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House of Time

by on Jun.03, 2021, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

Kalkokkho

Kalkokkho, written and directed by Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul

“Doomsday…Apocalypse…The End of the World…Earlier we used to see these only in foreign films. Apocalypse would happen only in their countries then, and a handsome male hero, just in the nick of time, would save everyone from impending doom. Though it had no relevance in our own lives, it was always great to witness it onscreen through the magic of movies. But in real life, Apocalypse is so boring, monotonous, like a slow-paced art-house film.”

This wry, meta-cinematic line of dialogue from Kalkokkho, or House of Time, the new feature film from Kolkata-based writer-director duo Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul, aptly captures the mood many of us felt in the earliest days of last year’s nearly global Covid pandemic lockdown.  I remember falling into a black hole of depression for two weeks or so, lying on my sofa staring at the ceiling, feeling psychologically and spiritually immobilized; tied down, even.  Soon, however, I began to play the Glad Game, count my many blessings, untie myself and get off my self-absorbed butt.  I reminded myself that when the going gets weird, the weird get going.

Such is the arc of this riveting film, a slow burn of a psychospiritual thriller in which our protagonist, a doctor, is abducted by a frightened family of three women and quite literally tied down, a perfect metaphor for how many of us felt.  As the plot unfolds, the characters climb in and out of their own black holes.  The same day repeats itself. Their conversations recur. Is this Theatre of the Absurd or just the routinization of life under lockdown?  Is it the magical realism of Groundhog Day or the abnormal psychology of Melancholia?

The doctor, his family of female kidnappers — and the audience — can never be sure, and that’s part of the sad joy of this smart, beautifully crafted film with a mind-bending conclusion.  The colorfulness of India suddenly becomes a drab world. You’ll swear some of it was shot in black and white but it’s entirely in, well, living colorlessness. The set and costume design are brilliantly executed in this regard.  The increasingly grim news reports that the trapped characters all sit and hear throughout the film put me in the mind of the disturbing radio updates peppered throughout 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, one of the few American films where the dashing male hero fails to save the day, but in Kalkokkho the news reports are real.

As someone once said, I always know there’s truth in art when it troubles me.  Like a painting, Kalkokkho invites you spend time with it, study it, turn it over in your mind a few times, for great art is never easy, and rarely what it seems on the surface.

 

The official synopsis from the film’s press release:

Amidst a contagious pandemic an apathetic but adept doctor finds himself captive in a house inhabited by three women– a paranoid young woman, an amnesic old woman and a lonely young girl, gradually realizing that he might be trapped not only in space but also in time. The film explores the texture of time with a blend of magic realism and existential horror to express the sense of dread and temporal stasis generated universally by the Covid19 Pandemic. Through mythological allegory and spiritual subtext, it explores eternal themes like reality and illusion, instinct and morality, love, loneliness and grief, the power of stories, nature of the feminine and the masculine, and the discriminations of ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘they’ to tell a tale of “longing for belongingness” which is the biggest crisis of human existence now and forever…

Since the inception of cinema in India, with the legacy of producing and distributing Satyajit Ray’s “Jalsaghar”, “Aparajito” and also distributing Ray’s “Pather Panchali” and Ritwik Ghatak’s “Ajantrik” to name a few, Aurora Film Corporation has been the pillar of strength for supporting novel creative minds and enlightening the vision of noble cinema. The saga continues… (www.aurorafilmcorporation.com)

 

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Enjoy a BLT This Saturday

by on Dec.23, 2020, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

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Very excited that my good friend and colleague Dr. Vijay Padaki of the Bangalore Little Theatre will be in conversation this Saturday, December 26th at 5pm with Tina Brock of Philadelphia’s Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium theatre. Don’t miss it! Link is below. Until we meet on the stage once again, IRC is exploring creations and conversations with adventurers in our community and around the world on Into the Absurd: A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation, each Saturday at 5 pm for 50-minutes on Zoom and Facebook Live.

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BLT then.

Vijay is a Theatre Educator based in Bangalore who has been active in the theatre for sixty years. Vijay joined Bangalore Little Theatre in 1960, the year of its inception, and later served in many capacities – as actor, director, trainer, writer, designer and administrator, including stints each as Secretary and President. Vijay is a psychologist and behavioural scientist by training.

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BLT now.

Vijay has written over 50 original plays; he has also adapted or translated several play scripts.  Seagull Books has published a volume of two Gujarati plays translated by Vijay; in 1993 he won the award for the best contemporary play script instituted by The Hindu newspaper for the play Credit Titles.  Vijay is the Series Editor of nine volumes of plays being published by Bangalore Little Theatre.

Tune in for his conversation with Tina Brock at 5pm this Saturday on Zoom or Facebook Live.

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Serious About Serious Men

by on Jul.17, 2020, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press

indiratiwarinawazsiddiqui

Indira Tiwari and Nawazzudin Siddiqui in Serious Men.

 

Congratulations to my extremely talented friend and colleague Indira Tiwari, costarring as the female lead alongside Bollywood superstar Nawaz Siddiqui in the film Serious Men premiering soon on Netflix (see the first promo here).  The movie is based on Manu Joseph’s bestselling novel of the same name.

Go, Indira!

indiratiwari

Indira Tiwari

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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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Tagore and Whitman at ICCR Kolkata

by on May.21, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

On 4/25/19 I was in a show at ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) Kolkata performing selections from Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel-winning “Gitanjali” poetry collection in English while my counterpart Indrani Majumder performed them in Bengali. I ended with a selection from 19th century US poet Walt Whitman‘s “Song of Myself” as it always reminds me of Tagore. Their shared search for the divine in the everyday seems to make them a perfect pairing. Above is a short excerpt from the show.

 

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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

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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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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

 

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But wait, there’s more…

by on Mar.06, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Double-feature on 3/26.  After my lecture I’ll be part of a livestreamed poetry reading featuring, and produced by, pro Kolkata performer of Rabindra kobita (poems by Rabindranath Tagore spoken in Bengali) Indrani Majumdar.  I’ll be reading some Tagore in English along with some Walt Whitman.

tota jeff poetry reading

 

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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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