The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Stage tips and film fare

Theatre workers in Calcutta are quite exposed to the stagecraft of Stanislavsky and Peter Brook... So, there’s nothing new for me to introduce. My aim is rather to refresh the techniques which the participants can apply in their work,” says Deborah Merola.

The associate professor of Hartwick College, New York, guided a crowd of 34, comprising theatre workers, teachers and students through advanced acting techniques and ensemble creation in three sessions, at the American Center.

“The workshop is very much actor-oriented. The aim is to build trust among co-artistes and create some amount of fluidity, which is very essential in producing a play.” The ensemble-creation part featured a series of exercises; Merola picked up a scene from the play Angels of America, which the participants improvised and enacted. “I asked them to skim through the piece and come up with ideas and images, which they could relate while acting. Or, they could also take off from the original script and expand the idea,” she explained.

The PhD in dramatics from the University of California, specialising in the works of Eugene O’Neil, was quite “excited” by the city’s bustling theatre culture. The American Fulbright scholar, in Calcutta on a three-day tour, watched theatre group Ganakrishti’s Virus-M and was quite impressed by the form.

For the past 24 years, Merola has been actively engaged in adapting and directing plays on social issues like AIDS, homosexuality and colour bias. Social comedies and drawing-room dramas do not interest her. At Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, from where she took a flight for Calcutta having finished a seven-month teaching stint, Merola produced four plays with the students.

“But theatre in Kathmandu thrives in some pockets only, unlike Calcutta which boasts of a rich heritage. Calcutta’s theatre habits are really impressive. I am eager to read some original Bengali plays in translation,” said Merola.

If it was drama at the American Center, at BCL a digital film fare is round the corner to whet the appetite of city film buffs. The Indo-British Digital Film Festival takes off at the British Council on August 6, with a sumptuous spread of around 45 flicks. Comprising both Indian and British ventures, the films have been picked from nearly 200 entries. The list features city-based film-makers Bikramjit Gupta’s Laden Is Not My Friend and Sanjit Choudhury’s Painter’s Equilibrium. Starting August 7, Globsyn Entertainment and Media Management School will conduct a three-day workshop on digital film-making, supported by live projects, on its Salt Lake campus, as part of the festival. The winning participants will get an opportunity to make a film on British Council, Calcutta.

Silver notes

Twenty-five years is long enough for an organisation’s firm foundation. But to grow into a vanguard of the country’s rich artistic lineage is quite another matter. Since 1978, when it was founded on the sprawling 1, NS Bose Road premises in Tollygunge, the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) has slowly but steadily inched towards realising this goal.

To celebrate its silver jubilee, the music institution is rolling out a three-day seminar, Rag Parikrama, from August 7. Several stalwarts of Hindustani classical music will gather on a single podium to share their thoughts on the evolution of the ragas. The event will be attended by SRA scholars and eminent musicians from across the country.

“The aim is to explore the historical perspective of the ragas, their presence in different forms of music and their influence in the global circuit,” says ITC SRA spokesperson Bonnya Basu.

With the focus firmly fixed on the present-day needs of classical music and musicians, the inaugural programme dwells on raga and the form of music, identification of the major ragas and evolution of the mishra ragas. The second day’s highlight is the classification of the mishra ragas, and the “misnomer” and “sister” ragas. The concluding session encapsulates an exploration of popular ragas of the past and the responsibility of today’s musicians.

The panelists, a mix of Hindustani vocalists and instrumentalists, includes Falguni Mitra, Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar, Arun Bhaduri, Ulhas Kashalkar, Manilal Nag, Buddhadev Dasgupta and Buddhaditya Mukherjee.

For the rest of its 25th year, the SRA has lined up a range of workshops, music conferences, debates and performances. A one-day seminar on effective and appropriate accompaniment on the tabla, sarengi and harmonium by eminent musicians is also in the offing.

The academy plans to hold music conferences in Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad this year, featuring some of the institute’s leading scholars. The mini sangeet sammelans, part of SRA’s regular activities, will be held in Chandigarh, Pune and Dharwar, among other places.

At the SRA, training is in true gurukul-style. Students and scholars undergo talim in vocal music, sitar and sarod from their gurus anytime during the day. The institute has residential complexes for both teachers and learners. Learners are initiated into music from age eight, while the upper limit has now been pushed up to 25 years.

Movie market

It was the first such forum where makers and marketing gurus met on the same platform. Although four years old, the Broadcast Quality Video Technicians’ and Worker’s Association had so far restricted its activities to helping members out. Now, the need to “improve quality and quantity” of television serials and telefilms has prompted a discussion on the budget, the making and the selling of the products.

A recent seminar and workshop on television and video-making, technology and history, held by the association at the Nehru Children’s Museum, addressed all these issues. The panellists at the daylong event included Abhijit Dasgupta, former deputy director of Doordarshan, and Arjun Gourisaria of Black Magic, while the audience comprised students and teachers from Presidency College and Jadavpur University, and directors such as Probhat Roy and Subrata Sen.

While the past and present of the industry were discussed, as an indication of how far it has travelled, the focus was on the future. The emphasis was on selling ideas, to the channel and the audience. The consensus was that the need of the hour was to put quality before quantity.

Also on the talks table was the topic of technology, with digital — “the way of the future” — being the focus. And the interest was evident from the number of people attending. “We expected around 80 people to come,” said Abhijit Dasgupta, asociation secretary, “but 96 turned up. And a lot of them admitted that they knew very little about the mechanics of the business, and had come to learn.”

The business of selling was the hot topic. “First, you have to understand the target audience. Mumbaiites and Calcuttans don’t want the same things. Then, you have to sell the idea to a producer. Finally, it’s the channel that’s going to buy the product for broadcast purposes that needs the hardsell. As Gourisaria aptly put it, a bar of soap is the same as the next one, but it’s the packaging that makes all the difference.

The final frame: since there is a large market in the east for video films, it is time to exploit the opportunity.

Call of the heights

So what if no Bengali has yet managed to set foot on Mt Everest. The city’s climbing community remains one of the most active in the country. An 11-member team of Himalaya Lovers’ Association starts on Saturday towards Spiti-Sindh Valley via Parang La in the Himachal Himalayas.

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