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Friday, March 27, 2015

* Festival of Thoughts: DRS Seminar 2015

Day 1: “Rosebud”

What is a seminar, if not, as Professor Chinmoy Guha said, a festival of thoughts? The UGC Assisted DRS (SAP III Phase III) National Seminar on “Connecting Texts: Literature, Theatre and Cinema” organised by the Department  of English at CSSH Auditorium (Calcutta University, Alipore Campus) from March 23 - 25, 2015. As soon as the seminar was inaugurated by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay, the Keynote speaker, the enigmatic Dr. Kunal Basu, decided to descend from the high table reserved for the speakers, and came on the floor of the hall to speak. He presented three sets of conjectures - (1) Fiction to film, (2) Fiction as film and (3) Film as fiction. Kunal Basu reminded us of the unforgettable sequence in the movie Citizen Kane, when the eponymous protagonist in his Xanadu pronounced that last word “Rosebud,” which gives a notion of the preciousness of memory. The author of the that magnificent novel, The Miniaturist, where the central character Bizhad brings alive a historical period, said that it is the memory of clues that the author leaves in the text for the readers that has to correspond when there is a transcreation of fiction to film by the director. Basu enumerated five relationships between fiction and film in the said transcreation - (1) Translation (eg. The Birds), (2) Adaptation (eg. Maqbool), (3) Contradiction (eg. Noah), (4) Inspiration (eg. Apocalypse Now) and (5) Empathy (eg. The Japanese Wife). He also pointed out, in the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that the problem with cinema is that it is “a mass creative process.”

Coming to the second conjecture, Basu explained that some literary works are so discursive in nature
Pic Courtesy: Arindam Ghosh
(with interior monologues and stream-of-consciousness techniques) that they can never be made into successful films. Thirdly, while talking about film as fiction, the Professor at Said Business School, Oxford, raised the question that, since the film and the novel both portray the vastness and the depth of the human condition, will there be a time when novels will become obsolete? In the end Kunal Basu expressed how his love for cinema grew when he was a child  actor in Mrinal Sen’s Punascha; how his regret with cinema lay in the fact that Sam Mendes did not thank Michael Ondaatje  when The English Patient won the Oscar; and how his frustration with cinema becomes evident when that medium stifles other arts.

Pic Courtesy: Arindam Ghosh
After Kunal Basu’s enriching presentation it was the turn of the renowned poet and film director, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, who rather polemically said that film and literature are two independent media and despite convergence, one does not subsume the other. That is why he does not choose literary narratives to film upon. Dasgupta, whose movies, like Tahader Katha, Charachar and Uttara, have often been termed by critics as poetic cinema, acknowledged that, unlike Ray, he does not use narratives as much as images in his film-making. As a kid, Dasgupta was taught by his mother of how many things one can do without. He developed the idea further into how many words one can do without when he became a poet and how many shots one can do without when he became an auteur. The director, who often fetches images from memory, dreams and visions for his films, also stressed the importance of cinema and poetry to make better human beings. The third speaker before lunch break was the inimitable Barun Chanda, the protagonist of Ray’s Seemabaddha. He explained how Ray, who knew the language of literature as  well as the language of celluloid, took liberties with Sankar’s text to create a silver screen masterpiece. From the description of Dalhousie’s 5 Council House Street to the haunting refrain (seta bhalo na kharap) in Shyamalendu’s sister-in-law’s voice, Ray creates a master class in cinematic endeavour. Barun Chanda’s talk, interspersed with scenes from the film, was enthralling.
Pic Courtesy: Arghya Tarafder

