As tributes pour in on Surekha Sikri’s demise listen to her Swan Songs
Veteran actor Surekha Sikri passed away this morning, Friday the 16th July 2021, following a cardiac arrest, her agent, Vivek Sidhwani informed. In a statement shared with the media, the agent said the actor had been suffering from complications arising from a second brain stroke. She was with her family and her caregivers who requested privacy at this time.
Surekha Sikri (19 April 1945 – 16 July 2021) was an Indian theatre, film and television actress. A veteran of Hindi theatre, she made her debut in the 1978 political drama film Kissa Kursi Ka and went on to play supporting roles in numerous Hindi and Malayalam films, as well as in Indian soap operas. Sikri has received several awards, including three National Film Awards and a Filmfare Award.
Sikri won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress thrice, for her roles in Tamas (1988), Mammo (1995) and Badhaai Ho (2018). She was awarded the Indian Telly Award for Best Actress in a Negative Role in 2008 for her work in the primetime soap opera Balika Vadhu and won the Indian Telly Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the same show in 2011. In addition, she won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1989 for her contributions towards Hindi theater. Her last release Badhaai Ho (2018) got her immense recognition and appreciation from viewers and critics. She won three awards: the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress, Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Screen Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.
As a fitting tribute to the great performer she was we will listen to her mellifluous recitations of Hindi and Urdu Poetry. But before that, here are some of the tributes which poured in on social media and otherwise from her millions of admirers, and eminent people whom she knew, including actors and directors from film, television and theatre.
Ashish Abrol, Income Tax Commisioner, laments: “Surekha Sikri or Surekha di as we called her passed away today morning. I cannot get myself to accept that she is no more. I came to know her in 1985 when she was a faculty member in NSD and came completely under her thrall as she became a mentor, teacher, older sister and a maternal figure for me. Her panache, idiosyncrasies, brilliance as an actor and her erudition… often when her silences taught you more than lectures of so many others. Her love for chaat and the occasional joint… later of course she could not eat much courtesy the intestine problems. She was perhaps the greatest theatre actor ever in modern India; some one who could emote and yet be aware of her own performance as if standing out of her body observing herself perform. More than that she was always overflowing with warmth that traveled to you through her twinkling often mischievous eyes. She was so thrilled when her son Rahul had an exhibition in The Habitat Centre …I was not in touch with her for some time more since her paralysis and with her inability to speak. A triple national award winner; Surekha ji was known to the country at large courtesy her TV and film roles…in Tamas, as Dadisa, in Mammoo but it is her oeuvre in theatre that is stunning; she owned the stage, set it on fire and then doused the flames with her voice and gentleness. RIP Surekha di my mother in another life you live on in your performances and our memories”
“She was one of my personal favourites .. a lovely actress .. will never forget her Nsd work when I was in college in delhi .. god bless her” – Lillet Dubey
“There is a total immersion in life…have deeply admired her work, her persona from the Nsd days, so fully engaged in enjoying everything that came her way intensely” – Amba Sanyal
“Surekha my dear dear friend! We were in the same batch! A consummate actress,very strong woman , determined and brave! ! Never let go of her beliefs and strong options! I shall miss her dearly” – Amal Allana
“Very very sad news. We have lost another great actress. Surekha Sikri left for her heavenly abode. Heartfelt condolences to her family. May God rest her soul in peace” – Satish Anand
“Another great loss to theatre and films. She was a great actor and inspiration to all her juniors at NSD. Will never forget her superb performances. Rest in peace Surekhaji” – Anila Singh Khosla
“Deeply saddened – was always uplifted by her rendering of Faiz’s poem- may she rest in eternal peace” –Salima Hashmi
“Shocking news. She was one of the few who defined theatre for us in our youth. What a great loss for all of us” – Rajiv Bhargav
“Last of the greatest products of NSD..and loved and respected hugely for her talent and principles. Will be sorely missed” – Dolly Thakore
Tail Piece: Surekha Sikri was very fond of poetry. Listen to her reciting poetry by Faiz, Raghuvir Sahay & Sarveshvar
Satish Alekar: Remembering Dilip Kumar
In 1975 to celebrate 100th show of our Theatre Academy, Pune’s original Marathi Production Vijay Tendulkar’s: Ghashiram Kotwal, we invited Dilip Kumar and Shashi Kapoor as the chief guests. Thereafter not many know that Dilip Kumar became our friend. There were many occasions where Jabbar Patel, Anil Joglekar and me were invited to his home on the Pali Hill. Several story ideas were discussed to make film. Story drafts were discussed but never materialised. But we became friends. Dilip Kumar used to speak Marathi fluently. He had seen many popular Marathi Sangeet Natak’s. Sometime at his home he will take out harmonium and sing old Marathi theatre song made popular by Bal Gandharva. Dilip Kumarji and Saira ji used to visit Pune during weekends. They used to stay at famous Turf Club and used to invite Ghashiram actors Gang for a high tea and chat. Above is one photograph of their 1993 visit to Turf Club Pune. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu seen with ( from left: Satish Ghatpande, Dilip Gokhale, Avinash Limaye, Arvind Thakar, and Suresh Basale) We lost all these three actors over the years.
