Jefe's House

Tag: fulbright

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.

Comments Off :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

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.

 

Comments Off :, , , , , , , more...

East & West Poetry Performance This Thursday in Kolkata

by on Apr.23, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

tota april 25th poster

This Thursday, April 25th at 6pm IST I’ll be performing in the East & West poetry reading with Kolkata performance artist Indrani Majumder. I’ll be reading some selections from Rabindranath Tagore’s 1912 Nobel-winning collection “Gitanjali” in English as a counter to Indrani performing the same poems in Bengali. Gitanjali’s central theme in this collection of largely pastoral poems is devotion, or as Tagore puts it in one of his verses, “I am here to sing thee songs”.

When I first read “Gitanjali” years ago it immediately brought Walt Whitman’s late 19th century “Song of Myself” to mind in its sensual appreciation for life and its seeking of the divine in nature. I love this epic poem so much that I keep a small pocket edition in my camping gear and always take it with me backpacking or camping, and make a point of spending a few minutes alone in the forest reading it; a tradition I hope to impart to my son. That said, I’ll be concluding my portion of the evening by reading a selection from “Song of Myself.”

We’re part of a larger evening lineup and the event is free.

Location:

ICCR Kolkata (Indian Council for Cultural Relations)

9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani just opposite the US Consulate

 

Comments Off :, , , , , , , , , more...

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.

Comments Off :, , , , , more...

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

Comments Off :, , , more...

Jatra With Me

by on Feb.11, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

tapasi eyes

Jatra star Tapasi Moon

I’m thrilled to share this piece Drexel University asked me to write for their website. It’s only one small part of my Fulbright-Nehru research but the first that any of it’s been published (hopefully this is just an appetizer). I’m honored that they took interest enough to have asked me for it.

Yours Truly backstage with actors Subhayu Mukherjee, Dibakar De and Tapashi Moon.

Yours Truly backstage with actors Subhayu Mukherjee, Dibakar De and Tapashi Moon.

Ashok Banerjee and Biswajit Majhi

Ashok Banerjee and Biswajit Majh

Timir Mondal and RJ Jayee

Timir Mondal and RJ Jayee

Light board operator Atanu

Light board operator Atanu

 Tapashi Moon, Bengali film star Dulal Lahiri, Ruma Dasgupta and Subhayu Mukherjee

Tapashi Moon, Bengali film star Dulal Lahiri, Ruma Dasgupta and Subhayu Mukherjee

Full article on Drexel University’s website here.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

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.

Comments Off :, , , , , , , more...

Jatra Lecture and Workshop 2/27/19

by on Feb.05, 2019, under Shaheb Cafe, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

bridgephlad

Actress-Director Ruma Dasgupta as Rani Rashmoni with Tapasi Moon in the historical-devotional drama “Korunamoyi Rani Rashmoni” (“Gracious Rani Rashmoni”) by Sunil Choudhury. Lyricist Ujal Biswas, music by Swapan Pakrasai. Produced by the Sri Chaitanya Opera.

I’m honored that the Philly-based The Bridge PHL theatre company has invited me to give a lecture and workshop on Jatra theatre, one of my research areas as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar.

Jatra is a Bengali word meaning travel or journey. Jatra theatre, or jatra opera as it is often called in India, is a form of mobile, traveling folk theatre native to India’s northeastern state of West Bengal, dating back several centuries.

By the 19th century, jatra companies began to look away from the purely religious themes that had been their core function, and began to tackle historical subjects and social issues.

Jatra has functioned as a living newspaper, long before any of its playwrights and performers had heard of Theatre of the Oppressed (Augusto Boal hadn’t even been born yet). Long before Brecht, jatra companies worked in a tradition of intentionally nonrealistic acting and minimal use of props and set.

And there is so much more to tell…

Suggested donation $10

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

Comments Off :, , , , , , more...

Teaching in Bangalore

by on Dec.03, 2018, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

bltlogoThrilled to be teaching a full-day playwriting workshop this week to members and friends of the Bangalore Little Theatre, affectionately called BLT.  I will also be seeing their latest play, based on the best-selling book The Emperor of All Maladies, as well as traveling with BLT to observe their theatre education program at some rural schools outside the city.

 

 

Comments Off :, , , , , , more...

Big Night in North Cal

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

20180930_200812

Yours Truly with Jadavpur University’s retired film professor Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay who brought me here tonight and has been helping me a lot in my research.

I went to a panel discussion this afternoon held at the Gandhi Seva Sangha (basically “Gandhi Service Club,”) a nonprofit charity in northwest Kolkata, to hear a lecture on one of my research subjects, filmmaker Hiralal Sen, and his cousin, the prolific writer and folklorist Dinesh Chandra Sen. I had been invited by my new friend, retired Jadavpur University film professor Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay who is a walking encyclopedia of Bengali film history and an expert on Hiralal Sen.

IMG_0340

The Gandhi Seva Sangha with posters of Hiralal Sen (left) and Dinesh Chandra Sen promoting the day’s lecture.

My intention was to lurk in the audience, take notes, shoot video of the speakers and get their remarks translated later (my Bengali is vastly improved but I’m not that good), but they had other plans for me.  I was shocked sitting in the audience at the start when the host took the lectern and announced my name. It caught me completely off guard. He then announced me as an honored guest and Hiralal Sen researcher from the United States who would be making a formal statement (excuse me?) and joining the panel onstage (why did no one tell me this?  I would have dressed a little better.)

I was humbled to be in the company of such esteemed Bengali film scholars and felt like a complete dilettante in their presence.  Then just before we started, they asked each panelist to rise one by one and presented each of us with a scarf the color of the Indian flag, a personalized trophy and several books as gifts.

I should point out too that the Gandhi Seva Sangha, as a nonprofit charity, kicked off the event with a very special awards ceremony.  Each of us panelists were given envelopes containing financial aid awards to hand to deserving high school students in the area as their names were called and they came up onto the stage.

20180930_201432

Acharya (means teacher or professor) Dinesh Chandra Sen Research Society India, the group that organized this event.

I have no idea how they got a trophy made with my name on it so quickly when this event was planned on their calendar far in advance of my arrival in India.  It had to have been a last minute job, for which I am in their debt.

20180930_201442

I can’t complain about my misspelled name. I’ve mangled many a Bengali name over the years so I had it coming. Karma, you know.

I’m never at a loss for words so the speaking part was easy for me when my turn came. I greeted the audience and told them a little about myself in Bengali, then explained my research goals and my long interest in Hiralal Sen.

I was humbled and honored by the experience, and I also met a lot of scholars who came to me afterward offering to help me find the things I’m after.

What a terrific night.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off :, , , , , , , , , , more...

The Work Begins

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

42311795_10156688650321350_8850526673213325312_n

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.

42301088_10156688656566350_6133912923090714624_n

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.

 

Comments Off :, , , , , , , , more...