Monday, 30th October 2017

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The matter-of-fact actor of many parts

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 5.08.12

Like so many other great actors who shone in the firmament of Bengali theatre and cinema, Kanu Bandyopadhyay (1905-1985), too, would have sunk into oblivion had he not played the pivotal role of Harihar in Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy. So it comes as a surprise that this protean actor did not wax eloquent on Ray alone when he talked about his career in a longish interview conducted for the Sharadiya (puja) number of the magazine Baro Maas in the year 1979.

He did speak in glowing terms about Ray’s path-breaking perspective and technique, but he did not ignore his great predecessors like Pramathesh Barua, whose work he admired in equal measure. This and some other smaller interviews have been published as a book titled Hariharer Panchali by Sutradhar.

Being a versatile actor, Kanu Bandyopadhyay was equally at home on the stage and in front of the camera, but treading the boards was undoubtedly his favourite occupation. He reserved the greatest respect for thespians such as Sisirkumar Bhaduri, who was his guru, Naresh Mitra, and theatre personalities like Bijan Bhattacharya and Sambhu Mitra, all of whom he had acted with at some point of time.

Kanu Bandyopadhyay seems to have been a man of decided views and he said that it was Sisir Bhaduri, who was a great favourite of Rabindranath, who had given Bengali theatre a fresh lease of life by gradually introducing a more natural style of acting to replace hamming and declamation. He even left his imprint on set design and costumes. Sisir Bhaduri could conjure up an atmosphere appropriate to a scene by using few props, and instead of heavily embroidered velvet togs, his kings and queens would wear silks and brocades in styles often inspired by Ajanta and Ellora.

Kanu Bandyopadhyay did not beat about the bush. He admitted that many of the actresses of his time were kept women but they were talented, carried themselves with dignity and, above all, were dedicated to their art. The undernourished actor had a sense of humour and described how one hefty actress, who was in the role of his wife, caught him in such a suffocating embrace that he nearly passed out on stage. The book has some photographs of the actor in various roles from Ramakrishna to an oily villager. One wishes there were some more stills of him on stage. A bust of Kanu Bandyopadhyay was recently installed at Tala where he used to live. Better than oblivion?

So near so far

Stefan Kaegi at Max Mueller Bhavan on August 3. (Amit Datta)

The pop-up invitation card was innovative enough, and so was the idea of the art project, Parallel Cities, involving several cities across the world, and diverse media, audiences and spaces. Stefan Kaegi, originally from Switzerland, who produces documentary theatre, radio plays and productions in urban spaces along with collaborators, made a presentation at Max Mueller Bhavan on Friday evening on what one could expect to see in December when Parallel Cities — focusing on the global and the local — will be presented.

On four separate screens slices of the project which Kaegi is curating in collaboration with Lola Arias of Buenos Aires were shown.

Working on the idea that certain spaces such as hotel rooms, underground train stations, shopping malls, factories, libraries and shopping malls look alike all over the world, a limited number of audience/participants were given audio devices so only they could hear what was being read out — often overlapping whispers and some humourous and insinuating asides as well. Kaegi explained that this was a “more intimate” experience than theatre on stage and an “individual experience.” It has already been successfully presented in Berlin, Warsaw Zurich and Buenos Aires.

Earlier, the project had been filmed — often surreptitiously — and that is what the audience was shown, but in December they would have an opportunity to see and listen to the real thing in real spaces similar to those shown onscreen, however different their physical reality may be.

Both Bengali and Hindi would be used for the texts and captions and the “voices”. The artists will be here to work from late November. The project is being organised under the aegis of “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities” and is jointly presented with The Hebbel am Ufer and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

Colonial tower

The Semaphore tower in Andul. (Gopal Senapati)

A tall brick tower near Khatirbazar in Andul has been standing for ages. Overgrown trees and shrubs have partly hidden the structure. A closer look reveals four tiers of the tower marked by thin rims around the circumference. Portions of the top tier seem to have chipped off over time, as have the bricks from the walls. The locals call it girja or church.

No one knows why the tower was built. A few looked up local chronicler Amit Dasgupta’s book Andul-Mourir Itihaser Ruprekha and discovered that the structure was actually a semaphore tower built by the British in 1818 before the telegraph system was introduced. It was built to send semaphore signals.

The Khatirbazar tower is one of the many semaphore signaling towers built from Fort William to Varanasi. There was one in Bargachhia and in Dilakas and Hayatpur in Hooghly. While there is no trace of the tower in Bargachhia, the one in Andul is still, almost completely intact.

These towers were similar to those found in England. The ones in India were first built by a “Mr Weston” and then by a “Mr Playfair”. Semaphore is a form of visual signalling using flags or lights. A person would stand at the top of the tower and move two flags at specific angles to indicate letters or numbers. Messages were read with the help of a telescope.

The West Bengal Heritage Commission is not aware that such a tower exists in Andul. “If the locals approach us, we can consider turning these into heritage structures,” said Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya, the chairman of the state heritage commission.

(Contributed by Soumitra Das and Dalia Mukherje)