Arson act in history heap
CalTel rolls out cell rates
Stage was set for multiplex
Locarno,Lagaan& Lego-like lines
Tech talk & tinsel town at CII meet
The City Diary
Battle lost against big bang
Faulty feedback held up Biswaroopa rescue work
Jadavpur green signal for herbal drug research
Stars, lights, action in magic medley

Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
In the darkness of Diwali night, hundred years of theatrical history were reduced to rubble. A massive fire gutted Biswaroopa theatre, in north Calcutta, early on Thursday, barely two months after a similar blaze razed the famous Rangmahal theatre.

Five people were injured trying to fight the flames. One of them had to be hospitalised.

Biswaroopa, witness to hundreds of performances by renowned theatre and film personalities, was closed since May 11, 1999, giving rise to speculation that it might be converted into a multi-facility residential complex.

Preliminary investigations indicate that it was an act of sabotage. Hall manager Jagdish Mahato and a local promoter, Ramesh Bothra,were arrested. .

The evidence collected so far points towards arson.We will submit our report by Monday,. said deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Soumen Mitra, minutes after taking over the case on Thursday.

When the flames were brought under control at 4.40 am (a little over three hours after the fire broke out), what remained of Biswaroopa was a small structure near the entrance, several burnt paintings of the Burdwan maharajas, and shards of chandeliers. The unique sets and the equally-famous green room had been reduced to ashes.

It was around 1.10 am when neighbours, enjoying Diwali festivities, noticed smoke billowing from the dressing room of the theatre. .It was difficult to make out what was happening. Smoke from firecrackers was everywhere.We realised the theatre was on fire when we saw the dense smoke,. said Anurup Seal, a local resident.

The handful of constables at Burtolla police station was immediately informed. Like most of the slum-dwellers near the theatre, they had to evacuate.

Lalbazar police control, which received the fire message around 1.24 am, quickly informed nearest outposts about the fire. But fire tenders reached the spot a good half-an-hour later. .

An important task was to stop the fire from spreading to other areas in the congested locality,. said fire services director B.B. Pathak, who rushed to the spot with other senior officials a little after 2.30 am. By 3 am, 19 fire tenders were pressed into action.

Blaming the police for reacting late, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said the .fire brigade was not informed in time.. He said: .This is definitely sabotage. We are trying to find out whether this delay was deliberate..

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee had similar views: .It was not an accident, but a deliberate act of sabotage.. The mayor alleged the fire was engineered to �stop the owner, Jayanti Mishra, from reviving the theatre..

Locals spoke of a promoterowner nexus. .They were trying to convert this place into a residential complex.We had resisted their designs for years, but last night we failed,. said an old Biswaroopa hand.

Soumitra Chatterjee, the last star to perform at Biswaroopa, expressed .dismay. over the developments. .I was informed about the blaze at around 3 am. While the news is extremely disturbing, I remember wondering during my performances there how the place had not caught fire, with all those wires hanging here and there... There does appear to be some foul play..

Aparna Sen also recounted her performances at Biswaroopa and said: .The blame lies squarely with the state government. Nowhere in the world are artistic centres so horribly neglected.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Calcutta Telephones unveiled cellular plans for post-paid schemes and pre-paid cards on Thursday.

Cellular services will, initially, be made available to 15,000 subscribers from November 23. .For the first 45 days, subscribers will be charged normal telephone call rates. The cellular rates will be applicable from January 8,. said a CalTel official.

The rate-chart reads like this:

Pre-Paid Card

Activation charge: Rs 500

Pulse rate: 30 seconds

Rs 250 card is valid for a month;Rs 1.50 per 30 seconds, for incoming and outgoing calls

Rs 500 card is valid for a month;Rs 1.10 per 30 seconds for incoming and outgoing calls !Rs 1,000 card is valid for two months;Re 1 per 30 seconds for outgoing and 75 paise for incoming calls

Rs 2,000 card is valid for twoanda half months; Re 1 per 30 seconds for outgoing and 50 paise for incoming calls

