The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Star talk at coffee-house

Flavour of caffeine. Ambience of coffee-house. Mood of adda. Plus, a camera out to capture the stars —Shyam Benegal with Jishu Sengupta, Aparna Sen with Saoli Mitra, Amit Chaudhuri with Nandita Das, Prem Chopra with Biswajeet, Mamata Shankar with Indrani Sen, Subha Mudgal with Rashid Khan... Starting Sunday noon, the addas will go on beam on ETV Bangla.

“We tried to recreate the coffee-house atmosphere at the Opera Hall at Esplanade —chairs and tables scattered around, a piano to one side, some posters and a grandfather clock on the wall, old books on a rack...” said Saugata Ray Barman, executive director of Moviewallah Communications, producers of the show.

Much of the show’s life, according to Ray Barman, lies with the anchor — adman Ranjon Ghoshal, who was one of the founder-members of pioneering Bangla band Mohiner Ghoraguli. “It is actually a reality show without a script,” he says.

With no script to tie them down, the celebs ended up doing much more than their thing. Take the Nandita Das-Amit Chaudhuri encounter (Episode II). The conversation was following the musical path of Chaudhuri’s classical preferences (“Puria-Dhanasri is my favourite raag”) when Nandita walked in. The topic shifted to his novel Afternoon Raag and Ghoshal suggested that they act out a scene from the book. “The scene they chose was of the protagonist meeting a central female character in Oxford for the first time. There was a camera lying somewhere on the sets which they got hold of. Chaudhuri started devising the dialogues while Nandita instructed one of the cameramen what to take in each frame. Then for 10 minutes they acted out the roles,” project co-ordinator Mitasha Chatterjee recounts.

The unit had a blast during the shooting. “Srikanta (Acharya) and Shilajeet came for an episode in the morning and were so caught up in a music mood that they refused to budge. So they stayed on for the next episode, with cartoonist Chandi Lahiri and author Tarapada Roy, till the afternoon,” Debalina Mukhopadhyay, another project hand, recounts.

The episode threw up more surprises. “Ranjonda asked Shilajeet and Srikanta to trace Bengali music from the time of Saigal. When the duo reached Sachin Deb Burman, Titoda (Dipankar Dey), who was sitting at the next table, suddenly joined them, singing a Sachin karta number. We did not know he had such a melodious voice. Then, of course, Tapan Sinha and Dibyendu Palit, joined them,” Mitasha adds.

But the most hilarious moments were reserved for the Shyam Benegal episode shot in Mumbai. “Though most of the Mumbai editions were shot in Prithvi Theatre, this particular hour was done in Benegal’s office. Jishu had come to audition for the role of young Sisir Bose in Benegal’s upcoming production on Netaji. It was during our shooting that they first met. And Benegal actually auditioned Jishu on camera. asking him to speak in Hindi. After mouthing two lines, he would promptly switch to English, so nervous was he. To top it all, Benegal wanted him to shed weight for the role, while art director Samir Chanda (of Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar fame), one of the adda members, wanted Jishu to put on some for his Bengali film. Jishu was so perplexed,” recalled Srabasti Basu, one of the co-ordinators.

Addachakra begins this Sunday with Subha Mudgal and Rashid Khan, Nabaneeta Dev Sen and Usha Ganguli. Sharp at 12 noon on ETV.

— Sudeshna Banerjee

The enigma

She was born strong and beautiful. She was born of an Indian father of aristocratic lineage and a Hungarian mother. She was trained to play the piano and at an early age she had taken to painting. As a very young woman, after her sojourn and training in Europe, she returned to India. Inspired by local colour and the country’s rich tradition of sculpture and miniature painting, she began to work in a style in which she tried to view the indigenous culture through the eyes, as it were, of artists she became acquainted with during her stay in Europe. But she chose to go back to the post-impressionists and not the avant-garde rebels who were forging a new vocabulary for the arts.