The lunch break amidst the luminaries was special as it gave me an opportunity to interact with Kunal Basu and get his autograph. In the post-lunch session it was Prof. Madhuja Mukherjee, who traced the trajectory of a tune, from Mozart’s Symphony 40 to Salil Chowdhury’s rendition of it in “Itna na tu mujhse pyar barha” (Film Chhaya) to Tridev’sGali gali mein phirta hai” to A. R. Rahman’s “Jai ho”. In doing so she mentioned the Hungarian rhapsody of Barsaat and Nazia Hasan’s Disco Diwane, the era of gramophones and the era of audio cassettes, the time of radio and the time of technologically-driven digital sound to display the use of music in popular cinema. She was followed by Debasish Deb, who talked about Satyajit Ray as illustrator and the posters Ray made for his own movies. The final speaker of the session was the art critic Manasij Majumdar. He depicted Turner’s painting The Slave Ship, and Rushkin’s description of the same to presage a rich presentation on Art and Literature: An Interface. The last event of the day was the exclusive screening of a new documentary on Mrinal Sen, directed by Nripen Gangopadhyay. The exclusivity was evident in the fact that the documentary has not yet been seen by the veteran film doyen Mrinal Sen himself.
Pic Courtesy: Arindam Ghosh

Day 2: “Chaos”

Pic Courtesy: Arghya Tarafder
If on the first day there was a struggle between the narrative and the abstract, on the second day the seminar transcended to the realm of the conceptual. The first academic session chaired by Prof. Tapati Gupta had Sohini Sengupta, the actor with big eyes, who has essayed roles in films like Paromitar Ekdin and Alik Sukh and in plays like Madhabi and Nachni, narrating about her fascinating journey as a performer but the abstract of which was that how she sees a text as a gift to the actor and the actor’s performance as a gift to the audience. The next speaker, Prof. Duttatreya Dutt of RBU, started by saying that Aristotle was not the father of literary criticism but theatrical criticism. What is read as drama and considered part of literature is merely the transcription of actors’ dialogues. He concluded by saying that drama is something more - the action and reaction of performers as well as other people.

In keeping with conceptual abstraction as the order of the day, the second session, chaired by Prof.
Pic Courtesy: Arghya Tarafder
Krishna Sen, had Prof. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay of JU, talking about Picasso’s Guernica. He showed Resnais and Hessens’ documentary on this, arguably, most famous art work of the 20th century, which captured the pain in the abstract. Later in clippings from films like Ritwick Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar and Meghe Dhaka Tara, Prof. Mukhopadhyay showed how in films the level of representation is transformed to the level of conceptual. He said that this is possible because of the quality of “literariness,” not only of literature but of all art. In the post-lunch session, the chair, Prof. Dipendu Chakraborti, complimented the quality of food being served but warned that it may act as a tranquilliser. The first to speak was Prof. Sudeshna Chakraborty, who spoke on “Drama and Literature through the Eyes of Utpal Dutt.” It was followed by Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay’s perceptive paper on Shaoli Mitra’s Nathabati Anathbat. With readings and audio recordings of the play, she showed how Shaoli Mitra used the character of Draupadi in the kathokatha form to draw a connection between the past and the present. The last speaker of the day was Prof. Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri. Some may remember him from the 2009 DRS Conference, where he cited examples of ancient Indian Sanskrit writers, who were women. This time he took the idea of the conceptual to depict the origins of drama in Sanskrit. “Natak,” he said, is a mock show and the origin lies in “Nat”, which Panini  describes as a kind of chaos. When Bharatmuni went to Brahma to ask him to conceive something that will be accessible to all, then Natak was born. He said that in Som Yagya’s “mahabrata” there is the necessity of a “natak” between the Yajur-rishis and Nishad, who procures the somlata. When Prof. Bhaduri started speaking about the opening sequence of Kalidasa’s Sakuntala, Prof. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay interrupted him on the pretext that Prof. Guha’s regulation of time-bound sessions did not give him the opportunity to show how the opening scene of Komal Gandhar, which corresponds with the technique used in Sakuntala. The chaos thus created made “natak” a part of this festival of thoughts. The day did not end there but order was restored in the melodious rendition of Tagorean lyrics, which Tagore had set to tune inspired by Upanishad shlokas (Anandaloke), Scottish and Irish folk songs (Auld Lang Syne/ Purano sei diner katha), Carnatic music and Brajabuli (Gahana kusuma kunj majhe) by the duo, Jaya Bandyopadhyaya and Adrija Bandyopadhyaya. It was truly a thrilling day of thoughts.