Post-Paid Card

Pulse rate: 30 seconds

Refundable security deposit Rs 1,000 (Rs 2,000 with STD and Rs 3,000 with ISD connection) for first four plans

Plan 525 -Activation Rs 500; rental Rs 525; 50 paise per 30 seconds for outgoing and 40 paisa incoming calls

Plan 400 � Activation Rs 500; rental Rs 400; 60 paise per 30 seconds for outgoing and 50 paise for incoming calls

Plan 300 -Activation Rs 500; rental Rs 300; 80 paise for outgoing and 60 paise for incoming calls

Plan 900 -Activation Rs 500; rental Rs 400, plus plan charge Rs 500; 40 paise per 30 seconds for incoming and outgoing calls

Standard Trai Plan � Activation: Rs 1,200; rental Rs 475; security deposit Rs 3,000,charges not fixed yet

According to S.P. Chakraborty, chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, 66 strategicallyplaced base-stations will cover Kalyani in the north to Baruipur in south, Uluberia in the west to Rajarhat in the east. .Applicants for cellular services will have to fill up a form available with 30 agents and commercial officers of major exchanges in the city. It is also on our website,,.. Chakraborty said.

The forms will also be available at select branches of Syndicate Bank and ICICI, where dropboxes for payments have been arranged. .The SIM card will be handed over on the spot, but we will not be providing handsets,.. a CalTel official said.

Foreseeing a flood of queries related to the cell service, CalTel will put in place a 24-hour helpline . 1600330033 or 236-9881. .


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Going by records, behind every big fire in a city landmark, there is a real-estate angle. Though she denies it, the present owner of Biswaroopa, Jayanti Mishra, had plans to develop the premises into a commercial complex, say the staff. The arrest of a promoter,Ramesh Bothra, suspected to be a key mover in the .remodelling. of the theatre premises, has only reinforced the real-estate angle.

Mishra�s renovation plan included a 600-seat auditorium, commercial complex, residential complex and a convention centre. .I have only engaged an architect to finalise a plan to submit to Calcutta Municipal Corporation,.. she said.

Mishra, however, claimed that she had not given the land in any form to any promoter. .I know Bothra and borrowed Rs 20 lakh from him to pay off the employees. But I have not handed over the property to him. I have my own plans to renovate the theatre,.. Mishra said.

According to employees of the theatre, the property has been given to Bothra, who is planning to build a commercial complex.

Bothra and hall manager Jagdish Mahato were arrested on Thursday.

From Burdwan Raj to promoter Bothra, the ownership of Biswaroopa, housed on 52 cottahs located in north Calcutta, has changed five times. From the Burdwan zamindars, the land was taken by Motibabu Trust, owned by Motilal Gia. Theatre personality Rashbehari Sarkar took over the property from the trust and transferred it to one Sudhir Ghosh. After a few years, the property was again taken over by Sarkar.

After his death, the property went to Shukla Sengupta, who committed suicide some years back.Later, it came to Jayanti Mishra, daughter of Sarkar,who claims to be the present owner. .

Bothra has been trying to construct the complex for the past few years but failed following strong protests. His men regularly threatened us. Even a month ago, we had been threatened that the hall would be set ablaze if we did not vacate or protested the change of hands,.. said Prabha Jaiswal, an employee of the theatre. .

After these threats,we used to guard the hall, specially at night. Last night, there was no guard as most of us went to visit Kali puja pandals. Taking this opportunity, the miscreants set the theatre on fire. There is no doubt the promoter�s men are behind the blaze,.. said set-maker Swapan Shaw.

According to stage manager Abhijit Das, inflammable material was used to set the hall on fire because it took just 15 to 20 minutes to reduce Biswaroopa to rubble. �suddenly,we noticed a fireball on the roof of the hall but thought it might be fireworks. Later, when we realised what was happening, we raised an alarm. I then ran to Burtolla police station, which is the next building, but no policemen were available. After 20 minutes, the fire brigade arrived, but with half-empty tanks,.. said Das.