Sherni: The latest Vidya Balan starrer on Amazon Prime / Sanjiva Sahai
Sherni. The latest movie on Amazon Prime Not as hard hitting as director Amit V. Masurkar’s previous one (Newton), but that hardly takes away the sheen from this true-to-life movie. In the same breath, it’s NOT meant for everyone. Period. If the killing of animals infuriates your being, if ultra slow unfolding of the story fascinates you, if no-frill acting style makes a great connect, do find time to watch it.
This is Aastha Tiku’s very first attempt at story and screenplay. Quite impressive. Dialogues by Yashaswi and Amit appear improvised, sound natural and sharp. Lovely. Benedict and Naren have come up with some extremely restrained musical scores that elevate the sense of mystery in the jungle. And yes, Rakesh Haridas with his available-light shots provide some real-life experience for the viewers.
Vidya Balan, the protagonist, sails through this forest saga with ease and intensity. An ace performance. Vijay Raaz, Sharat Saxena, Brijendra Kala and Neeraj Kabi have lent a good sense of authenticity. Didn’t like Ila Arun at all. Overdone sequences. Okay, what really drew me close to the film was Sampa Mandal as the villager (Jyoti). I guess she was the one playing Phulia (Phoolan Devi) in Sonchiriya. Would love to watch her in different roles: rustic or urban. Superlatively talented. All said, the title should have been Baghin (Tigress), not Sherni (Lioness). Whether what we get visually (tigress and her cubs) or metaphorically (Vidya), बाघिन was apt.
Resonances of the Past – a review by Manohar Khushalani
Resonances of the Past (The Ruth Wieder Magan Show) first Published in IIC Diary Feb-March 2021
To commemorate International Womens Day, Organised with the support of “The Foundation for Independent Artists”, Ministry of Culture and Sport, Israel) the India International Center Screened three films by Ruth Wieder Magan; Mirror Sky (50 min), Come Away Human Child (6.42 min) and Kadayil Shabbaso (10 min)
A Webinar was also conducted at IIC, The Ecstatic Voice. What is the Female Voice? Participants were: Ruth Wieder Magan, well-known contemporary voice/body theatre artist from Israel; Prof. Michal Govrin, Prominent Israeli writer, poet and theatre director; Gabriella Lev, theatre director, writer, performer, Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Theatre Company Jerusalem; Michael Shachrur, prominent body worker, dancer; Sara Siegel and Yuval Steinberg, filmmakers. The sentiments echoed what the films resonate with.
Ruth is best known for her pioneering work integrating sacred texts into contemporary voice/body theatre. Her pioneering approach to the transcendental aspect of voice is founded solidly in sacred cantorial Jewish traditions. In Mirror Sky in a backdrop of dimly lit scenes Ruth, swirling, moaning, producing gutrral sound explains the origin of her techniques:
“The process of my voicing goes something like this; a voice arises from the particular presence of present time. I will begin to track the life of the vibration. Where is it sounding in my body?
[As Music Swirls] Is it liver or kidneys or blood or eyelids?
And where in my perception of the cosmos?
is that reverberation, am i feeling angels
or am i sensing the moon or feeling stars shifting?
….and how is that kernel of sound moving out into space?
Does it want to travel forward or travel back into the sides?
and what cultural meaning arises in me
As i hear the sound emitting from my very own voice
…is it ancient America or China or is it atlantis?… or am i hearing an animal? Her investigation continues
Ruth’s source of inspiration, were her own parents, both were Holocaust survivors. Their memories and experiences triggered the melodies and intonations rooted in the barren world of the yore.
The movies are psychedelic Ruth’s voice and body performance is mesmerizing. Audience connected to so many insights and the things she said ”..a wound is a gateway, a gateway to the universe.
A wind blown image of her own hair swirling over her face like diaphonous clouds punctuated with screams of agony seems to haunt you
The End and the Future of Theater
Theater halls have opened in the UK and Australia, and the lights will shine bright on Broadway after two years. It is too early to say whether the policymakers are being over-optimistic or careless. But for most of the world, specifically, India, theater shows will not go live for at least a couple of years. And even when the theaters open with safety protocols, the theater may not remain a financially viable business. Is it the end of theater as we know it? Is it the end of an art form that has been performed for at least 5,000 years? But then theater has survived the plague and the Spanish Flu. Before we speculate about the future, let’s take a moment to investigate the past.
The first obituary of the theater was written in the 1920s when the talkies ushered in a new era of entertainment. But not only did the theater survive the competition from cinema, the Broadway Book Musicals became a billion-dollar industry around the time. The first real blow to small regional and off-off-Broadway theater came from the television in the 1960s when a television set became a household item. But that did not stop Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller from writing great plays. They forced the audience to return to the theaters. Harold Pinter, Beckett, Albee, and more recently Mamet created scintillating works for the stage despite the competition from the cinema and the television industry. The competition challenged theater to become more daring and intelligent.
Talking of India, we must first understand that the Indian theater is more diverse than anywhere else in the world. Indian theater is in part sacred, ritualistic, and regional. There is a deep wide chasm between the text-centric theater that is performed in the cities and the traditional theater that exists in rural India. The traditional Indian forms of performance like nautanki, pandavani, bhavai, terukkuttu, yakshagana and even the classical theater Koodiyattam have a significant regional presence and local patronage. Some of these forms are a few thousand years old and we can assume they have survived epidemics, attacks by Mughal invaders, World wars, famines, floods, earthquakes, poverty, and competition from TV and cinema. Did they survive because they spoke to the audience in their dialect? Are they immortal because they tell the local stories of the land? Or did they survive because of their sacred-spiritual nature and patronage by the temples? The temples were the seats of arts and any attack on the temple was an assault on the arts and the artists of the land. Hence this continuity of art forms is no small miracle. But the urban theater has neither local patronage nor loyalty of committed artists. Therefore, it is starting to crumble under competition from OTT and entertainment in the digital space.
