Jefe's House

Shaheb Cafe

My Dinner With Tina

by on Mar.21, 2021, under Film/TV, NYC, Shaheb Cafe, The Sixth Boro, The Truth Is In Here, Theatre

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Into the Absurd. A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation.

Why is this man making a hand-rabbit? Scroll down to find out.

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If you missed my interview last night with the masterful Tina Brock of the IRC and would like to hear more about my mis/adventures in India, my work as a Fulbright Scholar and the nonfiction book I’m currently finishing, along with Tesla, ghosts, paan, religion, David Ives, and a few other surprises, you can catch it here on the IRC’s youtube channel:

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A Postard From India

by on Mar.08, 2021, under Shaheb Cafe

 

I was honored and proud to be asked to write the foreword to the English version of this moving and vivid short story collection. Congratulations, translator Sanhita Mukherjee and Bengali author Raja Sinha  (also spelled in English Raja Singho). The Postcard Tales launched this weekend at the Chennai Book Fair in India.

Here’s where you can get it:

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FOREWORD

Jamaica Kincaid once wrote, A great piece of literature encompasses all that is and all that will be.

Yes, this applies even to short stories.

A great short story stands alone. It is not an excerpt from a novel or a vague synopsis of a longer story crammed into a predetermined word count. A great short story is a stolen glance through a window into someone else’s life. The best ones leave us with a sense of “sweet sorrow,” a yearning to linger there on the sidewalk a little longer even though we must press on to our own destinations. Such stories don’t need a contrived cliffhanger ending in order to leave us dying to know what happens next. They accomplish that effect through more organic and nuanced means.

The first short stories I experienced were fairy tales read to me by my mother before I was old enough to go to school. Then came the Jack Tales, a unique feature of my Appalachian upbringing. Later I would discover the short stories of Rabindranath Tagore, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, John Cheever, Edgar Allan Poe. Some capture the human condition with horror, others with humor, others with nightmarish satire. They have all left me comforted in knowing I wasn’t the only one experiencing life’s suffering; that in some way it’s communal, that we’re all in it together. They left me satisfied, but a little bit sad to see them go.

The stories in this collection have captivated me in the same ways. They are unique to India but they are universal to all of us. From the self-mutilation in “Primeval” that I will never be able to expunge from my mind, to the smell of burning books in “The Five Windows,” to the heart- wrenching revelations of a condemned young woman moments before her execution, along with the unspoken and timely themes that accompany them, Raja Sinha has left me haunted.

Even so, I was eager to turn the page and peer through the next glass, following along with the author’s appraisals and inquiries into life, culture, society and survival. May you be moved by his investigations at least half as much as me.

Jeffrey Stanley

Fulbright-Nehru Scholar

New York University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Indian Farmers’ Strike in 90 Seconds

by on Jan.20, 2021, under Politics, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Photo via Al Jazeera

Photo via Al Jazeera

My US Bengali friends’ theatre company Kushilob put together a series of online theatrical shorts reacting to, and explaining, the massive farmers strike currently happening in India. You probably saw protest footage and tear gas on CNN or glimpsed it in the New York Times but perhaps aren’t exactly sure what the fuss is about.  The full Kushilob video is here on YouTube. Most of the pieces are in Bengali so for my other friends here’s what the Indian farmers strike is about in 90 seconds.  “Salt of the Earth” features Bedatanu Banerjee and me:

Feel free to share either of these vids with anyone anywhere. Thanks.

#farmerstrike

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Aurora Visible in India

by on Jan.18, 2021, under Film/TV, Shaheb Cafe

Exciting news in the Times of India about my friends and colleagues at Aurora Film Corporation, India’s oldest continuously running production company.  Looking forward to seeing Kalkokkho (House of Time) written and directed by Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul.

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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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Film Appreciation Course with Debasish Sen Sharma Starts 8/15

by on Aug.07, 2020, under Film/TV, Shaheb Cafe

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I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of this great event with well-known Indian film director Debasish Sen Sharma. I won’t say I’m co-teaching, that would be too grandiose. It’s a 12-week course and I will be guest teaching one session on screenplay plot development as well as sitting in on all sessions. At a hundred bucks this is a steal and I’m happily volunteering my services to participate. Open to everyone everywhere. STARTS ONLINE AUGUST 15th.

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Serious About Serious Men

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

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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!

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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

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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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