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    Volume 10 |Issue 45 | December 01, 2011 |


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The Double Bill


It's hardly a usual day when Dhaka gets to be dazzled by stars of Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore's stature. Recently the famous on-screen couple of Satyajit Ray's 'Apur Sansar' (The World of Apu) came to town to read 'Onnishesh Pran: Life Unending', a narrative that tells the story of Rabindranath Tagore in its multifold aspects -- his life and his work.

This stage production presents a unique combination of the spoken word, the photographic image and the musical heritage of Tagore's genius. Each of these elements is explored through unexpected and unusual facets of its expression. The spoken word combined with narrative text and quotations from the poet's varied works was presented concurrently in the original Bengali, original English and translated texts.

Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in ‘Life Unending’.

The King of Pashchimbanga's Silver Screen
Taking advantage of their iconic presence, The Star inquired about his thoughts on the prospect of Bollywood movies being shown in Dhaka’s cinema theatres. Soumitra Chatterjee felt that, “The rich cultural heritage of Dhaka and Kolkata is not being properly reflected in these movies, we need to love and take pride in our culture in order to protect and preserve it. If we are strong in our will then Bollywood Hindi movies will not be able to grab the market.”

Talking about whether Hindi movies should be aired in Dhaka cinema halls, he explained: “As it is with television and other media, the Hindi movies are part of your life here in Dhaka, so bringing it legally poses no major threat except for the danger of you forgetting your own culture. If you can protect your heritage and culture than exposure of this sort should not pose a problem. Even in Kolkata where we suffer from a kind of complexity and on top of that Koltaka people suffer from a kind of superiority complex, our rich heritage is not being properly reflected or getting the spotlight it deserves in Hindi films."

Soumitra Chatterjee, reflecting upon his pride on being a Bengali says, “I will not be able to breathe if I cannot speak Bangla, even for a day.

“Whenever I come to Dhaka I feel much loved, though all my visits were work-related and I hardly got time to venture out; a quick visit to Buriganga takes its toll on my tight schedules here. But I feel Kolkata and Dhaka are same in some contexts; for instance, both cities are a synthesis of the old and new yet they differ starkly in many ways. However, I must say culturally I find Dhaka more active and forward thinking than my city. I strongly feel that Rabindranath being the soul of every Bangali is kept alive and is close to Dhakaites more than us; the fact that Rabindranath is close to a Bangladeshi's soul is because of your greater love for him compared to ours.”

Chatterjee explains: “Yes, now with the 150 years celebration, Kolkata is active but Dhaka I find to be active all year through. Rabindranath is still a very important part of Bangladesh; I wonder if it is so in Kolkata.”

Soumitra's film debut came in 1959 in Satyajit Ray's ‘Apur Sangsar’. Chatterjee was cast in diverse roles by Ray and some of the stories and screenplays that Ray wrote were said to be written with him in mind. Besides working with Ray, Soumitra excelled in collaborations with other well-known Bengali directors such as Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha. He earned critical acclaim for his role of an impostor in Mrinal Sen's 'Akash Kusum'. He was equally confident in playing the swashbuckling horse-riding villain in Sinha's ‘Jhinder Bandi’, giving the legendary Uttam Kumar a tough challenge.

In ‘Teen Bhubaner Pare’, he again shared the screen with the beautiful Tanuja, and his flamboyant and peppy way of teasing and wooing Tanuja in the very first song-sequence ('Ke Tumi Nadini') earned him the 'star' tag overnight along with Uttam Kumar.

Soumitra has been active in Bengali theatre as an actor, playwright and director. He is a well-known poetry reciter, and has acted on TV and in indigenous folk drama (jatra).

A living legend in his own right, Soumitra has received the 'Officier des Arts et Metiers', the highest award for arts given by the French government, and a lifetime achievement award from Italy. He turned down the honorary Padma Shri award from the Indian government in the 1970s; in 2004, he accepted the prestigious Padma Bhushan award from the President of India.

The Queen of Dreams
The resplendent Sharmila Tagore was happy that her first visit to Dhaka was destined to be for such a momentous event. Asked whether Bollywood audiences are ready to welcome the change from the industry's oft-criticised promotion of escapist cinema (song, dance and happy ending storylines) to the new genre of realistic film-making, she felt that Bollywood has a lot of talent and that even their regional movies are doing well.

“Movies are always market driven. Sometimes they are star-centric and sometimes they are director-centric. There is a necessity for popular, masala movies but it in no way takes away the talent of actors like Irfan Khan, Vidya Balan, Priyanka (Chopra), Kareena (Kapoor), Saif (Ali Khan), Salman (Khan); their performance speaks volumes.”

“Directors exploit the reality and add their visions to their movies. For instance, look at the designers' risks the director insist upon now in stunts like paragliding or bungee jumping, the director feels it is required. He wants to make sure that his audience can happily forget reality for three hours of movie time. For which masala movies are needed,” Sharmila explains.

Adding further to her comment, she relates: “I think both at home and abroad, takers for such films are full. It all boils down to economics; films are not like books; they require a lot of funds. Therefore wooing the audience is needed. There are two kinds of audience: one, the rural for whom escapist movies are fun and the other the urban metro audience for whom the genre of realistic film appeals. However, there are movies that transcend both category, such as 'Lagaan' and '3 Idiots'.”

Sharmila, the great-grandniece of noted poet Rabindranath Tagore, was born in a Hindu Bengali family in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh to Gitindranath Tagore.

Sharmila began her career as an actress in Satyajit Ray's 1959 Bengali film ‘Apur Sangsar’, as the ill-fated bride of the title character.

She established herself as a popular Hindi film actress with Shakti Samanta's ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ in 1964. Samanta again cast her in many more hit films, notably An Evening in Paris (1967), the first appearance in a bikini of an Indian actress, establishing Sharmila's role as something of a sex symbol in Bollywood. Samanta later teamed up Sharmila with Rajesh Khanna for movies such as Aradhana (1969) and Amar Prem (1972).

Sharmila Tagore married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Nawab of Pataudi, a former captain of the Indian cricket team, in 1969.

A Soulful Performance
The life, philosophy and works of Tagore have been subjects of great interest for not only Bengalis but for people all over the world. How did this brilliant scholar, poet, writer and artiste be such a visionary? What kind of environment did he grow up in or was exposed to become the genius that he was? 'Life Unending' gives a glimpse of the joys, tragedies and inspirations that surrounded Tagore, as a child, adolescent and young man. His spurts of brilliant creativity, phases of melancholy and spiritual growth, his loves and his losses - all these have been eloquently narrated by the much renowned trio of artistes. While Sharmila and Shoumitra shared the Bengali narrations, Jagannath Guha, a veteran Kolkata stage artiste rendered impeccably the English translations. Clips of the great poet's letters, writing and family photographs in the background along with the skilful tunes of the orchestra of the Kolkata Music Academy created the perfect ambience. As the title reveals, Tagore's thinking and the treasure of works he has left behind are indeed timeless and unending.

Life Unending was organised by Excaliber Entertainment and Jatrik sponsored by Airtel Bangladesh in Association with City Bank.


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