Modern theater, such as we see in the cities, lacks the spectacle of traditional theater and sometimes even entertainment. The traditional theater is non-realistic and highly stylized. The costumes, make-up, body movements, gestures, music and accentuated abhinaya/acting create a performance that is moving, surreal and mesmerizing. The modern theater relies heavily on dialogue and story-telling through realistic verbal acting. The sitcoms on TV and binge-worthy shows on the OTT are also pivoted around the story and dialogue. Why would someone watch a dramatic performance cramped in a theater when they could watch drama on their phones sitting on their couch or even the toilet seat? It isn’t just the ease of watching drama on the phone, but the addiction to the phone that has become an impediment. Not to fault the story-telling. The shows are gripping and fast-paced. But then it is so easy to manipulate the audience and keep them hooked till the end. There are formula sheets, beats, and tricks that every writer in the industry uses to keep you glued to your phone.
The straight plays in Delhi and even Mumbai theaters be it English or the regional languages are laced with activism. Polemics has replaced aesthetics. Left-leaning plays have so much propaganda thrown in the script that the audience can see through it. Can we really blame the audience for not wanting to watch social activism on stage? Directors think they can compensate aesthetic appeal with lighting but they forget the audience is not here to watch a sound and light show. The audience craves good stories. It wants to see life through a clean lens. The audience is done watching Brecht, Beckett, Karnad, and Tendulkar. Bedroom comedies are passé. OTT gives the audience enough sex, comedy, and violence. What can you give them on stage that TV and cinema can’t?
The irony is the directors and actors who are flag bearers of socialism in the theater circle abandon their ideals to work for the commercial OTT and Cinema. The crew and extras are treated as third rate citizens in Bollywood, worse than apartheid, but the champions of social equality on stage never raise their voice against the injustice. And let’s not even discuss the underbelly of theater where fresh actors are made to sweep floors in the name of training. While the artists in traditional art forms are committed to the tradition and the art, the modern actors distance themselves from the theater as soon as they break into the TV/OTT industry. Without fresh ideas and dedicated theater practitioners, theater as we know in Indian cities, is at the brink of extinction.
The pandemic has given us distance and time away from the theater and rehearsal halls to re-imagine our future. It has been a time to experiment and create many futures of theater. Theater companies and individual practitioners moved the theater online within a few months into the pandemic. Broadway HD has been streaming ace-quality theater productions shot on multiple cameras since 2015. National Theater and the Royal Opera House streamed their old productions at the start of the lockdown in UK. The Melbourne Theater Company has recently launched its Digital Theater version where they stream their running shows for a limited time. Going forward, all their productions will be available to watch online for $25. While the digital productions are a great option for the theater aficionados, but a good digital production needs multiple cameras and sophisticated editing.
Watching theater production with limited camera movement can be a tad boring because our minds compare it to the cinema and TV shows. Our minds are accustomed to two second shots. Watching an hour-long play set in the same space, in more or less the same frame becomes tiring unless it’s a fast-paced comedy like ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, by National Theater. The musicals lose their grandness on the small screen. Lest we forget, the audience goes to the Musicals for live music. The experience of watching a musical on a small screen is unsatisfying.
Independent theater groups experimented with and adapted short stories for online presentations. It started with some artists performing or even reading short stories and plays live on Zoom. The production quality of the online plays was worse than YouTube content because they were shot on phone without professional lighting and sound equipment. The shows were under 30 minutes to accommodate the audience’s attention span. Story-telling was restricted by time and technology. As time passed these experiments faded away and it became clear that the future of theater is not online.
One future of theater could be virtual reality theater that has been in the making since 2016. National Theater has launched a studio where they will use virtual and augmented reality to create shows for a communal virtual experience. It’s the high-tech, AI technology used for immersive story-telling. But this future requires a capital investment of 100 plus cameras, edit suites, and technical crew on top of the cast and the musicians. How many companies can produce this kind of theater? How many of us can afford a ticket to this show?
Of the many futures of theater, one future could have its origin in the past. Richard Schechner, a performance theorist and a veteran performer has been working with Natyashastra for over four decades. Dr. Bharat Gupt, a classical theorist and Natyashastra expert, is mentoring students in Greece, Romania, India and the US to create performances using the principles of Natyashastra. These performances are an organic convergence of music, movement, myth, abhinaya and story. Theater makers could look to Irish story telling as one kind of performance. This is our time to study the past so that we can shape a meaningful future.
Whatever form the theater takes from here, it has to become more immersive, aesthetic, poetic, non-realistic, surreal, intense, and communicative. The stories have to break fresh ground. The writers have to muster courage to experiment with the shape and the structure of the story. The performers have to make a connection with the audience. Theater has to go beyond activism and entertainment to become truly transformative and cathartic.