Local MLA Sadhan Pande, who visited the site, demanded an inquiry into the incident. .Now it is Rupabani�s turn. One fine morning, you.ll see the hall gutted in the same way,.. he warned, adding that he would meet mayor Subrata Mukherjee on the issue.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
The .crazy architecture. of Calcutta, the serenity of Santiniketan, the lure of Lagaan figure high on the petpassion list of Irene Bignardi.

The film critic of La Repubblica-turned-director of the Festival internazionale del film Locarno, has traversed a multidimensional course in her career. But at the ripe young age of 58, the Roman lady, .in love with this city and also with its problems and great atmosphere., hasn.t lost any zest for work.

On her fifth trip here . she is doing some �serious Indiawatching. at the Kolkata Film Festival . Irene is quietly soaking in scenes for a documentary on Calcutta�s .crazy. architecture. .I think Calcutta is like an architectural Lego. You have a certain number of classical pieces, some art d�cor pieces, some Doric pieces and you put them together and start building something which must look classic. Then you say,why don.t you just add something more, like this Gothic tower? It�s a kind of architectural madness, the sign of freedom in a way which I like very much,. she gushes.

Irene would like to can this .madness. and has in mind .a young and brilliant lady director. from Italy, Barbara Melega, for the film. .In Italy, you have the prototypes of which everything has later been copied by various forms of architecture. So you have the dome, the capital, the pantheon...You see these things repeated in Calcutta in a way with a crazy freedom, because you take a piece of the pantheon and add the Gothic tower. That�s the point of my fascination..

The director of the Locarno film fest is also spending time at Nandan scouring Indian films for a possible .retro.. .Lagaan was shown in Locarno with great success. For a country that knows nothing about cricket, it was amazing. We won, they as authors of the film and I as director of the festival. There were 8,000 people, totally mesmerised, in the central square where the film was being screened. This made me realise that a lot of interesting things are happening in contemporary Indian cinema. So it�s important to do a bit of India-watching, I guess,. she smiles. Little utopia Irene feels .popular participation. is one of the most remarkable facets of this film festival. .It is wonderful to see people calmly queuing up to enter screening rooms. It means there is an important tribe of cinephiles ready to go to any length to watch quality films,. she observes.

Santiniketan has remained another abiding passion with her and figures in the book she is writing, called The Little Utopias, slated to be completed by this year-end, .provided I get a month of calm..

For Irene, Santiniketan is one of her �seven little utopias, a very special place. This university,which had to mix all religions, cultures, East, West. was a fantastic idea. It�s very fascinating even from an architectural point of view,because there�s a kind of elegant eclecticism of the turn of the century..

The utopia book also features Costa Rica, .because it is a country without an army. and .a mad city. being built by 82-year-old Italian architect Paolo Soleri in Arizona, called Arcosanti. .Being built for 2,000 people, on a plateau in Arizona, his idea is to repeat in the States the social and physical structure of medieval Italian towns where all the jobs, profes-sions, ages, social classes, melt together in a little environment,. she explains.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Technology and tradition. Stalwarts of industry and stars of tinsel town. In what could be seen as a major move to promote information technology and its collaterals in West Bengal, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) will be bringing them all together over the weekend.

The two-day Information, Communication and Entertainment (Ice) Summit, beginning November 18, has an impressive line-up of speakers, who would dwell on the convergence of technolgies.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Union minister for information technology and communications Pramod Mahajan and actor Aamir Khan will inaugurate the summit on November 18. The inaugural session at Taj Bengal will see Bhattacharjee, minister for IT and environment Manab Mukherjee and Mahajan addressing the gathering.

Later, Khan, CII president Sanjeev Goenka, and CII vice-president Harshvardhan Neotia will speak on .Living With Piracy.. Khan, who heads Aamir Khan Productions, is expected to discuss the vagaries of piracy that eat up the profits of movie-makers, vis-�-vis his latest production Lagaan.

In the technical session, R.R. Shah, secretary, ministry of information and technology, Shyamal Ghosh, secretary, department of telecom, Rajendra Pawar, chairman, NIIT, R.K. Singh, CEO, Zee Telefilms Ltd and Eakta Kapoor, creative director, Balaji Telefilms Ltd, will address the gathering.

