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CULTURE HUBS ON THEIR KNEES

Nandan

WHERE: 1/1 AJC Bose Road

AGE: 28 years

CURRENTLY HEADED BY: Sandip Ray

MANAGED BY: Aparna Sen, Ranjit Mallick, Prosenjit, Prabhat Roy

WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR TODAY: Nandan will have to be shut down… unless it goes digital in a hurry!

Hear it from Sandip Ray, chairman of the Nandan committee formed to “spread film awareness” and promote the centre as a facilitator for film studies, research and interactive sessions. “Our main target right now is to bring in digital projection or else Nandan will have to be shut down soon because all films now are digital. For my last film, Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy, I had to take out a special print for Nandan.”

For last year’s film festival, Nandan had to hire digital projectors, which turned out to be “a very expensive affair”.

Among other things, the library is in need of an urgent makeover. “The library that moved to the Chalachitra Shatabarsho Bhaban in 2008 was shifted back to Nandan two years ago and therefore the database needs to be sorted and recreated. The library also needs better seating arrangements. The Nandan library was very good once upon a time. It has to be reactivated,” said Ray.

If Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could have been accused of spending too much time at Nandan, Mamata Banerjee has been seen at the address only twice in 12 months. She prefers hobnobbing with Tollywood stars at stadium programmes or private parties.

Paschim banga Kazi Nazrul Islam Academy

WHERE: First floor room in Rabindra Sadan

AGE: 20 months

CURRENTLY HEADED BY: Joy Goswami

MANAGED BY: Anup Ghoshal, Bibhash Chakraborty, Kalyani Kazi

WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR TODAY: Mamata Banerjee uses almost every public platform to tom-tom the setting up of the Kazi Nazrul Islam Academy. The idea was to promote Nazrul’s literary and poetic works. At the end of 20 months, the scorecard reads: song-and-recitation programmes to commemorate the poet’s birth and death anniversaries, and a gala at Nazrul Mancha in May last year where 25 state awards were conferred on the occasion of Nazrul Islam’s 113th birth anniversary.

One of the core members of the committee, a theatre veteran, said on condition of anonymity: “I don’t go for the meetings any more. I haven’t seen any development barring two lectures and the usual song-and-dance programmes. Kaajer kaaj kichhu hoy na (There is nothing worthwhile happening).”

The severest indictment has come from educationist Meeratun Nahar, who had joined the academy on “special request from writers and the minority community”, only to put in her papers last month. “It was due to the discriminatory policies of the state government for the selection of Group D staff from the Public Service Commission that I resigned from the college commission and then the Nazrul Academy, as a mark of protest. But that apart I was also dissatisfied with the academy’s work which I have subtly mentioned in my letter. That the kind of principles, ideals and ultimate end towards which the academy wants to move forward did not match with Nazrul Islam’s real ideologies and philosophies.”

Meeratun elaborated: “I had accepted the membership at first because Kazi Nazrul Islam was a very attractive personality. He was not the kind to appease those in power and accept their mistakes. I respect his rebellious spirit and was forced to resign. What is the use of having an academy in his name when you can’t stand by his ideals?”

She also observed that there had been “no meetings for members” in the four months before she walked out.

Plans of setting up an archive, hosting activities to connect the youth with Nazrul Islam’s works and setting up research and publishing committees have remained just that: plans.

The only movement? Of the meeting venue, from the first-floor temporary office in Rabindra Sadan to a conference room at Sisir Mancha. There is no proper office space yet, despite several promises.

And now the meetings are also few and far between. Ask Meeratun.

A two-acre plot adjacent to the DLF Building in Rajarhat was earmarked for Nazrul Tirtha, an educational and research centre, and the foundation stone laid on Nazrul Jayanti (May 25) last year. “We plan to get started on the construction after Durga Puja, once the rains subside,” Debasish Sen, principal secretary, urban development department, and the chairman of Hidco, had told Metro in August 2012.

The rains have gone and are almost ready to return. Saraswati Puja is days away, almost four months after Durga Puja. But work is yet to begin.

When Metro caught up with Sen last Thursday, he said: “There’s nothing much to write home about at this point. The structural design will take time. We will float tenders next week and wait for a month. Hopefully things will get started around end of March.”

When Metro asked academy vice-chairman and MLA Anup Ghoshal what was going wrong, he said: “Our chairman Joy Goswami has been unwell for a long time and I have been unable to attend meetings for a long time due to other political and election engagements. I’m not very sure of what is happening but I wish there was better infrastructure. Unless a new building is set up, how can new developments happen? I’ve heard that land has been earmarked for a Nazrul bhavan in Rajarhat but I’m not completely aware of what stage it’s in. Ami asha kori Didimoni abar ektu Nazrul Academy niye chinta bhabna korben (I hope that Mamata Banerjee will once again give the Nazrul Academy a thought).”

She does give it a thought. But only at political rallies when it comes to name-dropping Nazrul.

Paschim Banga Natya Akademi

WHERE: 1/1 AJC Bose Road

AGE: 25 years

CURRENTLY HEADED BY: Manoj Mitra

MANAGED BY: Arpita Ghosh, Debesh Chattopadhyay, Bibhash Chakraborty, Rudraprasad Sengupta

WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR TODAY: Set up with the objective of developing and showcasing theatre from Bengal, it’s more a tale of misses than hits. The library is still crying out for web and digital support to save the decaying tomes, documents and CDs. The official website remains to be updated. “The website was never quite functional and we hope to create an archive to popularise the library which hasn’t been possible yet,” says Natya Akademi president Manoj Mitra.

