The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
To Aunty, with admiration

She was his teacher at South Point School, guiding him to play the king in The Sleeping Beauty as best he could. He, a Class VIII student, latching on to every word she said, and then retaining memories of the precious interaction through his growing years.

Thirty years later, Rituparno Ghosh meets Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (whom he fondly calls 'Aunty'), and finds a subject for his film.

'It's almost like Niru and Manu in Raincoat, meeting after a long, long time,' says the film-maker, making himself comfortable on a sofa at the self-proclaimed wiccan's south Calcutta residence.

'And I couldn't believe it was the same boy who played the king who is now the film-maker Rituparno,' says Ipsita, her eyes lighting up.

The teacher-student duo has embarked on a collaborative project based on a case the wiccan had encountered while practising the craft.

'Till now, I have dealt with relationships and the intricacies of the human mind. With this film, I want to delve into that which lies beyond and observe how this non-conventional spiritualism, wicca, guides me,' says Rituparno, planning to retain a mix of Bengali and English in his film. 'It's a story of two time zones, separated by a span of 150 years, two people of different mindsets and different cultures. Hence, the two languages.'

Rituparno wants to cast Ipsita in her real-life role of a healer in the story. The response from his former teacher, though, is enigmatic. 'That's what black signifies. Inscrutability, regality and enigma. One should never give that away,' she smiles disarmingly.

Wicca, explains Ipsita, means the craft of the wise. Wiccans are wise women who heal the human mind. They were persecuted throughout the 18th century, with an individual fighting against an institution or engaged in a gender war. 'In India, it is often confused with casting a spell of some sort,' says Ipsita, looking arresting in a black outfit.

She's also the best-selling author of Beloved Witch, her autobiography, and Sacred Evil, narrating nine of her case studies. Having practised and researched wicca for decades, Ipsita is now based in Delhi, where she remains busy documenting her findings for posterity.

With the many strands as gender bias, an individual's defiance of the establishment, popular notions of witchcraft and a 'condemned spiritualism' at play, it would be a fine balancing act for Rituparno.

'In this case, it's not only a disturbed mind being described but also the social conditions that have led the characters to such circumstances,' he says. 'A story that starts 150 years ago and flows into the modern times is an important sociological study for me. I am interested in how Calcutta and society in general has changed, if they have changed at all.'

There's also the interplay of conventional spiritualism through which a person seeks mukti, and this mysticism which is anti-establishment and seeks the wellbeing of all. 'I want to explore all these aspects and I think the film will clear a lot of superstitions and misconceptions about wicca,' says Rituparno.

But the film-maker is in no rush to reach the sets. It may take a year and he might do another film in between. 'The story may give me a new cinematic form. I know it will have more images and will be less verbose than my other films... This reminds me of Tarkovsky's Mirror,' says Rituparno, admitting that this would be his most challenging story till date.

'Chokher Bali had a different kind of a challenge and pressure, being a period piece and a Tagore work. Here, I am faced with the huge challenge of representing the profundity of the art (wicca),' he explains.

But he has the best of teachers, and even her trust. 'I want to hand over some of my knowledge to Rituparno, who has the sensitivity to understand it,' adds Ipsita, willing to entrust her student with The Book of Shadows, an important document where a wiccan records her experiences, discoveries and conclusions of case studies.

Sketching sights and sounds

Tut Tut. Pouet Pouet. In case this sounds Greek to you, think in French. For it is the honking of horns and rickshaws as heard by three cartoonists from the land of the creators of Asterix.

'When we stepped out of the airport, we were hit by this maddening sound. In France, when you blow the horn, it is a sign of aggressiveness. Here, it is a mode of communication,' exclaims Tignous, the youngest of the trio working with Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine.

So when they sat down to decide on the title of the journal they were creating for the Book Fair, the choice was unanimous.

To celebrate the creativity of France, the theme country this year, four journals are being brought out, full of cartoons. These are being distributed among visitors to the France pavilion. Says Nicolas Blasquez, director of Alliance Francaise de Calcutta, whose idea this was: 'When I was posted in Kenya seven years ago, I had flown over the three ' Bridenne, Jean-Yves Hamel (who calls himself JY) and Tignous ' for a similar project for the Francophonie Week. There the journal was called Bata Huru (Free Duck) in Swahili.'

In Calcutta, they have been joined by Delhi-based cartoonist Vishwajyoti Ghosh. 'I wanted him in the team as the project is steeped in the spirit of co-operation,' explains Blasquez.

In the first few days of the fair, the four could be spotted at various corners on the mela ground, busy sketching away. Then till late at night, they would camp at the Alliance office and put finishing touches to the cartoons that would be rushed to the press the morning after. 'I love the crowd here. There is nothing like this in France,' says Tignous, staring at the multitude.

But it is not just the fair that has found space in the issues. Ganesha is a prominent presence, dancing with a goddess or sitting at the fair. 'I love him with his trunk,' says Bridenne, simulating an elephantine nose. To get to know Ganesha and the other gods better, they went to Kumartuli. 'The place reminded me of the Ecole des Beaux Arts,' he smiles.

Marching soldiers and steaming coffee are present in the journals as well, a result of their journey to the Republic Day parade and the College Street Coffee House. 'The only bad moment here has been when I chewed chopped chilli, thinking it was green pea at a south Calcutta restaurant,' grimaces JY, of Le Monde.

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