Jefe's House

Film/TV

Adding the Method to my Madness

by on Sep.28, 2019, under Film/TV, NYC, Theatre

logoI’m truly honored and humbled to be a part of The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute family teaching Theatre History for Actors.  Strasberg is one of the world’s top acting conservatories celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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Maanbhanjan Premieres 6/14

by on Jun.04, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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Maanbhanjan starring Anirban Bhattacharya, Sohini Sarkar and Amrita Chattopadhyay.

Psyched to have been a small part of this terrific film. It premieres on Hoichoi TV (with English subtitles) on June 14th.

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My Indian Film Debut

by on Apr.28, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

byomkesh

Anirban Bhattacharya as Kolkata detective Byomkesh Bakshi on Hoichoi.

Today I had my film debut and I’m thrilled it’s in an Indian flick. I was honored that accomplished director Abhijit Choudhury, whose current HoiChoi (think Bengali Netflix) series Astey, Ladies rocked my world, asked if I’d do him a favor and play a British officer in his new feature film, a period drama entitled Maanbhanjan adapted from Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Giribala.” Really he was doing me the favor because it turns out he’s shooting a historical film set in the 1870s against the backdrop of the nascent Bengali theatre scene which is exactly one of my research areas.

I’m not going to give away the entire plot but suffice it to say they had done their homework and recreated it spot on. My hat’s off to the set designers, choreographer, director and the whole crew. The 1870s saw the first productions of Dinabandhu Mitra’s controversial (for the British) play Nil Darpan (literally “Blue Mirror,” in this case the blue referring to nil darpan coverindigo), which held a mirror up to the gross mistreatment of poor indigo farmers. I won’t go into detail here, but it led to an amazing turn of events and other protest plays culminating in the 1876 passage of the Dramatic Performances Control Act which was only ever enforced by the British against Indian plays.

In my obsession with this time period, and having visited what’s left of Kolkata’s old theatres and perused hundreds of old theatrical advertisements, articles and photos at this point, I have often wished I could go back in time and see the real productions. Tonight on set I got a glimpse of what that might be like. We were shooting in an old playhouse recreating what would have been a typical night at a Bengali theatre, opening with a mythological drama (in this case a story from the life of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha), then a long wait for the audience while the set was changed for the next play, and then a social drama, in this case Nil Darpan.

So here I am watching actors in period clothing doing scenes from Radha-Krishna, then Nil Darpan, while an “audience” of actors in 19th century period attire sat watching and reacting to it. I played a British officer sitting with my wife and our British friends in the front row becoming highly offended and eventually enraged by what I saw onstage. I’m stopping there regarding the plot.

The biggest thrill for me was getting to share the screen with a major star, Anirban Bhattacharya, who is known for many award-winning stage and film roles but he’ll always be HoiChoi Byomkesh to me. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, the stories written by Sharadindu Bandhopadhay and set in pre-Independence Calcutta. I’ve been a fan for several years, have read all the stories, seen I think all of the movie adaptations and all of the HoiChoi episodes. And this was long before I knew I’d not only be meeting Mr. Bhatttacharya but performing alongside him.

At one point I said to a fellow actor who seemed unaware of who he was, “That guy’s a famous actor.” She replied that famous people didn’t impress her.   I said, “Yes but he’s famous for a reason. He’s famous because he’s a terrific actor. One of the finest in India.”

She thought for a moment. “What was his name again?” came her response as she whipped out her phone to Google him. You should have seen me gushing at him between takes pumping his hand up and down saying, “I’m a big fan. I’m aware of who you are. It’s an honor to work with you.”

One more day of shooting for me later this week in which I get to have a face-off with his character. Suffice it to say I’m brushing up on my British accent.

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Bose and Lafont, Together Again

by on Apr.25, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

young lafont

Father Eugene Lafont, SJ

It’s been an exciting day. On the way to our show tonight I got a call from the director of Acharya Bhavan (literally “Influential Teacher’s Building”), the home of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), India’s Father of Modern Science who, like Tesla, was light years ahead of Marconi. His home is now a museum full of artistic, architectural and scientific wonders. Bose, in addition to being good friends with Rabindranath Tagore and a host of other luminaries around the world, was a student of Father Lafont (1837-1908) whom I lectured about 2 weeks ago at St. Xavier’s College, one of the ten best colleges in India. Acharya Bhavan has invited me to reprise the lecture at Bose’s house. I’m thrilled and honored (but never speechless).

Sr Jagadish Chandra Bose

Sr Jagadish Chandra Bose

The lecture, Science City: How Father Lafont Brought Pop Science to Kolkata, will be at 2:30pm on Friday, 3rd May.

This won’t be merely an introductory recap of Lafont’s biography, but based on my own research which aims to separate fact from folklore. Legendary Belgian Jesuit Father and St. Xavier’s founding faculty Eugene Lafont was not only J.C. Bose’s professor and lifelong friend and colleague, he was also instrumental in popularizing science to lay audiences in Kolkata with his theatrical flair. Bose had the same abilities and they sometimes “performed” together in some spectacular demonstrations. Lafont inadvertently helped give birth to India’s record industry as well as, perhaps, its film industry. The lecture is a detective story of sorts, tracing my journey to learn about the connection between Lafont and pioneer Bengali filmmaker Hiralal Sen.

 

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Eugene Lafont the Science Guy

by on Apr.05, 2019, under Film/TV, Shaheb Cafe

Father Eugene Lafont

I’m so honored and thrilled to share that this Wednesday, 10th April, I will be giving a lecture at historic St. Xavier’s College on the legendary Belgian Jesuit Father and St. Xavier’s early faculty Eugene Lafont — his connection to pop science (he was the Bill Nye the Science Guy of late 19th and early 20th century Kolkata) and to the birth of India’s film and record industries.

