity of Shakespeare in schools.

First, the good news. A few students were brave enough to take a creative leap, even when confronted with a seemingly daunting proposition. La Martiniere for Girls got off to a brilliant start with their Friday at Nine. Six women, each an uncanny alter-ego of Shakespeare’s women — like Desdemona and Lady Macbeth — grapple with the choices they have to make to escape the tragic end their fictional counterparts faced. Quality performances all round won the team the joint best actress award. The script displayed more maturity than most of the

rest, and there was an attempt to weave an original story capturing Shakespeare’s essence.

St James’ School, the final act of the festival, put up the entertaining Reflection. Though the boys left awardless, they deserve mention for the attempt to link issues raised by Shakespeare to their own lives. Romeo’s plight is shared by every lover whose parents object to his choice of partner and Shylock is the Harijan scorned by the upper classes. They did not just pay lip service to the universality of the Bard; they demonstrated it with some conviction.

Other award winners include Army Public School, for the best team effort, Calcutta International School and Loreto House for the best scripts, Xaverian Soumyakanti Dey Biswas as best actor for his rendition of Macbeth and St Thomas’ Church for the best technical effort.

Each of the school groups went through workshops with theatre professionals, smoothing out the rough edges of their plays. But the concepts themselves were weak. Most of the plays threw together characters from a handful of plays with little thematic unity. Macbeth, Hamlet, Puck and Othello appeared in most scripts, and the three witches were most popular. Most only threw in the oft-repeated lines — A rose by any other name, To be or not to be, Fair is foul and foul is fair…

Shakespeare’s works find a place in most school syllabi, so one must wonder about the teaching techniques employed, which leave children with little insight and even less curiosity to read the plays independently. Shouldn’t students writing, directing and starring in plays also do some reading on their own'

HOGWARTS BECKONS:The Potter brigade with the new book


Hordes for Harry

The devotion cutting across all ages is clear. Here is the final defence — the last letters which flowed in for the Time to Talk debate ‘Is Harry a hero or is Pottermania all hype’:

Wizards, spells, potions.... Give me a break! These were my words. Till I met Harry Potter. Soon I was turning pages faster than you could say ‘Hogwarts’! The appeal of the series lies in the artful amalgamation of mystery and intrigue, exuberance and poignancy, joy and sorrow. Harry is not a superhero — he is what we were as children. Astute marketing is definitely one of the reasons for its success, but Harry reminds us of the child that we once were. Surely that is magic at work.

Poulami Sarkar,
PG-I, Presidency College

Harry is a hero; and he is not alone: Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Ginny, Neville are all heroes!

The series is not a mere marketing gimmick. Gimmicks can work with the second, the third, fourth and fifth books, but not with the first. Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the series, is a masterpiece. A few read it and because it was exciting, it caught on. There was no major publicity around the release of the first three books. The hype around the last book is because Rowling took nearly three years to write it, testing the patience of fans who had by now become involved in the life of Potter and his friends.

The movie was made only after the first four books created history. Parents are not fools that they would buy their kids a book just because of the hype. Imagine the power in the writing that has torn people away from their TVs and computers to stand in queue for hours!

Suhani Jain

Fans try to trace a link between their hero and themselves. In Harry’s case, they have a same-age idol. He was popular before the hype and would be popular without it as well.

Manan Agarwal
IInd year, St Xavier’s College

The latest Harry Potter may have been launched with the greatest publicity ever, but there is also a growing demand for the boy wizard. This is proof that it is not just hype that creates this craze. Harry is the kind of hero kids all over dream of, but he is different from the traditional action stars. He defeats evil through magic and witchcraft, but we also see his dedication to learn and utilise his skills properly.

Jasmine Banerjee,
B.K.G. College, Howrah

Hurricane tour

A “how to” class from the it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over man went out to management students last week. Kapil Dev was at IIM-C during his recent visit to the city. Anecdotes and tips kept the students hooked to the former cricketer’s words. His message: Work hard, have faith and don’t forget your country when you’re at the top.


Plastic watch

Young citizens came together last week to lessen the plastic litter-load on the city’s most prominent heritage site. From July 27 to 31, Victoria Memorial was guarded by the plastic police from city schools, preventing visitors from carrying in plastic bags.

Among the participating schools were Metropolitan Institute, Taltala High School, Lee Memorial Girls’ High School and Taki House Government Sponsored Multipurpose School for Boys. The students were spread over the north, south and east gates of the Memorial, stopping anybody with a plastic bag from entering. They didn’t allow a single person through the security cordon without the bags being checked. Even in the rain, students donned raincoats, or pulled out umbrellas to keep vigil, helped by the city police.

This was one of the many campaigns led by Paschim Banga Bigyan Mancha, the students having also participated earlier in a tree plantation drive and a project to keep Maniktala Bazaar clean.

— Subhajoy Roy,
Class XII, Mitra Institution

Animated tales

A shakchunni (witch) with a serpentine neck turns a village dame into a ball, bounces it a couple of times and kicks it firmly. The ball lands in a hole on a tree and the witch stitches up the hole with radiation from her blood-red eyes.

Move over Tom and Jerry. Thakurmar Jhulie will now be on beam on Sunday mornings. From August 17, Alpha Bangla will telecast Bengal’s classic folklore series in its animated avatar.

“We will cover the shorter stories to begin with — Chunir janma, Shakchunnir Golpo, Brahmadatyir Golpo, Bagher Golpo, to name a few,” says Chaitali Mazumdar, marketing manager of Dawsen Infotech, producers of the show.

Work is on round the clock at the studio to get the animation series off the ground. “We have been working on the sketches for seven months now,” says animator Durbadal Mukhopadhyay. “It was a first time for most of us. But our speed has gone up with practice.”

Giving voice to animated characters was also a first-time experience for Neepabithi Ghosh, who was Thakuma, the narrator, as well as some other characters, ranging from a princess to a dog. “Though animation gives one a free hand as there is no need to match with character’s voice as in playback singing, one has to be far more responsible. It is the voice that gives life to the sketches. Children have strong reactions. A great deal of sincerity is necessary to convince them,” the singer explains. While for playing Thakuma, she visualised herself sitting with a bunch of kids, for the dog (which later turns into a princess), the trick was to add bass to her voice and produce “feminine barks” in between words. It helped that dialogue director Devjit did some of the voices himself and, therefore, had first-hand experience.

Dawsen, which has been in the animation business for some years now, has great expectations about Thakurmar Jhulie. “Children have so far been fed a diet of dubbed versions of Disney. They can now see tales from our own backyard. Even the parents would feel nostalgic,” Chaitali says, adding that their animation products did “very well” at the Book Fair.

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