Chronicle of my Curious Corona Case / Susmita Mukherjee
It all started with what in Mumbai’s parlance is known as ‘ Pateli’. Let me elaborate, Pateli‘ and it’s stronger aspect ,also known as ‘ Vatt Pateli’, loosely translates itself as arrogance or false bravado. You see I have been living in my idyllic farmhouse in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, with my family since March 2020 lockdown, along with our cows, dogs, cat and even peacocks so how did I get the dreaded Covid? I did Pateli. To be honest I have tried to be disciplined most of my adult life ( ever since I gave up being a 4 packs of cigarettes a day smoker back then in 1989) and had turned into a unrecognisable creature who gave up smoking, meditated, did yoga, pranayam, ate clean food and basked in the adoration of friends and family who made me feel pretty invincible. In fact I hadn’t taken a single pill for the last 3 decades, and combated the rare fever with coconut water and fruits.
So I swung around with full pateli,with the belief that Corona or whatever the world was talking about with such fear, could never reach me. It helped that we don’t have a TV as ours is a microclimatic zone, and so I kept myself occupied with reading novels, and occasionally watching ” goody goody” stuff on my cellphone. Then I made 2 fatal errors.On the 10th of April, I sauntered with my friend, (a woman who was contesting as an Independent candidate for the Zila Panchayat election from a backward seat, )as we wove in and out of Bundeli villages, drinking water from the homes we visited, not realising that some water came from wells, others from bawois and some from God knows where. So we had ” ghat ghat ka paani‘, because in these parts refusing water is equivalent to hurting the host.
Error No. 2. On the 12th, I accompanied my husband and our manager who got their vaccines but I bluntly refused. Vaccine? Oh no , not for me. Vatt Pateli. That very evening I was invited as chief guest for a function in Jhansi, where my friend, Dr Neeti Shastri was celebrating National Street Theatre Day and as I had been part of the street theatre movement in Delhi, back in the early days, I was happy to attend. The only problem, (which of-course I realised in hindsight,) was that the anchor, a veteran journalist, who stood and sat next to me had a very bad cold and sneezed a lot which reminded me to keep my mask on firmly but when the photographers wanted to see my face, vanity kicked in ( I’m an actress) and I let my mask down in more ways than one, with chilling consequences., (Error No. 3).
13th, 14th and 15th of April were busy days as I prepared to welcome Mother Durga who it was said was coming this year on horseback and did not portend well for mankind. And I , in my fervour, was determined to fast and pray and so I ignored the horrid body pain I felt for 3 days not for a moment imagining it could be the dreaded Corona. Then on the 4th day the pain vanished mysteriously and I had no memory of it as I gaily completed the Naudurga, fasting on fruits, coconut water and one small meal of permissible items. I was continuing with my yoga, meditation, walks. No cough, no fever, no body pain. Suddenly it got curious.
Error No. 4. On 23rd April, I committed another Pateli. I walked out in the noon heat for a small pooja we were perfoming at the farm for the creative Academy my husband is building and returned dizzy from the heat. ‘ Vinaash kaale vipreet buddhi‘ 2 hours later I was on my way to Jhansi, 15 kilometres away, helping my team source iron and cement blocks for the construction..After that every thing got black. I declared to all that I would self quarantine. I may have had a slight fever but since in the past I had never paid attention to it, coupled with the fact that we did not own a thermometer and did not see the reason to have one ( Pateli), I dropped into a pitch black hole of sleep, utter fatigue and an unquenchable thirst. A small cough started. Not dry or racking but just an irritating moist cough with phlegm. I did not listen to my husband who sent me a strip of paracetamol but cunningly tore one pill away and hid it under my pillow, in case he inspected the strip ( Pateli) From 23rd to 30th, I kept myself strictly self quarantined. Food was sent to me outside my door but I was not particularly hungry. But thirsty, yes, and fatigued, by my standards. My yoga, walks, meditation continued but with difficulty.
So for 21 days after possible infection I was sustaining without any medicine, only on fruits and coconut water. Suddenly on 30th morning, I woke up with a panic attack and called my doctor in Mumbai who immediately prescribed some pills and asked me to take the RTPCR test. Now this test had been the bone of contention for a while. My younger son who is studying to be a scientist in New Zealand, along with his school classmate, My doctor,, who is in the frontline of Covid treatment in India, had been pleading with me to get a test done. I had dismissed it as medical haranguing.I had first heard the term from my very concerned older sister, and ofcourse I was determined not to go to any hospitals for testing ( Pateli) But my Mumbai doctor was not going to listen to this insane patient in Orchha. A conversation happened between him and my husband and I was bundled off to to our small but clean hospital in the village where they stuffed some cotton up my nostrils and the dreaded RTPCR test seemed like child’s play.
I was seeing the outside world after 3 weeks, the weather was nice and I felt really well. My husband’s younger brother and his wife were visiting and knowing my propensity to cure myself with fruits and water were not unduly alarmed as I now started to hang out with them, albeit always at a safe distance. Then on 2nd late evening, the verdict came. Covid positive. We had been sitting out in the cabana, chatting, having tea, and suddenly within minutes my family disappeared like in stop block and reappeared covered from head to toe in whatever plastic they could lay their hands on. It was such a comical sight in an absurd situation where within minutes the whole scenario changed. Of-course in hindsight it was not so funny! Next day, 3rd of May came the epiphany, the real reason to write this personal chronicle. My husband, Raja Bundela, is well known in these parts as an activist leader, and without my knowledge an ambulance, an oxygen cylinder and a hospital bed in the most premiere hospital had been lined up. Lucky me!