The second day of the summit will focus on the global uncertainty and its domino effect, problems of acquiring HIB visas vis-�-vis the recent terrorist strikes, the slump in the software industry, acquisition of companies gone bust and India�s dependence on US.

Aveek Sarkar, chief editor, ABP Group of Publications, will chair the session on .Riding the Telecom Boom., where the speakers will include Subodh Saxena, president, Reliance Telecom, D.P�s. Seth, chairman and managing director, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Manoj Chugh, president, Cisco Systems.

Another session on the new paradigms for the content and entertainment players will cover topics such as the FM revolution, the future of digital radio and the potential of game shows and online gaming. Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, Sony Entertainment Television, Singh, Kapoor and Biren Ghose, CEO, UTV Net Solutions, will take part. The animation and digital media will also be covered in this section.

The final session of the twoday summit will dwell on the Convergence Bill, the IT Act and the viability of financial institutions providing funds for films.



Hoteliers held after rape victim escapes

The owner and the manager of a hotel in Barasat were arrested on Thursday on charges of confining a teenaged girl in one of the rooms of the hotel for over two days and raping her. The police said the two had managed to bring the girl to the hotel with promises of getting her a job at a nursing home. The girl, a resident of Nadia, managed to escape and informed the police. The police raided the hotel on Wednesday night. .

Policeman body found in pond

The body of an official of Dum Dum police station was found floating in a pond at Barasat on Wednesday night. According to police sources, the policeman,Swapan Kanjilal, had left the thana around 8 pm on Wednesday on patrol duty. Preliminary investigations revealed that he was intoxicated when he drowned.

Fake lottery protest

. Local residents held demonstrations against some people selling fake lottery tickets at Belur, in Howrah district. The police said the organisers had announced attractive prizes for the lottery. But when the results of the lottery were declared on Thursday, no one got any prize.Angry residents later lodged complaints with the police.

Special trains

Eastern Railway will ply special trains between Howrah and Chandernagore to accommodate the rush of passengers on Jagaddhatri puja. The Up special trains will leave Howrah at 12.30 am, 2.20 am and 2.35 am while the Down specials will leave Bandel at 1 am, 2 am and 4 am respectively.An extra AC-three-tier coach, comprising 67 additional berths,will be attached to the Howrah-New Delhi Poorva Express from November 20. The special coach will be attached to the Howrah-bound trains from New Delhi from November 21. An additional sleeper-class coach will be attached to Sealdah-Lalquila Express, running between Sealdah and Rajgir, from November 15. The special coach will be attached to Howrah-bound trains from Rajgir from November 16.

Girl hangs self

A 23-year-old girl, Saroj Singh, committed suicide in her room at Avinash Kabiraj Lane, in north Calcutta, on Thursday. Police said Singh�s mother found her hanging from the ceiling of her room. The body has been sent for post-mortem.

Career fair

The Industry-Institute Partnership Cell of Jadavpur University and the Calcutta Regional Centre of Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers will organise a career choice exhibition-cum-self-employment workshop for students. The programme will be held at Jadavpur University between November 23 and 25. The programme will include counselling and aptitude tests of students seeking jobs in various fields.

Loans for shops

The West Bengal Minorities Development and Finance Corporation has sanctioned loans within a week to 12 shop-owners whose shops were damaged in violence during Durga idol immersions at Kankinara. The cheques will be handed over by minister for minorities development and welfare Md Salim on Friday.    

Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Flashback. Diwali 1996: The smallish control room of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board�s Camac Street office was taut with tension. It was the first Diwali since Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee�s historical noise-pollution judgment. Complaints were pouring in on one available phone line in the one-man control room.

Cut to Diwali 2001: The smart PCB office in Salt Lake is the hub of activity. The one-man control room has been replaced by a 10-man one. PCB officials appear relaxed, as the number of monitoring teams have almost trebled, a sophisticated noise pollution-monitoring machine is in place and the recent Supreme Court order cracking down on crackers has caused a big bang. Mission impossible looks like a war on the verge of being won.

