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Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Myriad colours of compassion

Students check out a prize-winning exhibit at Seagull. Picture by Amit DattaSaahil (extreme left) with Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and co-stars

No Hindustan, no Pakistan, I want a land called Insaniyatsthan.’ — Bilkes Parveen and Elisha Sharma, Loreto Convent, Entally.

‘Has the spirit of love and compassion gone from our hearts' Do tears shed by fellow human beings and pain suffered by others no longer move us'’Priyanjali Guha Majumdar, Our Lady Queen of the Mission School.

‘A Hundred Flowers: Posters for Peaceful Co-existence’ was the name of the competition and the subsequent exhibition at Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre. The participating schoolchildren produced a volley of computer-generated images of startling clarity of thought and intent, encompassing Gujarat burning, bombings, war, peace, people and unity. Some were technically superior, others artistically beautiful, but all had one purpose — to spread the message of unity.

“Most people will think that we are just children. But what we think is important, because we are taught something, and all around us we see something else. That doesn’t make sense. So, we wanted to show how we actually picture things,” says 15-year-old Bilkes.

To stress the point, she got together with friend Elisha, 14, and the two spent long hours to come up with this creation. “We wanted to show that being a Hindu or a Muslim doesn’t mean anything, or at least it shouldn’t make a difference in friendship. We wanted to prove that a Parveen and a Sharma can think along the same lines — hope,” she adds.

A picture in a newspaper of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru sharing a laugh inspired Tiyasha Datta Paul of Modern High School. Her poster comprises the image surrounded by fire and a burning building. It reads: ‘Is this what they had thought for us' Stop the hatred.’ She explains: “This theme is very relevant today, because there is unrest all around us. Everybody is watching it and talking about it, but no one wants to do anything to change things. Hopefully, this exhibition will at least make people sit up and take notice.”

Priyanjali had her exams, but insisted on participating in the competition, spurred on by her sister. She came up with two posters, one of death and destruction, the other of hope and peace. The hour or two she spent on the posters was not just time away from studies, but a way to get her opinions and feelings across on an issue she thought was important. “The riot in Gujarat was the most recent incident, so that is what prompted me.” She went into a website and retrieved images of burnt bodies, weeping victims and a child in bandages.

As Tanaji Dasgupta of St Xavier’s Collegiate School says: “Every day when I open the newspaper or watch the news on TV, there are reports about people killing each other. It doesn’t have to be like this. We wanted to show that there is another way, a better one.”

Nisha Lahiri

Star-struck Saahil

He had his first break with Gulshan Kumar’s Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka. Then, he took a plunge into Tollywood with Debashree Roy in Pitri Rin. Nowadays, he calls Amitabh Bachchan ‘baba’, and Hema Malini ‘ma’.

Saahil Chadha, who plays one of Amitabh’s four sons in the upcoming B.R. Chopra film Baghban is in town this week for a family function. And he just can’t stop gushing about the thrill of working with The Man himself. “I am like a star-struck kid. After all, I have grown up on his films,” says Chadha, who has been working mainly on TV after early days in leading ad campaigns like Thums Up, Vimal, Rexona and Cinthol, as well in featuring in Vogue.

Baghban, about an ageing couple and the problems they face in the family, revolves around the parents, but Saahil is happy with his role as a “couldn’t-care-less” newly wed. Arzoo, Aditi Gowatrikar’s sister, is opposite him in the film, directed by Ravi Chopra, also starring Aman Verma, Suman Ranganathan, Lilette Dubey and Amitabh’s nemesis from the Pepsi campaigns, little Yash Pathak. Saahil still has 12 shooting days left for the film, slated for a May release, after some of the sequences were pushed back following the death of Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

Animated puppets

It’s an attempt to wean children off the violence of cartoons, and still give them what they want. To revive interest in a low-tech entertainment form that is nearly lost to kids today, an IT firm and an artiste have come together to create interactive CDs on puppetry.

Two CDs, one on shadow puppets and another on 3-D puppets, have been developed to teach kids how to make their own puppets and bring them closer to this ancient form of storytelling. Developed by Poligon Initiative, the products are currently on display at the Book Fair, part of the Paschim Banga stall.

The CD on shadow puppetry has stories as well as simple tips on how to put the two-dimensional puppets together. The tales have been enacted by puppeteer Subhashish Sen, constructed out of simple plastic sheets and shot on digital camera at the Calcutta Puppet Theatre. While the narrative is in Bengali, the stories have been translated in English, which the children can read.

“We wanted to take the honest simplicity of puppets to the kids,” says Abir Sanyal of Poligon. Having seen the work of puppeteer Subhashish Sen on TV, they got in touch with the performer-educator, who has created the stories and demonstrated how even the most basic materials like gloves, balls, paper and torn bed-sheets, can be brought to life.

For Sen, the “simple but rich” world the CDs unravel is only a starting point. “We want to encourage the shift from passive forms of fun to active entertainment. It can strengthen family ties as well, as parents can easily participate in such activities with their children,” he signs off.

One-stop shop

As the Calcutta consumers’ brand aspirations continue to build up, more and more leading chains are moving in to meet the growing demand. But the biggest splash in the city’s retail pool will be made this month-end when Shoppers’ Stop opens its doors on Elgin Road. The 50,000-sq. ft anchor inside Forum, the lifestyle mall, is set to bring in “around 300 brands under one roof”.

It will also be the mega chain’s first “full-fledged store” to be designed by Kingsmen, Asia’s leading retail design house. Spread across four levels, Calcutta’s first Shoppers’ Stop (the chain’s 12th outlet) promises to bring to town “a complete shopping experience for every member of the family”.

Says B.S. Nagesh, managing director & CEO: “The Calcutta customer is aware and at the same time emotional. Our in-store ambience, product-mix and level of service have been created to address both these facets. Being the anchor, our task is to draw and sustain the crowd, and also define eventual brand-building of the mall.”

Besides all the leading lifestyle brands in apparel and shoes, the store will also house Royal Sporting House, Singapore’s leading sports gear and sportswear maker. Shoppers’ own brands — Stop, Life and Kashish — will be on offer as well. “There will be distinct areas for the major brands and our store is designed to present multiple brands to the customer under one environment,” says Sanjay Badhe, director, operations.

Habib’s and Barista will be on board, too, catering to the grooming and snacking needs of the shopper. “We should generate a footfall of 2,500-3,000 a day on an average,” says Nagesh, confident that the store can break even “in five years”. To connect with the Calcutta customer, Shoppers’ is also bringing in its loyalty programme, the First Citizen’s Club, in association with Citibank, which boasts more than 1,40,000 members across the country.

With an “open and minimalistic” look and “meticulously trained” customer-care associates, Shoppers’ is confident it can recreate the same magic in Calcutta. “We know the expectations are very high here, and we are ready to match those aspirations,” stresses Badhe.

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