Clearly my family was in panic. I was pretty well and when I reached the hospital in Jhansi, a doctor rushed to me and slipped something plastic in my index finger, where I met an oxymeter for the first time. Puzzled, he did his check again and murmured…” 98″Then he asked me” Can you walk or do you need a wheelchair”? I was astounded even a bit enraged ( me, the compulsive walker!!!) Much too sweetly I replied,” No, I can walk. Thank you so very much’. To make my point, I walked faster than usual as he led me inside a door which read ICCU. It closed behind us. The room was abuzz with doctors, nurses and wardboys. Next they moved me to a sheetless bed and said that it had been sanitized for me. To my left I had a glimpse of a brown wrinkled arm and several people were thumping him up and down. (He died minutes later) The air was rent with what seemed to me like demonic sounds of people moaning and groaning, all out of synch, ; the AC was not functioning at its best and it smelt of anasthesia . I was asked to lay down on “my ” bed as the doctor hurried out.
I had 2 options, I could look around or I could shut my eyes. I suddenly remembered a line I had read somewhere, that during World war 2, the only Jews who had escaped the concentration camps were people who kept their inner bodies clean. And then all of a sudden, the developmental biologist, Dr Bruce Lipton and his seminary work, ‘ Biology of Belief’ popped up in my mind. He claimed that our cells prosper in the Petri dish of our bodies only if they feel safe inside. So despite the shock of being unloaded in the ICCU without warning, I closed my eyes and within minutes, I was roaming inside my body which till date I can remember clearly. I was surrounded by million, trillion tiny sparkling lights, much tinier than the string of fairy lights we put out in Diwali and Christmas but they were golden yellow and each point was disappearing into another point which went deeper into another point in an amazing non stop dance. It felt as if I was roaming inside a large warm golden honeycomb. I thought I lay there endlessly as the sounds around me dimmed. I am told that about 15 minutes later, I was aroused by the doctor who arrived with a flurry of nurses. He handed me a sheaf of papers to sign mandatory before being admitted to the ICCU. Shocked, I almost charged out of the unit, desperately looking out for my family. Some more conversations happened. I convinced them that I was well enough not to utilise the ICU and to give it to someone who was really critical. So I was sent to the room where my CBC and urine were taken. The sight of the stoic south Indian nurses, in their pink frocks, made me weepy with gratitude. A chest x ray was taken and I was allowed to go home.
Next day I was asked to return to the hospital in Jhansi where they took a CT scan. Latest medical knowledge says it has the power of 300 chest x rays but this one was from the University of Whatsapp so it is yet to be authenticated. By evening the report came. All was well. But with Covid there is always a risk of pneumonia and I had a slight chest infection. And with that the allopathic medicines were started on me.Technically then, I got my first shot of medicines after 21 days of infection. This was the worst cycle. My body completely unused to medicine lay drugged and fatigued. I used to get panic attacks at meal times because the very thought of food was nauseous. I was dizzy. I fell down twice and was in a very bad place. But I ploughed through because of the immense loving care from my extended family. For 10 whole days my insides were bombed with antibiotics to deal with the dreaded Covid. My body shocked and confused, just collapsed into a heap .
During meditation,the part who I think is ” me” I would often pity that dead weight . That was the time I thought of writing my will when I realised the full idiocy of chasing career, fame, money when my body was deciding whether it wanted to be “killed”, by chemicals in order to “survive” the virus. The existential question came up: Can matter destroy matter?After my ICCU experience, I can say with utter serenity, that in my case, energy was the most potent tool to kill matter. This is not to say that one should not take medicine if attacked by the virus, or not take the vaccine, because physicians and doctors too have a life purpose, which is to help cure us. But the best cure is not to identify with matter. In other words don’t get hooked into the disease, don’t give it the attention it is craving. In short, do what the doctor tells you to do, but at the psychical level, give Covid the BIG IGNORE!
Instead,while distancing yourself from your body, treat it like a ” treacherous friend” who when the time comes, will walk off the earth in death, whether one is ready for it or not. So while still on earth, keep giving it the antibodies it needs in the form of laughter, sunshine, positivity or whatever it is that makes you happy. Joy is energy. This will create the best immunity to recover. This has been my first hand experience. In conclusion then, I had spent the first 3 weeks without any medicine and then 2 weeks with lots of them. A huge thank you to everyone who helped me crawl out of the black hole, back to sunlight, yoga meditation, barefoot walks in my beloved farm, albeit with much more gratitude and. .ZERO PATELI!
From a spiritual perspective, there may be good news. It appears that disease, is like the cream that collects, when milk is boiled. The more it is boiled, the more cream comes to the surface. This may be equated to our ‘ Prarabdh karma’, or alloted karma, which has to be worked out this lifetime. So the onset of a disease ( likened to the surfacing of cream), forces us to work out our karma when we are still conscious and able bodied. By this token, who knows, the Carona may have reduced our karmic load, both individually, as well as from the perspective of collective humanity.
Susmita Mukherjee finally got her first Jab yesterday the 7th August 2021. Cheers to that.
