Live from London

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 8.04.11

Where were you when India won the World Cup in 2011? That’s a question you are going to be asked for the rest of your life. For the 100-plus Indians who travelled 9,000km from Calcutta to London for the Ananda Utsav last weekend, the answer will remain special: “We were in Lord’s country when India became the lords of cricket again!”

But that was not the only ananda they had when they were there. Anandabazar Patrika presents KKN London Ananda Utsav 2011, powered by Techno India Group, spread happiness and joy not only to all the people who had travelled from India but to the thousands of ananda-seeking Bangalis who thronged Alexandra Palace for the three days between April 1 and 3.

The attempt was simple: “To transcend geographical and political boundaries through a celebration of culture and the arts.” The thought behind the event was simpler: “We may have physically been apart but Bengalis here in London and Bengalis back home in Calcutta are in the same mindspace and have always felt close to each other. Ananda Utsav celebrates that proximity by sharing unalloyed happiness across three days every year.”

The message was received loud and clear. Lord Popat, the first Gujarati to represent the Conservative party here in the House of Lords, was present at the inauguration of the festival and he said: “We want to see more events like the Ananda Utsav because sangeet brings people together. On behalf of the British government we welcome all of you and it’s a privilege for us that we are having an event like this in London in the 150th birthday year of Rabindranath Tagore.”

The hosts for this year were Mir and Swastika Mukherjee. “I was feeling very cold when I landed in Heathrow but I quickly told myself that I better get acclimatised to this weather because Mamata Banerjee has promised to convert Calcutta into London if she comes to power,” Mir quipped as he and Swastika guided the Ananda Utsav audience through three days of fun and fiesta.

Tagore talk and tunes

London Ananda Utsav this year was appropriately Rabindrik. While last year too we had Sharmila Tagore and Soha Ali Khan reciting Tagore’s Bhanusingher Padabali, this year the celebrations were bigger. And why not? We had Sampooran Singh himself reciting his Tagore translations. Yes, Gulzarsaab was the piece de resistance at the Alexandra Palace venue last weekend wowing the crowd on stage, in the eating area and even in the audience.

“I came here for Tagore… I saw an opportunity to spread Tagore in London,” Gulzar told t2. “Bengalis were always possessive about Tagore. Then Hindustan finally managed to take Tagore away from Visva Bharati. Aur ab Hindustan se aagey le ja rahein hain. Tagore gave Gitanjali to the world. And now with ABP, we are trying to give you Tagoreanjali! What can be a better way to extend our cultural boundaries?”

Gulzar was part of the presentation called Music Beyond Barriers — Rabindrik Gaan--Kobita. He recited Tagore in Hindustani (that’s what he calls the language he writes in, a mix of Hindi and Urdu), Bratati Bandopadhyay recited Tagore in Bengali, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty sang Rabindrasangeet in Bangla and Kavita Krishnamurthy sang Rabindrasangeet in Bangla and Hindi. Madhumanti Moitra stitched it all together in English, besides also reciting a couple of Tagore poems.

Between reading out his translations of Lognobhroshto and Birpurush, Gulzar chatted about how Tagore was the ultimate romantic despite his enduring image of a bearded old man. “Translating him has not been easy,” he said. “When he had translated his own work, he would easily edit his own writing. I couldn’t have done that. So I have tried to keep the original essence intact while not missing out any line.”

It was quite a revolution on stage that Friday evening in London. Not only were Tagore translations being read out by Gulzar, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty’s rendition of songs like Boro asha kore eshechhi go, Jogote ananda jaggye and Aaj tomaare dekhte elaam were in his semi-classical style consciously steering clear of the swaralipi notations. Bratati Bandopadhyay and Kavita Krishnamurthy then played by the rules, making it an unforgettable evening of Tagore music and lyrics.

Play it again

(From left) Subhamita, Raghab and Rupankar
Gulzar with Swastika
Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty with Kavita Krishnamurthy
Shaan with sister Sagarika
Pictures by Pratim D. Gupta

Theatre has always been an integral part of Ananda Utsav and this year was no different. On Day 2, even as India chased Sri Lanka’s 275 back in Mumbai, filmmaker Gautam Halder staged Kachher Manush with Debshankar Halder and Bijoylakshmi Burman.

An adaptation of a Marathi play called Mitra, Kachher Manush was a poignant take on human values and how love and caring can transcend all prejudices about caste and culture. Both Debshankar Halder and Bijoylakshmi Burman were powerful on stage. Overheard: “We didn’t have the luxury of a proper proscenium and we hope it didn’t affect the show.” For those who were witness to Kachher Manush would vouch that the performances were moving enough to nullify all technical shortcomings, if any.

On day next it was the turn of another filmmaker to stage a play. Suman Mukhopadhyay, who was of course a theatre practitioner first before calling the shots through a megaphone, directed Shesher Kobita, yet another Tagore tribute. Suman was slated to direct a film adaptation of Shesher Kobita at the time he made Chaturanga and his passion for the play was evident in the presentation at Alexandra Palace.

With heavyweights like Chitra Sen, Bratati Bandopadhyay, Debshankar Halder and Sudipa Bose in the cast along with young guns Sujan Mukherjee and Aparajita Ghosh Das, Shesher Kobita was lapped up by the non-resident Bengalis with as much excitement as they displayed while cleaning up the jhalmuri cups outside.

