...with a dash of India at the Book Fair, says Sudeshna Banerjee
A visit to the Book Fair will not be complete this year without stepping into the France pavilion. Located at the Karunamoyee crossing end of the fair, the pavilion is the biggest focus country pavilion in the history of the fair.
Titled The Experience, it is a largely digital exhibition showcasing the scale and richness of the past, present and future of Indo-French relations. "It is the flagship exhibition of Bonjour India,” said Bertrand de Hartingh, counsellor for cooperation and cultural affairs, of the embassy of France. Bonjour India is the ongoing festival of France in India that is currently underway in 33 cities.
The exhibition is divided into three parts. The first section is based on Creativity. A flipbook replicates the corresponding page on a large screen as one turns the pages of the actual book. The first page is a Hindi translation of an Asterix title, reminding one of the origin of the creation in French. Three smaller screens show clips in a loop If one is on Opera Nationale de Paris, the world's oldest opera company, another is on Uday Shankar and Simkie, his French dance partner of 20 years. The documentary Simkie Paris Delhi was made by Simkie’s grand niece.
Another corner celebrates cinema. We get to see two of the 10 short films shown by the Lumiere brothers at their first paid public screening in 1895 in Paris, including the first, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. Six of the films were shown at the Watson Hotel in Bombay in July, 1896, inspiring a local photographer Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar to order a movie camera and connecting the Lumiere brothers to the birth of Indian cinema. Smaller screens are devoted to Indian films at Cannes like Pather Panchali, examples of Indo-French collaborations like the recent Befikre, French New Wave cinema like Hiroshima Mon Amour and contemporary French films.
Like in dance and cinema, another bridge highlighted on an individual level is in art. Artist S.H. Raza discovered France through his meeting with Henri Cartier-Bresson who was visiting India during the 1940s.
Audiences can have fun posing for pictures with props in the section on fashion, named La Boutique. Another fun experience is walking in front of a giant screen that plays a film but also acts as a mirror. It occasions Imaginary meet-ups between the visitor and people shot in the video as the virtual figures are attracted by the real-time reflections and they try to touch or catch you or move away.
The second segment of the exhibition is on partnership. The first exhibit traces engineering excellence Louis Vicat bridge, the world's first bridge to use artificial cement in its foundation in 1817, to Millau Viaduct, the world tallest cable-stayed bridge in 2001. A chart on innovations points out if hot air balloon was invented in France, buttons came from India, if weighing machine was India’s gift sewing machine was France’s.
The third segment is on partnership. The Alliance Francaise centres are pointed on an India map. Since food is an important part of both cultures, sundry tiffin boxes have been affixed to the wall. They have food-related terms or lines, in English on one side and in French on the other. One can actually turn the boxes around.
The final experience is a 360° one with a video collage screened on three adjacent walls getting mirrored on reflective film overhead and underfoot as lively fusion music plays.
“We planned the exhibition like an urban art installation which is capable of being moved. The three-pillared theme of Bonjour India helped us give a structure to the diverse narrative,” said Amritha Ballal of Delhi-based Space Matters which has curated the exhibition.