Remembering Ray | Kanika Aurora
Rabindranath Tagore wrote a poem in the autograph book of young Satyajit whom he met in idyllic Shantiniketan.
The poem, translated in English, reads: ‘Too long I’ve wandered from place to place/Seen mountains and seas at vast expense/Why haven’t I stepped two yards from my house/Opened my eyes and gazed very close/At a glistening drop of dew on a piece of paddy grain?’
Years later, Satyajit Ray the celebrated Renaissance Man, captured this beauty, which is just two steps away from our homes but which we fail to appreciate on our own in many of his masterpieces stunning the audience with his gritty, neo realistic films in which he wore several hats- writing all his screenplays with finely detailed sketches of shot sequences and experimenting in lighting, music, editing and incorporating unusual camera angles. Several of his films were based on his own stories and his appreciation of classical music is fairly apparent in his music compositions resulting in some rather distinctive signature Ray tunes collaborating with renowned classical musicians such as Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar and Vilayat Khan.
No surprises there. Born a hundred years ago in 1921 in an extraordinarily talented Bengali Brahmo family, Satyajit Ray carried forward his illustrious legacy with astonishing ease and finesse.
Both his grandfather Upendra Kishore RayChaudhuri and his father Sukumar RayChaudhuri are extremely well known children’s writers. It is said that there is hardly any Bengali child who has not grown up listening to or reading Upendra Kishore’s stories about the feisty little bird Tuntuni or the musicians Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne. He also launched Sandesh, perhaps the first children’s magazine in India. Satyajit revived it in 1961 and it is currently available online as well.
He also established the Calcutta Film Society in 1947 with some like mind friends and film enthusiasts; the first film club of its kind in India, dedicated to watching and discussing the best of world cinema.
Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), directed by Satyajit Ray is rightly considered as one of the greatest landmarks in Indian film history, placing our country firmly on the world’s cinematic map inspiring several generations of film directors.
After watching Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, he recalled his emotions in a lecture in 1984. The film had “gored” him. “I came out of the theatre with my mind firmly made up. I would become a filmmaker. The prospect of giving up a job didn’t daunt me any more. I would make my film exactly as De Sica had made his: working with non-professional actors, using modest resources, and shooting on actual locations.”
“I was familiar with the camera, possessing a second-hand Leica. And paying homage to a photographer I considered to be the greatest of all—Henri Cartier-Bresson—I wanted my film to look as if it was shot with available light a la Cartier-Bresson… I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would become a filmmaker, starting my career with Pather Panchali. If it didn’t work out, I would be back at my desk at Keymer’s, tail between my legs. But if it did work, there would be no stopping me.” (My Years with Apu.)
But there was no money to make the film. After failing to procure the bare minimum amount required to even contemplate filming, Ray decided to ask some of his friends to contribute a thousand rupees each. The budget of the film had been fixed at ₹ 70,000. He collected ₹ 17,000, and started filming in the October of 1952. The very first sequence that was shot is perhaps the most iconic of the film: Apu and his elder sister Durga running through a field of kaash flowers to see a train for the first time in their lives.
Pandit Ravi Shankar would provide the music and Subrata Mitra was the 21-year-old cinematographer who had never operated a motion picture camera before this. Today he is acknowledged in the cinema world as one of the finest ever to operate a movie camera.
The rest as they say is history.
Pather Panchali went to the Cannes Film Festival and there is a popular anecdote about how initially it was exhibited late at night at a small theatre with less than a dozen people watching including Francois Truffaut, then a critic who would eventually go one to become a great film director, leaving the hall within 10 minutes, bored by the slow pace of the film. Truffaut later apologized several times and Ray and he became good friends.
Lotte Eisner, who would go on to become the chief curator of the Cinematheque Francaise, as Providence would have it decided that the film deserved a second screening. She lobbied and campaigned for it, resulting in a second show which was well attended and Pather Panchali won the special jury prize for the ‘Best Human Document’.
Ray could now become a full-time film director. He started work on Pather Panchali’s sequel Aparajito (The Unvanquished), which depicts Apu’s teenage years is arguably the finest and most touching film of the Apu trilogy.
Although the first film he wanted to make was Ghare Baire, the one that got made was of course, Pather Panchali. An adaptation of Tagore’s 1916 novel, Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) eventually did get made in 1984 and got nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
In 1982, delivering a lecture, Ray spoke about his work.
“There is a special problem that faces one who must talk about films. Lectures on art should ideally be illustrated. One who talks on paintings usually comes armed with slides and a projector. This solves the difficulty of having to describe in words, what must be seen with the eyes. The lecturer on music must bless the silicon revolution, which enables him to cram all his examples into a cassette no bigger than a small bar of chocolate. But the lecturer on cinema has no such advantage—at least not in the present state of technology in our country. If he wishes to cite an example, he can do no more than give a barely adequate description in words, of what is usually perceived with all one’s senses. A film is pictures, a film is words, a film is movement, a film is drama, a film is music, a film is a story, a film is a thousand expressive aural and visual details. These days one must also add that film is colour. Even a segment of film that lasts barely a minute can display all these aspects simultaneously. You will realize what a hopeless task it is to describe a scene from a film in words. They can’t even begin to do justice to a language which is so complex.”
Ray thought of cinema as a language. “Cinema is images and sound,” he said.
