At 22:25 on 17 Feb 2011
Redefining Tagore -
Tagore’s Shyama travels to the big screen with subtitles available in eight languages.
Long before, ‘cinema’ maintained a discernible distance from the broader ambit of ‘movies’, and ‘world cinema’ enthusiasts in the city raised a toast to the convoluted, transgressive workings of human emotions, Tagore wrote Shyama. The 1939 classic went on to become one of his most celebrated dance dramas which explored how obsession, pride and spite creep into the rosy bubble of love. Its context might be dated, but Tagore’s work holds an unabashed mirror to the grimy underbelly of the world’s most celebrated emotion. And London-based Obhi Chatterjee did the just the right thing in filming Shyama, a work that will be screened in the 15th Kolkata Film Festival. Chatterjee, along with Kaberi Chatterjee, who holds a doctoral degree in Tagore’s school of dance, has developed Shyama into a 90-minute film. “One of the primary reasons we decided to stick to the original dance drama form was to spread awareness about Tagore’s school of dance which is in danger of being forgotten,” says Chatterjee. Kaberi, mentions Chatterjee, had extensively interviewed the masters of the form and even people who performed the dances with Tagore’s approval. “Most of them have passed away and the form of dance is not taken up seriously by this generation like Indian classical dance forms,” says Chatterjee.
Shyama revolves around the life of a court dancer who wants to achieve all the good things in life without any sacrifice. She falls in love with a merchant who gets caught for stealing. In her obsession for the man, Shyama forces a young love struck man to sacrifice his life to secure her love. To capture Tagore’s work in its authentic colours, the film was shit entirely in a theatre and not in a outdoor location. “Although this basically meant filming against a black background, it brought out the colours that are integral to any of Tagore’s dance dramas. And of course, this is also a tribute to Debanshu Majumder’s lighting design,” says Chatterjee.
“We wanted to create an authentic reference work for future generations and to make Shyama accessible to people all over the world, not just Bengali-speakers,” says Chatterjee. While trying to come up with English subtitles, Kaberi and Chatterjee discovered that an English translation of Shyama was not available yet. So, they had to take up the job of subtitling themselves. “My father Jayanta Chatterjee did the initial English translation to help me prepare for the shoot. When we were in post-production, with Kaberi’s help, I revised the translation to make sure that the subtitles matched the on-screen movements of the dancers. All translations of literary works are a compromise but we tried to be as honest as possible to the original,” says Chatterjee. The translated text, was released in the form of a book in the film’s first public screening at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Chatterjee, however, with the help from friends has facilitated translations of the work in eight languages - French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian and Hungarian. “Other language versions are in the pipeline,” adds Chatterjee.
At 22:35 on 17 Feb 2011
Embracing the recognition economy - Independent filmmakers have always faced a series of daunting challenges from raising production and post-production capital to, perhaps the most daunting of all, securing some kind of realistic distribution deal. The widespread adoption of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook are enabling new models that many filmmakers are beginning to implement. British filmmaker Obhi Chatterjee says he’s simply taking advantage of what he calls “the recognition economy.”
He and his wife, Indian dancer/producer Kaberi Chatterjee are taking advantage of the digital revolution and a pioneering business model to bring the three classic Bengali ‘dance-dramas’ by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore to global audiences.
Her UK company Inner Eye has already made and released a 90-minute feature film version of Shyama that he directed. Now the company is preparing to film Chitrangada and Chandalika, to complete the Tagore dance film trilogy in time for Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary in May 2011.
Kaberi Chatterjee says the trilogy was a chance to preserve an important but changing part of Bengali culture for future generations and to share these authentic films with a global audience. “The digital revolution has created an unprecedented opportunity to reach large numbers of people worldwide at minimal cost,” she says. “Our business model is designed for maximum access, embracing personal copying to allow fans of the trilogy to share the films with friends who would appreciate them.”
Thanks to people who liked Shyama enough to translate it into their own languages, it is now available in eight language versions: Bengali, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, which together include 1.23 billion native speakers. A free, English version of the film allows anyone to watch it online.
“In his lifetime, Tagore turned first to music and then to dance to allow his Bengali poetry to cross linguistic boundaries. Now, using the latest online distribution and promotion techniques and with the help of a global community of art lovers, we are able to realize his dream,” says Obhi Chatterjee.
Tagore was one of the great humanists of the 20th century. He knew the power of drama to tell stories that capture a broad spectrum of human emotions and social dilemmas.
Shyama is the story of love, sacrifice and forgiveness which explores to what extremes people can go for love. Chitrangada is a princess warrior whose quest for love is a conflicting tale of feminism and femininity. Chandalika is about an outcast who overcomes social prejudice and learns to express herself. All three are women who face universal and timeless challenges. Their stories are told through songs and the distinctive dance form Tagore created in his final years. Tagore created only three ‘dance-dramas’. Their songs are so well known among Bengalis that the audience was singing along with the film at Shyama’s Asian premiere at the Kolkata Film Festival.
Announcing that they will be filming Chitrangada and Chandalika back-to-back in December and January in Tagore’s hometown of Santiniketan, Kaberi Chatterjee says, “These films of Tagore’s other two ‘dance-dramas’ will complete the Tagore dance film trilogy we started with Shyama.”