The real reason maybe, as one of the core committee members who is also an active theatre worker points out, “red tape-ism”, because the Natya Akademi is still not an autonomous body unlike the Bangla Akademi, Shishu Kishore Academy or Minerva. “We are totally dependent on the I&C (information and culture) department and whenever we have a proposal, it has to pass through the various levels at Writers’ before we can get permission or something can be implemented.”

The annual fund of around Rs 28 lakh has been increased to Rs 30 lakh-plus, but the kind of serious work required to turn the Natya Akademi into a theatre hub or spread its influence is missing.

“Routine activities such as the annual Natya Mela, workshops in the districts and seminars continue, but overall development needs planning, infrastructure, budget and autonomy. Without that, it’s getting very difficult for Natya Akademi to survive. It’s currently functioning like a typical 12 to 5 government office where nothing happens, nothing moves,” says a member of the Natya Akademi committee.

Barring a few, many of the committee members have stopped attending meetings. Like a theatre veteran who has remained conspicuous by his absence in the past three months. “I’ve moved away. A lot of other members too have stopped going. Till the last Natya Mela I was very active but it’s turning out to be a futile exercise. There is deep-rooted dissatisfaction in the Natya Akademi.”

The missing faces from the world of theatre include Suman Mukhopadhyay and Koushik Sen, who resigned during the Nandigram agitation. While Sen refused to join even when invited by the new government, “because I know I would not be able to agree with them at all times”, Mukhopadhyay says, “they never wanted me at all because they were unsure about my political allegiance”.

Both Sen and Debshankar Halder, a member of the Akademi, feel that a major deterrent for theatre groups lacking motivation is “free shows” during the Natya Mela touted as a major theatre event. “If all other state-run festivals are ticketed, why is theatre projected as poor man’s entertainment, open to all and sundry? It has always led to chaos and lack of serious interest and that policy still continues,” stressed Sen. Halder suggested, “Maybe free shows to promote lesser known groups and ticketed shows for more experienced and popular groups would help.”

Theatre actor-director Rudraprasad Sengupta, a member of the Natya Akademi, had urged the chief minister to allow theatre groups to raise ticket prices up to Rs 100 without tax obligations, back in 2011. “They had agreed when I raised this publicly at Natya Mela but I don’t know why nothing has been done about it yet…. The attitude of the government towards theatre is reflected through a body like Natya Akademi.”

Paschim Banga Bangla Akademi

WHERE: Behind Nandan and the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Salt Lake

AGE: 26 years

CURRENTLY HEADED BY: Shaoli Mitra

MANAGED BY: Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Joy Goswami, Arpita Ghosh, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Abhik Mazumdar, Sukumari Bhattacharya

WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR TODAY: When asked about the current state of affairs at the Bangla Akademi, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay recently said: “Jemon cholchhilo temoni (It’s just the way it was).”

Mahasweta Devi’s resignation as president was a blow.

Nabaneeta Dev Sen highlights a positive, the bringing together of veteran writers with young writers in prose and poetry. “I have really enjoyed these sessions. If they can carry on this way, apolitically, I would appreciate it,” said Sen.

Now the downside. This autonomous body meant to act as the official authority on the language has neither an official website nor any contact details available online.

The library is yet to be made air-conditioned or user-friendly. “We hope to make the library on the fourth floor AC soon. Hundreds of books are housed there and the floor, just under the terrace, gets heated up,” said Shekhar Banerjee, administrative officer and secretary of the Bangla Akademi.

“Although some of the rare books have been digitised and turned into CDs, access is a problem. We’ve sent a proposal for modernisation to the I&C department and hope to hear from them soon so that we can take the necessary steps.”

The wait is on.

Rabindra Sadan

WHERE: Adjacent to Nandan

AGE: The building is 47 years old but the committee is 20 months young

CURRENTLY HEADED BY: Sumitra Sen

MANAGED BY: Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Partho Ghosh, Banasree Sengupta, Bijoylakshmi Burman, Sumitra Chattopadhyay

WHAT WE SEE AND HEAR TODAY: The primary problems faced by the auditorium built in 1966 when Metro took a close look at the hall just after the special committee was formed, have all… escalated.

The walls still need repair with no paint or patchwork in sight. No restoration or archiving work has been initiated to preserve the rare collection of LP records and documents stacked among the junk in a room that was once the archive.

“It’s the responsibility of the I&C department and I see no such plans in the offing. Nothing has happened in terms of archiving or preservation and I don’t know if there are any plans either. A lot of records, rare photographs and paper documents were lying in a room and rotting so I took personal interest and digitised some of them but no larger archiving plan is in place,” rued Meghnad Dey, the administrative officer.

When Metro asked Sumitra Sen for an update, the Rabindrasangeet exponent said: “We organised a big show for Ponchishey Boisakh and some of the Gaan Mela programmes.”

Her peeve point? “I wish we had more funds so we could pay the artistes a little more. If the amount could be increased, performers would feel a little more respected and motivated.”