She painted a large number of canvases, which turned her into an icon of contemporary Indian art. With her glamour and her lack of inhibitions she came to be regarded as one of the first Indian artists to use a modernist idiom to handle the colours and forms of India. With her death at the early age of 28, she became an elusive figure whose life will never fail to intrigue generations to come.

This, in brief, is the life of Amrita Sher-Gil, a recent film on whose work and times made by Patrick Cazals was shown on Friday evening at Max Mueller Bhavan. The screening of Amrita Sher-Gil, an Indian Rhapsody, was jointly organised by Les Amis de la France and the Embassy of France. Amrita, with all her allure, is the stuff romantic legends are made of, and provides tailor-made material for a filmmaker.

Her life and times are lovingly recreated through location shoots in Shimla, Delhi, Paris and Budapest, Amrita’s many paintings, the enchanting photographs of the artist taken by her father, voiceovers and a background score that includes passages played on the piano and snatches of Lata Mangeshkar and some divas of the late 20s. Artists such as Arpita Singh, Nilima Sheikh, Akbar Padamsee, Amrita’s nephew Vivan Sundaram and his wife art critic Geeta Kapur, speak about this fascinating woman and artist. The film is quite strong cinematically, and without going overboard, is quite honest about her place in Indian art.

The picture room

Whimsical cats and Ganeshes, cute dogs and owls, large heads of Beethoven and studies of male nudes vie for attention in a small room of Kishore Chatterjee’s flat at 29/9 Ballygunge Park. Crammed with paintings, drawings and sculptures, his flat itself is like a small museum. But inside Chatterjee’s very own picture room, which he calls Artelier, our eyes are never allowed to rest because all the walls are crammed with his creations. From time to time, he plays his favourite musical pieces on his CD player and shows his new work. Even his worktable is brightly painted with a mermaid.

Chatterjee is better known for his efforts at popularising Western classical music, but he has been painting, drawing and making prints for years. Currently, he has been making flower studies with ink. He contrasts pale and dark shades and the flowers of congealed ink look delicate and fragile. He uses pinks, indigo and liberal splashes of gold. He has been doing calligraphic landscapes and tiny figure drawings too. Fruit masks and collages are there in abundance, as well.

Chatterjee shows the art books he has created. These are pocket-sized and the pages are filled with his drawings. Visitors are welcome to drop by and inspect his paintings and paper sculpture.

Tuneful trip

Hasan Raja, Fikirchand, Islami songs… Music aficionados were pleasantly surprised when Tapan Roy set off digging up a treasure trove of Bengali folk songs. The rustic flavour ringing in his voice was unmistakable. Rabi Bauler Gaan is the latest addition to his repertoire.

“The songs in Rabi Bauler Gaan are widely performed by Rabindrasangeet singers. But I found the folk elements lacking in the renditions of most. I wanted to capture the gayaki of Tagore’s folk songs, which extends to the musical accompaniments as well. Hence, the use of flute and dotara in my album. Singing these tunes with the sitar gives an urbane feel,” says Roy, who had conveyed his desire to sing Tagore’s baul numbers to Kanika Bandopadhyay, when she was undergoing treatment at SSKM Hospital.

“She thought it was a brilliant idea and encouraged me to go ahead, while several other Rabindrasangeet singers frowned on it,” adds Roy.

His first release Hasan Rajar Gaan proved an instant success. It was a nostalgic treat for the non-resident Indian and Bangladeshi communities. The singer’s close association with rural landscape and folk culture during his childhood in Madanpur, Nadia, has been an obvious influence. After studying music at Rabindra Bharati University, he researched the influence of the river on Bengali folk songs.

Roy puts the intensity of his renditions down to the “extensive background research” he has done on each of his five projects. “Before recording Islami Gaan, I pored over the lyrics with Syed Mujtaba Ali for hours,” recounts Roy, off on another tuneful trip into uncharted – and yet undisclosed — territory.

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