Day 3: “Matrix”

Pic Courtesy: Ishani Ray
The last day was an invigorating day devoted to student paper presentations. Arindam Ghosh (CU) showed that Samuel Beckett’s screenplay of the movie, interestingly titled, Film, is actually a film about absence. Asijit Dutta (JU) said that in Beckett’s Unnameable there is dilution of language and selfhood, which cannot be framed by the camera. Samudranil Gupta (Presidency) said that Suman Mukhopadhyay’s adaptation of Nabarun Bhatacharya’s three short stories into the film Mahanagar@Kolkata is doubly performative. Sayantina Dutta (CU) showed the visual attainability of R. K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends and Malgudi Days on the screen. Sharanya Dutta (CU), on the other hand, showed how the transcultural adaptation of Great Expectations by Alfonso Cuaron in 1998 transformed a Dickensian classic to a petty Hollywood romance. Swagata Chatterjee’s (CU) paper was on how Ray put the two characters Goopy and Bagha in both social and political context in Hirak Rajar Deshe. Bidhan Mondal (KU) showed how in the movie Cosmic Sex the concepts of “Brahmacharya” and “Devatatta” of the Bauls are used. Rajarshee Gupta (yes, the whisky priest of the Departmental production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle is now a DRS fellow) delved into the archives to tell us how the Jataka story and its versions were transformed by Tagore in his dance drama Shyama.

An interesting incident happened in the session before lunch. Kalyan Ray, the author of Eastwords,
Pic Courtesy: Sayantani Mukherjee
came to the seminar and of all places chose to sit beside me and then he spoke. Therefore, now I can vouch for his baritone voice that many of us have heard most memorably in the movie Antaheen. The post-lunch session started with a paper by Sujan Mondal (JMI) on how Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet was adapted into the TV serial The Jewel in the Crown and its representative and reproductive significance. Debashis Biswas (CU) spoke on the cinematic adaptation and transcreation of Chitrangada. Adharshila Chatterjee’s (CU) paper was on the politics of bodies in the Hanibal Lecture series and American Psycho. [Prof. Santanu Majumdar, chairing the session, opined that he is partial to this paper as he has always been fascinated with murder and violence.] Pranab Kumar Mandal (CU) raised the question, “Is there an audience in the dark?” to explore the existence of a fourth wall between the stage and the audience in proscenium theatre. Nisarga Bhattacharjee (CU) showed how in the Matrix movie trilogy there are three levels of relatedness. Reshmi Balakrishnan (EFLU) decolonized Pandora’s and Crusoe’s island while Soumik Banerjee (CU) reinterpreted the novel and the film Sabuj Dwiper Raja. The last speaker was Tirthankar Sengupta (yes, remember him from the staging of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author) who showed the fluidity of text and context in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle in its numerous adaptations.

Pic Courtesy: Arghya Tarafder
At the end of the seminar the DRS Coordinator, Prof. Chinmoy Guha, and Deputy Coordinator, Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay, thanked the guests, speakers, professors, volunteers and all the participants for making this seminar a success. A spontaneous counter thank you went to both of them for the vision to have a festival of thoughts and making it a reality. 

Pic Courtesy: Koyel Halder

And a special thank you goes to the former and the present DRS fellows, Saptarshi Mallick and Rajarshee Gupta, respectively, who exhausted themselves doing the legwork and the overheads that such a seminar demands. 

[All pictures are taken from the public domain of Facebook and used here for non-commercial purpose in good faith. All efforts have been made to give proper credits. If there is any objection then do let me know.]

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