“The problem,” he wrote, “was over the word ‘art’. If the word ‘language’ was used instead, I think the true nature of cinema will become clearer and there will be no need for debate.” Cinema was a language defined by fade-ins, and fade-outs, camera angles, clever editing and quick cuts complemented by classical music.
Composing music for his films was essential to him too. “How interesting to know… that film and music had so much in common!” he wrote (Speaking of Films). “Both unfold over a period of time; both are concerned with pace and rhythm and contrast; both can be described in terms of mood—sad, cheerful, pensive, boisterous, tragic, jubilant.”
Ray had mastered the art of conveying the message without actually making it explicitly obvious. In Apur Sansar, for instance, the audience gets a sense of the intimacy and comfort that Apu (the incredibly gifted Soumitra Chatterjee, who passed away recently and worked with Ray in fourteen films) and his wife Aparna (Sharmila Tagore in her first film role, who was apparently expelled from her convent school for appearing in a film) enjoy from the little sequences like Apu waking up in the morning, looking decidedly happy and satiated, opening his packet of cigarettes and finding a note by Aparna inside, asking him not to smoke too much.
Ray also ensures that women in his movies exhibit dignity and courage in the face of adversities.
Charulata, based on a Tagore novella called Nashtaneer, whose literal translation is The Ruined Nest (home in this instance) with the English title, The Lonely Wife is a masterpiece by any standards.
The opening sequence which establishes her soul destroying loneliness with no dialogues is fascinating and portrays her unique disposition in seven minutes of near silent shots.
In Ray’s own words the seven minutes were about (from Speaking Of Films) attempting to use a language entirely free from literary and theatrical influences. Except for one line of dialogue in its seven minutes, the scene says what it has to say in terms that speak to the eye and the ear.
Madhabi Mukherjee, his rumoured muse and more accomplished the job with practiced ease in the scene which is still etched in his fans’ collective memory; the embroidery, the chiming of the grandfather clock, casual lifting of the piano lid and striking a note; the monkey man, the palki, lorgnette and all.
Another personal favourite is her swinging gaily with fairly unusual camera angles and positioning perhaps influence by his mentor Renoir’s A Day in the Country. So is the brilliant montage announcing the arrival of rains in Pather Panchali.
Everyone has a list of their cherished sequence, I daresay from scores of profound, layered and thematically rich Ray films, such as Jalsaghar, Devi or The Calcutta Trilogy: Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha & Jana Aranya.
One is spoilt for choice out of his 28 films which he directed in over four decades.
Most of these are based on classic Bengali literary works, and two; Shatranj Ke Khilari and the telefilm Sadgati on stories written by Munshi Premchand. Others are based on contemporary novels and short stories, and some, like Kanchanjungha and Nayak are original scripts written by Ray himself. One of his last films, Ganashatru was inspired by Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of The People.
A few of his films like Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone), and the two Feluda detective novels of his which he made into film—Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) are breezy and immensely entertaining. His two Goopy-Bagha films, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Hirak Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds) delighted the children as musicals.
A little known fact about Ray is that without knowing it, he was indeed the first “graphic designer” in India. He even designed two English typefaces -Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre.
One of the most influential, multi-faceted and greatest filmmakers of all times, Satyajit Ray mastered the art of telling intimate human stories, the journey, the trials and tribulations of the ordinary men and women with extraordinary expertise embodying and showcasing the magic of cinema at its very best.
To recognize his enormous contributions to cinema, he was awarded the Academy Honorary Award days before his death. He was also awarded India’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna by the Government of India
The legendary Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa one famously remarked about Ray, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”
Satyajit Ray shall forever continue to illuminate and inspire.
OTT Escapes From Bleak Corona Reality; The Irregulars, Mrs. Dalloway & …
4 Films: The Irregulars, Mrs. Dalloway, Searching for Sheela, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Alas, India is in the grip of a virulent Covid deja vu–as we battle the second wave, there is a brain-numbed empathy for the dead and for the pile-up of bodies outside crematoria (does anyone die a ‘dignified death’ anymore?), a breath-stopping horror at oxygen and vaccine supplies running low, and the home incarceration blues caused by yet another lockdown.
Aside from reading almost incessantly, I also map strategic escapist exits into Netflix, Amazon Prime, and youtube bingeing from time to time. Plus my own buoyancy that still sees and relishes the dappled sunlight on the leaves, the beauty in the eyes of a cat, and the sheer gratitude for being alive here and now.
I love the bleak dark cityscapes, with occasional gleams of light piercing the murk (an almost Gnostic sense of atmospherics). What I dislike about the series thus far: the portrayal of Holmes as a wasted junky who just lies around 221 B, occasionally puking his guts out. I remain true to the canonical Holmes whose morphine and cocaine addictions are always secondary to his prime addictive passion: his work as a consulting detective.
Four bite-sized film reviews of OTT films that touched a chord or two in me, wincing now and again: First, The Irregulars–a really weird Holmes pastiche. Don’t get me wrong–I am not a Holmes Canon fundamentalist, fretting and fuming at the non-canonical deviance of this Netflix series. A few aspects of the series (I’ve watched the first two episodes of the first series) that really tickled me. One is the brave multiculturalism, rescuing Holmesian tradition from the all-white male late Victorian stuffiness of the canon. Watson is played by a black Brit. actor. The Irregulars, a ragtag bunch of white male street kids in Conan Doyle’s version, is headed by Bea, a feisty Chinese Brit. girl, her white sister (sic!) Jess, and a black kid named Spike. Billy is the only white kid in the bunch and is depicted pretty much as I visualized Doyle’s Billy.