My talk is entitled “Science City: How Father Lafont Brought Pop Science to Kolkata.” This will only be for St. Xavier’s students so there won’t be as much public fanfare as my other talks and workshops but please send good wishes my way. This won’t be just an introductory recap of his biography that one can find many places online, but based on my own research which aims to separate fact from folklore (trust me, the truth is more amazing than the legend in this case). Thanks to Lafont it might be my most entertaining solo performance yet.

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Lecture in Kolkata

by on Mar.05, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Politics, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

In case you’re in the neighborhood I’ll be doing some standup comedy, I mean giving an academic lecture, at the US Consulate’s American Centre in Kolkata on 3/26.

(click the pic to enlarge it if you actually want to read it)

Vande Mataram

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Teaching at RBU

by on Dec.21, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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Rabindra Bharati University’s logo

 

Excited to be asked to teach a two-day screenwriting workshop on December 11th and 12th, 2018 to students at Rabindra Bharati University‘s Drama Department.  RBU is my Fulbright-Nehru host institution, which I selected due to their commitment to the performing arts and offering a quality arts education to students who may not otherwise be able to afford it.

Me with some of my RBU students after the last class.

Me with some of my RBU students after the last class.

RBU was founded in 1962 to mark the birth centenary of the legendary playwright and poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Asian recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is a state school named after Tagore and dedicated to the mission of disseminating his thoughts and ideas through humanities, social sciences, art and culture. RBU prides itself for being a center for higher education in performing arts, fine arts, language, literature and social sciences.

 

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Teaching in Kolkata

by on Oct.30, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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Dear Kolkata Friends,

Please pardon the intrusion but I thought perhaps some parties here would be interested in the two-day screenwriting workshop, with a focus on short screenplays, that I’ll be teaching in Kolkata on 24th and 25th November, sponsored by Bichitra Pathshala and ILEAD Kolkata. Please see the two links below for full details including cost. If you have any questions, please comment below.

http://brain-on-fire.com/Poster.pdf

http://brain-on-fire.com/Form.pdf

thanks,

Jeffrey Stanley

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.
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The Work Begins

by on Sep.24, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

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Soumya Sankar Bose and Shyamal Dihidar

 

Yesterday the work began in earnest with my  interview of actor-director Shyamal Dihidar who’s been doing Jatra theatre since age 10. I met him through his nephew (also pictured) Soumya Sankar Bose, a Kolkata-based art photographer.  His uncle was kind enough to take a train 150km into the city for the interview which I held upstairs at a corner table of the cafe at the Oxford Bookstore.

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Shyamal Dihidar and Yours Truly

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 video camera and tripod that I brought with me paid off. And many thanks to Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design for lending me a Zoom sound recorder for 3 months.   Also many thanks to Oxford staff for taking it upon themselves to turn off the store music while I was recording.

 

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

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Rabindra Bharati University

by on Sep.20, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Yesterday I got a tour of the Drama Department at my Fulbright host institution, Rabindra Bharati University. I will teach a workshop or two here later. Click the first photo below to see the slideshow of this incredible, well-appointed performing arts program.

Girish Chandra Ghosh
Girish Chandra Ghosh
First, the head of the Drama Dept. took me on a tour of the facilities. Um, no, that's not him. This is a portrait of Girish Chandra Ghosh who was a renowned 19th century Bengali playwright.
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Othello
Othello
As with the Ghosh portrait, the posters lining the main hallway are dedicated to Bengali theatre during the late 19th and early 20th century as artists were struggling to find their own post-British identities. Here is a tribute to an all-Bengali production of Othello, a radical and financially risky act at the time.
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Macbeth
Macbeth
Ditto this production of The Scottish Tragedy.
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Hariraj (adaptation of Hamlet)
Hariraj (adaptation of Hamlet)
An adaptation of Hamlet into the Bengali language.
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Hariraj
Hariraj
Closeup of Hariraj photo.
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Department Head Shubhashis Halder
Department Head Shubhashis Halder
My tour guide, Professor Shubhashis Halder
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Costume & Puppetry room
Costume & Puppetry room
The place is a hive of activity with surprises behind every door.
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Set Design class
Set Design class
These students were kind enough to pose for me.
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Set Design room
Set Design room
Busy students in every room.
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Department of Drama
Department of Drama
Main hallway.
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TV studio
TV studio
The video production classroom.
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Video production classroom.
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More of the main hallway.
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Outdoor amphitheatre
Outdoor amphitheatre
The department has an outdoor amphitheatre that also serves as a student hangout.
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Amphitheatre
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Freshman orientation
Freshman orientation
The proscenium stage was being used this day for freshman orientation.
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Freshman orientation banner.
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Tagore
Tagore
Naturally there was a portrait honoring the school's namesake, Rabindranath Tagore.
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Sculpture department
Sculpture department
Student work outside the Sculpture building.
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RBU campus
RBU campus
Main road through campus
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More of the campus. Lots of green space.
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Signs pointing the way. It's like a little town!
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Campus map
Campus map
A beautifully laid out campus.
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More green space
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I love that one of the theatres is named after 19th century prostitute-turned-stage star Noti Binodini.
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And even more greenery.
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Beauty everywhere you look.
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The Drama Department is housed in this building along with other arts-related majors.
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Makeup class
Makeup class
This is out of sequence but these were students in the Makeup studio who were kind enough to pose for me.
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Graffiti
Graffiti
I loved this graffiti about rage on back of one of the doors.
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"Ahindra Theater Workshop"
"Ahindra Theater Workshop"
The department is named after its founder, Ahindra Choudhury.
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20180919_142310.jpg
20180919_142310.jpg
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Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.
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