The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Sound trip down digital lane

A rare recital by Abdul Karim Khan in the second decade of the 20th Century, or a priceless Zohra Bai piece dating back to 1908 are just a few of the many valuable recordings that promise to spring back to life at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) audio archive. Realising the need to preserve its recordings for posterity, the SRA has embarked on an ambitious project of digitising its entire repertoire of classical vocal and instrumental recitals spanning the past 70 years or so.

Next only to AIR with recorded music of around 15,000 hours, the SRA archive contains recordings of sangeet sammelans held at the SRA and across the country, plus those donated by gurus and private collectors for proper maintenance.

“With the bulk of the recordings stored in cassettes and the old ones in LPs, 78 RPMs and even spools, we first had to determine the level of restoration each piece needed. Some of the vintage compositions were in very bad shape, while the more recent ones were pretty fine. The Abdul Karim Khan piece, which we got hold of very recently, was recorded by a British researcher on a small wired disc,” says Amit Mukherjee, executive director, SRA, adding that 1912 recordings of Faiyaz Khan and Bawera Rahmat Khan also need urgent restoration.

Wipro has recently carried out an assessment of the quality of the recordings and the degree of restoration required for each piece, after listening to all the recorded music. The material will be transferred to DVDs for greater storage space, as each disc can contain about five to six hours of music.

“Besides, it’s a more durable format and ensures longevity of the music. Accessing the system will also be a lot more user-friendly, with catalogues referring to the artiste and the venue of the recital,” Mukherjee adds.

As the first step to digitisation, the recordings have already been transferred to a medium of tape and made ready to be put into the DVD format. “But any form of transfer involves a loss of quality and we are trying to keep that to a minimum,” Mukherjee says.

The SRA audio library was computerised some four years ago. Around 5,000 compositions of different gharanas were recorded under a Ford Foundation project to help in the training of SRA scholars. The collection, later edited and compiled in the library, has also been included in the makeover scheme.

“The digitised library will be open to our gurus and scholars, who need to refer to the various gharanas and listen continuously. The students can learn the nuances of a particular raga, or how the exponents have evolved over the years. For instance, Abdul Karim Khan’s early recording gives us an insight into his style and quality of voice in his youth,” explains Mukherjee. “But not anyone can just walk in to listen. We will allow in serious listeners after proper screening.”

— Reshmi Sengupta

Family drama

The 23 Pally Durga temple in Bhowanipore was abuzz with activity. Shooting was on for Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s Pratima. A curious crowd had gathered outside, hoping to spot celebrities and finding none. But few of them knew that it was the celebrated Mukherjee family of Mumbai holding court inside.

Rani Mukherjee’s brother Raja has turned producer and the adaptation of Pratima is his maiden venture. While he was busy helping out director Ashok Gaekwad, Rani’s sister-in-law Jyoti was facing the camera in the Sahara Manoranjan production under the watchful eye of mother Krishna.

“My family is in films for 40 years. Can I think of any other profession'" asks Raja, between shots. It is fitting that he is starting off with a novel for which his father Ram Mukherjee (director of blockbusters like Tomar Rokte Amaar Sohag and Rokte Lekha) had bought the film rights. “You know, it was Rani who advised her brother to learn the ropes of production with TV before trying his hand at films. She has the coolest head in the family,” quips mother Krishna.

It was Rani’s mother who persuaded her to turn to films. “Rani was the serious sort, unlike the happy-go-lucky Raja. I did not mind taking a risk with her. After all, a girl can always get married if things do not click. In fact, the first time she faced the camera in Raja ki Aayegi Baraat, she was so shaken that she came to me saying she couldn’t do it.” After years in filmdom and the recent string of hits, the Friday flutters are history.

Till recently (Calcutta Mail and Bas Itna sa Khwab Hai), Raja was designing Rani’s dresses. “I have done 14 films with her over five years. But now I want to do something on my own,” says the JJ School of Arts diploma-holder. The dress designing experience is helping. “A producer has to know all facets of work, not to be cheated,” laughs Raja.

Rani’s sense of punctuality has rubbed off on sister-in-law Jyoti as well. “Rani never cancels a shoot, even if she goes to sleep at 4 in the morning. Sometimes Mummy wants to call up the producer to tell him she’d be late. But Rani would argue with her and walk out on time even if she has fever,” says Jyoti, a veteran on TV after roles in Kitty Party, Mulk and Manzil Apni Apni.

Pratima is a family production in more ways than one. While mother Krishna is giving tips on all matters Bengali (like wedding rituals), Jyoti is playing hostess to the unit (other than playing her role). And Rani' “She is the presenter of the serial. Her name appears right on top of the credit chart,” Raja smiles.

Woman in action

She’s a film-maker and photographer, a feminist, environmentalist and crusader. The multifaceted Manjira Datta has been around the world and back, researching and documenting various issues. Finally, it was time for an exhibition of her works. Although Manjira lives in New Delhi, she held her first solo photography exhibition in Calcutta, “because people here get involved. They notice details and then offer comments”.

The feedback on Worldscapes, at the Academy of Fine Arts, which ended this week, was “wonderful”, she says. Comprising her works of over 20 years, it was an attempt at portraying the world “as it is”. There was the light and shadows section, comprising mainly images of the western world, from the environment to biotechnology. Then there were the Bihari labourers, from coal to steel workers. The rural section had pictures of Assam and West Bengal. Finally, there were photographs of “women in action”. The evolution of the world and change were the central themes.

“My aim was to do a critique. The West perceives India as ‘the other’. But we are a part of the worldscape, which is often unglamorous. In fact, we are often ‘observed’ by the West. I tried to do a similar observation of them,” she explains.

With the success of the show behind her, Manjira’s back to the grinding stone. She is busy with two projects — a photographic documentation of the use of steel in daily life and a documentary film on alternative dispute resolutions in Bengal. “Everybody uses steel. It’s the unnoticed revolution in the process of globalisation.”

The film will be on movements at the village level and quasi-legal forums, with focus on violence against women. “With these state-level experiments to ease the legal backlog, women at least have the scope of settlements through negotiations, to provide them respite from violence, poverty and an uncertain future.”

Riverside story

A celebration of the river Hooghly will see stakeholders, public and private, come together this month-end. Nadir Sange Dekha, a marine awareness festival from November 28 to 30, will involve people from all walks of life in an attempt to raise the level of consciousness about the river and the role it can play in the life of the city. Organised by the Sea Explorers’ Institute, the three-day celebration brings together artistes’ interpretations as well as discussions on problems like pollution. Governor Viren J. Shah is expected to join the celebrations on the final day, which includes a fireworks display, and a marine pageant.

“Though the festival has been an annual event, organised by the institute and our students, this is the first time that so many streams have joined in. From private launch operators to the navy, artistes to the government, everyone has expressed their solidarity,” explains Sheuli Chatterjee, general secretary of the Sea Explorers’ Institute. Jogen Chowdhury is just one of the eminent artists who has contributed his depiction of the Hooghly. Mrinal Sen will inaugurate the exhibition and auction of paintings at Prinsep Ghat Monument, where the event is to take place.

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