There is also the white haemophiliac Prince Leopold, who escapes the palace, to hang out with the Irregulars incognito.
The second film is one that I enjoyed without caveats: the Vanessa Redgrave version of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’. Vanessa plays Virginia Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway to perfection–there is a sense of graceful, effortless gliding about her role in the film. Clarissa Dalloway gliding up and down staircases, through lush lawns, and tete-a-tetes with acquaintances at a party.
Behind the glide is all of Clarissa’s (and Woolf’s) proneness to anxiety caused by low self-esteem, and little plunges into small whirlpools of depression. The film does its best at capturing the complex flowing Woolfian stream of consciousness style, with flashbacks constantly juxtaposed with here-and-now realities.
My third pick: the Netflix biopic Searching for Sheela, based on flashbacks and real-life interviews with the ever-controversial Ma Anand Sheela, Osho’s love, his muse, and director of the discredited Oregon commune.
Much of the biopic focuses on her return to India to promote her book on Osho. Oddly enough, Sheela comes across as likable, vulnerable and yet centered and at peace in this biopic, spouting Osho-isms to her disabled clients at a care center in Switzerland. Karan Johar, Barkha Dutt, and other interviewers did a good job overall.I love Sheela’s off-the-cuff reply to Karan Johar about Osho’s eyes being more beautiful than his penis. She insists that they had a deeply spiritual I-Thou, rather than physical sex.
Curiously enough, the interviewers weren’t tough enough on her. They went around in circles, coming back to the same tired-ass questions about whether she was a bio-terrorist in Oregon or not. I would have asked her the really important question about why she created a religion called ‘Rajneeshism’, given that Rajneesh (Osho) was as allergic to organized religion and politicized religion as someone he loved and bashed at the same time, namely, J. Krishnamurti. She did this when Osho went into a period of silence in Oregon. All in all, an interesting biopic.
My fourth and final film for this post is Tom Hanks’s take on the child TV host, Mr. Rogers–‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’. Hanks plays the ’80s child TV host Fred Rogers well, capturing his strange naivete bordering on innocence, his schmaltziness about the beautiful neighborhood and world, and his genuine eccentric caring for strangers.
It occurred to me that Mr. Rogers often echoes New Age guru Louise Hay on unconditional self-love and openness to the positive.
Cliched and sentimental? In a Covid round 2 context, perhaps that’s just what we need–a dose of Louise Hay and Mr. Rogers to feel better about ourselves and the world.-
Pagglait; a film with a different streak / Sanjiva Sahai
🎥 Pagglait A Netflix original Hindi movie streaming now
⬜️ Tragedy strikes the Giri family when Astik dies just after a few months of his marriage leaving behind a young widow. Another take on the decadent societal norms and the age-old perception on death, loss and widowhood- you might think and anticipate. Thankfully, writer-director Umesh Bist manages to brush aside the clichés to bring in some new insight, underlined by wit and a relatable plot.
⬜️ I guess this is for the first time Arijit Singh is being introduced as a composer. Songs and theme tracks are heartwarming. They might not be chartbusters but are apt for the movie. Arijit and Neelesh Misra have done the lyrics which, to me, appeared average.
⬜️ The ensemble cast empowers the film with authenticity and some memorable moments. The patriarchy, the inner wranglings, the greed, the romance – it’s all there in this saga featuring three generations. Sanya Malhotra shines gloriously in an understated performance. Ashutosh and Sheeba, as her parents-in-law, are again delightfully subtle and genuine. Shruti Sharma (Sanya’s friend) and Sayani Gupta (in a brief appearance) have some off-beat sequences to their credit. Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang, Meghna Malik and Jameel Khan contribute their bit to add some more dramatic tension, but nothing path-breaking.
⬜️ Watch if you have time and a subscription. ▪️▪️▪️
Spic Macay – Pt. Rajan Mishra – IIT Delhi Program
The pandemic is growing rapidly all over the world. With aim of spreading hope and remembering Pandit Rajan Mishra ji (who passed away on the 25th of April), SPIC MACAY dedicates its online 3-day IIT Delhi Diamond Jubilee year program to him, the details of which are given in the link: https://spicmacay.org/rendezvousiitdelhidj
🎥🎬 April 30th, 6:00 pm, Friday: Cinema Classic “Hirak Rajar Deshe” by Shri Satyajit Ray, followed by an interaction with the expert, Tuhinabha Majumdar ji Link: bit.ly/smcinemaclassic
🙇♂️1st May, 3:00 pm, Saturday Afternoon : Great Masters Series- Vidwan Lalgudi G Jayaraman, followed by an interaction with G J R Krishnan ji Link: bit.ly/smlivezoom
🎤🎻🎼May 1st, 6:00 pm, Saturday Evening: Classical Evening Series with Vidushi Nandini Bedekar (Hindustani vocalist) Link: bit.ly/smlivezoom
🎨May 2nd, 12 noon, Sunday: Craft and Folk Series with Shri Rajaram Sharma (Pichwai Painting) Link: bit.ly/smvolunteermeet