And then, in the matter of a few evening hours of November 14, the battle against the bang was lost. According to the PCB and the police, decibel levels have never been higher since the Kali Puja night of 1995. .The worst-affected areas were south Calcutta, including Behala, parts of North and South 24-Parganas,Howrah and Hooghly,. a PCB official said on Thursday. Gitanath Ganguly, High Court-nominated special officer on noise pollution, conceded that complaints had been pouring in since the evening.

PCB officials confirmed that the �source. of the crackers breaking the decibel barrier on Wednesday had been traced to Nungi, Telenipara, Kanchrapara, Janai, Howrah, Belur and Bagnan. The main distribution point has been identified as Chandernagore, with crackers changing hands under the codename .logenze..

Environmentalists point out that the judiciary has left the decibel drive to the administration, resulting in a .relaxing of stand.. No judicial fine has been imposed in the past two years. .The court now doesn.t even ask for a report,. complained a PCB official.

Is it the beginning of the end for the decibel drive? No, assures Calcutta Police. Director-general Dinesh Vajpai asserted that .this year, the state police were more alert, but the task was doubly difficult in spite of a record number of seizures and arrests in the run-up to the festival..

Police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty rues the fact that the force has .to wait for complaints, rather than launching independent investigation, regarding noise pollution.. Some senior Calcutta Police officers said on Thursday that unless the �supply chain of crackers is snapped., things will never improve.

Politics has played spoilsport in the entire crusade against crackers. The Central environment ministry�s 125 dB limit for fireworks has been made more stringent in West Bengal (90 dB from 4 metres). This, claim experts, is the .toughest noise pollution act in the world..

But as periodic sound bursts smashed the silence of the dark Diwali night, one realised that it was tough on paper, rather than in practice. .It is no secret that the failure of the state government to check the use of loudspeakers during azaan has left it on shaky ground, vis-�-vis those flouting other noise rules,. said a PCB official. .

A recent study had found an overwhelming majority of Calcuttans welcoming the decibel drive, but a lack of political and administrative will has stalled it. You can understand our predicament when no less than the mayor declares that noise-pollution norms should be flouted during festival days. It is no secret that we have lost the noise war this year, but we must learn from this defeat,. he concluded.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
The battle to save Biswaroopa theatre was lost even before it started.

With more than 20 incidents of fire reported throughout the city and the fringe areas from 5 pm, firefighters were already an exhausted lot at 1.10 am, when news of the raging fire in Biswaroopa finally filtered through to them a good half an hour later.

Four fire-tenders, with half-empty tanks, initially rushed to the spot with the wrong information that a �slum adjoining the theatre was on fire.. Fire services director Bana Bihari Pathak told Metro: .The information given to us was misleading. If it hadn.t been for the wrong information, we could have done a better job..

But by the time they realised their folly, it was too late. .It�s Biswaroopa on fire.We need more engines, as Burtolla police station might catch fire any moment. There is no water here,. officials blared on the wireless sets.Around 1.24 am,the police received the first information that few shanties behind the theatre had caught fire.

Soon, 10 more fire-tenders rushed to the spot, but found they didn.t have much water left and rushed back to Hedua. Another nine followed half-an-hour later and emptied their tanks in a futile attempt. Left with no alternative, the director asked fire-tenders to rush back to Hedua..We lost valuable time there,. said the director.

Around 2.30 am, the mob started abusing the police and the Fire Brigade. Some even stopped the firemen from working independently. .We reported the fire at 1.10 am. The local police informed the police control much later. However, how could the Fire Brigade send only four firetenders to douse the flames?. asked a fuming Sudhir Mitra, an employee of the theatre. What Mitra didn.t know was that fire-tenders were busy fighting one blaze after another, from Nilachal housing estate to the Friends Association Club pandal on Harish Mukherjee Road. On top of it, with another big blaze at a Madan Mitra Lane godown in Bowbazar late in the evening, a fire of such a big magnitude as at Biswaroopa was the last thing on their mind.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Jadavpur University (JU) has undertaken a major project for promoting research on herbal medicines. The scheme will help convince people about the utility of herbal treatment, in the wake of soaring prices of allopathic drugs.