An equal music

What’s most amazing about Ananda Utsav is the audience’s reaction to the eclectic mix on the menu. And no we are not talking about the biryani jostling with shorshe maachh at the food counters outside, but the music on stage. It was such a welcome sight to see the packed Great Hall at the Alexandra Palace cheering and clapping padavali kirtan!

The lady behind the microphone was Trisha Bose, the talented daughter of eminent musician Kumar Bose, who may have a diploma in aviation and also hold an MBA degree but is an absolute powerhouse on stage. Narrating and singing the Krishna-Radha wordplay, she held the audience in rapt attention even as her guru, mother Kaberi Bose, joined her for the last couple of songs.

And what can one possibly write about the music of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan that’s not been written before? Those magic fingers again sent the audience into a trance as his two sons — Amaan and Ayaan — joined their father on stage. Individually, together and as part of the terrific troika, the sarod masters wowed one and all. “It’s a great honour to be here,” said Ayaan. “We love the Calcutta connection of this event. Calcutta is officially the music capital of India and now, it is becoming the music capital of the world with events like this.”

Bolly ho

No musical extravaganza is complete without a dose of Bollywood. Last year it was the golden duo of Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik and the unputdownable Usha Uthup and this year it was up to Hariharan and Shaan. But Hariharan sang more ghazals than his Bolly hits. “It’s always a pleasure to be a part of Ananda Utsav,” said the veteran, who was also at Los Angeles Ananda Utsav last year.

Hariharan sang while Team India was closing in on its second World Cup trophy, in faraway Wankhede. And he was updating the scores not only in between songs but sometimes mid-song, in his inimitable andaaz! And when Dhoni hit the final six over long-on, he almost jumped up and took the song he was singing, Masti masti, to the higher octave making it evident that India had won. Before breaking into, what else, Bharat humko jaan se pyaara hai (Roja).

Shaan is probably the only Bolly playback singer around who likes to talk less and sing more on stage. Despite being such a popular host on TV, Shaan keeps the chatting on stage to a minimum and lets his never-ending list of chartbusters do all the talking for him. Behti hawa sa tha, Main aisa kyun hoon, Subah ho gayee maamu, Do you wanna partner, Where’s the party tonight, Bum bum bole, Chaand sifarish, Suno naa….

They just kept pouring and the 2,500-capacity crowd at Alexandra Palace went berserk, dancing in the aisles. Having forgotten the lyrics of Majhi re while singing, Shaan didn’t try another Bengali track before finally rounding off things with Sadher lau.

But the real surprise was the grand on-stage reunion of siblings Shaan and Sagarika. They had started their singing career as a duo and then Sagarika had given it up for motherhood. She now lives in London. Shaan got Sagarika to join him on stage and together they sang Aaj ki raat from Don. Sagarika also sang Ei raat tomar aamar and a special mother’s day tribute, Dhoop mein chhaya jaise. “I want Sagarika to come back to singing… with all your support she will,” Shaan announced.

Utsav special

While most of the programmes at the three-day event have been performed before, somewhere in the world, the musical presentation called Tribeni was specially designed for the London Ananda Utsav. It had singers Rupankar, Subhamita and Raghab coming together on stage for a musical chat — songs punctuated by adda moderated by Mir.

All three singers belted out their hits… Rupankar singing Mone pore Ruby Ray and Chupi-chupi raat, Subhamita singing Dekhechho ki taake and her latest Memories in March hit Sakhi hum and Raghab singing Tumi nei bole and Chand keno ashena. But perhaps the best moment of Tribeni came when Rupankar and Subhamita sang Gham ka khazana together.

Outside the Great Hall at the West Hall, across the three days, there were contests galore. Tripti Kitchen Champion picked the best hands and minds at the kitchen, Arish Ananda Sundori was a beauty pageant with a difference, Bangla Sangeet Champion sought out the best singing talents and Karta Ginni chose the best couples. The shopping stalls too stayed busy all day with Bengalis picking up everything from saris to books, CDs to necklaces.

A new website was also launched by the ABP group at the Ananda Utsav. Called, it’s a cyber space primarily targeted at the non-resident Bengali, who can not only read the Bengali magazines like Desh and Anandalok but also watch STAR Ananda on the site and listen to Bangla radio (Radio Ananda) all day. Plus it has a blogging zone where Sunil Gangopadhyay will blog in Bengali.


What makes the Ananda Utsav so special every year is that its scope and celebration is never limited to the location. It may be called London Ananda Utsav but Bengalis travelled for hours to be part of the three-day carnival.

“It was really so much fun at this little Calcutta so far away from Calcutta,” said Soumya Roy Chowdhury, who had come from Leicester, where he is doing his Ph.D in international relations. “The three days were nostalgic no doubt but it also took care of my Bangali appetite for the next few months!”

For Jhuma Das who had come from Hampshire, it’s the annual celebration which takes her back to her roots. “To be here and celebrate with so many Bengalis is a special feeling, which no other form of leisure can ever match.”

Not even the World Cup could steal the thunder of the London Ananda Utsav. Yes, we won after 28 years and the cricketing spectacle comes once every four years but three days of unadulterated Bangaliana once a year is an equally tempting offer. An offer the Bengalis on British turf just can’t refuse.