The proposed centre is to start from next year.

Apart from carrying out research on the medicinal aspects of various plants, one of the main functions of the centre will involve examination of the validity of herbal drugs, produced and marketed by various companies. .

Herbal drugs for some common diseases are sold in the market even now. But still people do not rely on them, even though they cost less than allopathic drugs,�said JU vice-chancellor Ashoke Nath Basu.

People are doubtful about the authenticity and usefulness of many herbal drugs, in the absence of government support, the vicechancellor said. .It is going to be one of the main functions of the proposed centre to examine whether the medicines are really useful,. added Basu.

The proposed centre will be the first of its kind in the state, as well as in the entire country. It is being set up in collaboration with the state science and technology department. Basu said the Centre has also approved the scheme and the science and technology department of the Union government has agreed to provide necessary assistance.

The vice-chancellor said the centre would cater to the needs of not only Bengal but the entire country. The state government had agreed to set up the centre at JU as the institution already runs a department of pharmaceutical studies and has the expertise to carry out such researches.

Realising the necessity to develop alternative means of treatments in the future, the university had approached the state government seeking necessary help for setting up the centre.

The government immediately gave its clearance to the university on the project. .

If GATT gets implemented, the prices of some allopathic medicines, like antibiotics, are likely to go up considerably after two to three years. The cost of common medicines is also likely to escalate. In such circumstances, there is an immediate need to develop research on alternative medicines,. said an official of the science and technology department of the state government.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
The lush West Indian countryside, a star of the screen, stage and dais, the promise of an international touch to desi films. Calcutta saw stars, lights, action and more on Thursday, and not just at Day Six at the 7th Kolkata Film Festival.

First, Om Puri arrived in the city for the screening of the cinematic adaptation of V�s. Naipaul�s The Mystic Masseur. After the film premiered at Nandan I on Thursday morning, he proceeded to a lunch hosted by director Ismail Merchant, where film personalities like Aparna Sen and Soumitra Chatterjee also dropped by. A news conference, with both actor and director, followed at Nandan.

Merchant announced that the Governor of New York is bestowing an award on James Merchant and him for their contribution to the arts in the state of New York. .We have been working there for the past 40 years. We have set up the Merchant Ivory Foundation which not only supports young talent, but also has restored a number of Satyajit Ray films,. explains the Mumbai-born producerdirector. Merchant has spoken to Aparna Sen, too, about buying US distribution rights for an upcoming project,Mr and Mrs Iyenger.

The attention then shifted to Om Puri and his growth as an actor. Explaining his plunge into cinema, he joked: .I didn.t look into the mirror. If I did, it would not have been encouraging.. The veteran admitted that he struggled with the accent he adopted for his part in The Mystic Masseur, set in Trinidad.

Cinema aside, Calcutta will get a taste of Shatrughan Sinha on stage at The Taj Bengal on Friday evening, in the smash-hit Pati, Patni aur Main. .Whether it is Samata or Mamata or Jayalalithaa, the play is always full of topical humour,. said the actorpolitician in the city on Thursday.

Sinha, who has appeared in a number of Bengali films in the past, also said he�s spoken with .good friend. Goutam Ghose about an upcoming production. .I won.t disclose the details, but I.m sure the film will shoot into international prominence,. he said.

International cooperation in film was the flavour of an evening discussion, organised by the French Embassy, the Alliance Francaise de Calcutta and The Taj Bengal, where the possibility of Indo-French co-productions was explored. .In the 80s, I watched so many Indian films by Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen,. said Nadine Toubouriech, a French journalist who has been sent to research Indian films by the foreign ministry. .Nowadays, there is nothing..

Patrick Madelin, audio-visual attache, Embassy of France, has been appointed to improve links in cinema. .The arts are an invaluable tool for cultural exchange,.he said. If the mela mood is anything to go by, Calcutta�s game for more.


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