She has performed the title roles in major productions of all three of Tagore’s ‘dance-dramas’ and is about to publish a book on Tagore dance. Obhi Chatterjee will also direct Chitrangada and Chandalika.
The dance director will be Subhra Tagore, who has directed many productions of these works and is from the family of Rabindranath Tagore. The music director will be Bulbul Bose, who has also directed several productions of these works.The principal aim of the films is to contribute to the growing global awareness of Tagore’s importance as someone whose ideas and philosophy are very relevant today. A proportion of the budget for the trilogy is intended to be set aside to create a fund ‘arts in education’ projects as well as creative projects which illustrate this relevance.
Inner Eye will be refining the business model it pioneered with Shyama to engage individuals, corporations and institutions in the trilogy project through collective patronage, logo sponsorship and screenings of the films in 150th birth anniversary events.
Obhi Chatterjee says making use of the recognition economy of the digital era ensures that people all over the world can watch all three films wherever, whenever, however and at whatever price they wish. This approach of connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy has been proven to work in a number of projects across the arts, notably in music by performers such as Trent Reznor, Radiohead and the Grateful Dead. In an email I asked him to elaborate on his business model. Here is his response:
“We, as filmmakers/artists, need to be engaging the audiences for our work much earlier than before, based on direct contact through social media between us and our fans. This is why we have started to do so now, before production starts on Chitrangada and Chandalika. People want to watch films whenever and wherever they have time. As Gerd Leonhard says, that means people watch films on the most convenient screen at the time, which could well be on their mobile phone while commuting.”
“At the master class I gave at the Ourense Film Festival on Shyama and the digital revolution a couple of weeks ago, I asked the 100 or so people there, (mostly in their late teens or early twenties I would guess) how many of them watched films in the cinema, on TV and on the internet. It was about the same number of hands, which went up each time, with perhaps slightly more for the Internet.”
“So that's the state of the audience. In the other corner, we have the filmmakers. I'd agree with Gerd that the filmmakers and the audience will always be there. It's just the mechanics of how a film gets from one to the other, and who the filmmakers are and who the audience is, that will change as technology advances. I would also imagine that the 'open, random, selective' Internet (as Thomas Power puts it) is here to stay.”
“Our thinking behind the business model first for Shyama and now for the Tagore dance film trilogy was in this context. The model had to fit the context otherwise we couldn't afford to make the films.”
“The audience for Tagore is widely dispersed all over the world, probably mainly in Bengali, English, Spanish and Portuguese (four of the seven languages with the highest number of native speakers, with a total of just over 1 billion people). Let's say one percent of people like ballet and opera. Many people aren't on the Internet but the most affluent are. And Tagore enthusiasts are probably educated and hence more affluent. Of course, it helps that Tagore's stories are universal (love, prejudice & feminism) and not country-specific.”
“So the Internet is the only feasible way to reach many of the people who would like to watch the Tagore dance film trilogy. The films would need to be available online in digital formats to suit all screen sizes, from iPhone to cinema.”
“Incidentally, in Ourense, Shyama was screened at its classic, 1830 Teatro Principal on a nine-meter screen using a 1920 x 1080 projector and from an HD source and it was impressive.”
“Every version of the film is open to personal copying. We want people to watch the film, remember, so someone liking the films enough to make a copy to give to a friend means that the films will ultimately achieve maximum audience penetration. Of course, it may take a while to reach everyone in the one percent of one billion. But time is a relative concept anyway.”
“That just leaves the question of where the money comes from. Well, companies like Google and Facebook have become wealthy by offering what people want for free. Their money comes from advertisers wanting to catch the attention of the people who are using their free services. It's a three-party market or 'Free 2', in Chris Anderson's terminology.”
“Product placement has been around for decades in films for much the same reason, sometimes distractingly so but it's a non-runner in classic ballet/operas like the Tagore dance film trilogy. Instead, our films replace the usual production company logos in the opening sequence with two corporate logos which are on-screen for five seconds each, just long enough between fades in and out for people to register them.”
“Of course, that brings us back to the question of paying the artists. Well, bearing in mind that the films build interest in Kaberi's dancing, she can command higher appearance/performance fees. The more recognition people get (particularly online, where the numbers of views, fans, etc are easy to see), the higher fees they could demand. Since the production company is also Kaberi's artist management company, a proportion goes back to the company.”
“On top of this, you could imagine autographed boxed sets of the trilogy, live performances, the soundtrack album, ringtones, music videos, books, Indian-themed house parties centered on a screening of one of the films. All based on people liking the films.”
“I call this the recognition economy. The Like's in Facebook, the numbers of fans, the number of Twitter followers all are forms of recognition, which behave like a new currency. But people can withdraw online expressions of support much more easily than they can demand their money back at a cinema after watching a film, which didn't live up to its trailer.”
“The audience pattern is not an initial peak based on an advertising blitz, which falls away to zero in a few weeks. It's more like a trickle, which gradually builds as word-of-mouth and personal copying increases and continues in perpetuity (infinite distribution, as Ross Pruden calls it). So I think it would only be worth showing films in cinemas once the audience has built up enough in a particular place to fill a cinema. And I think the cinemas could usefully sell the DVDs, posters, soundtrack albums, books, etc, of the films they are showing just like popular shows, such as Cirque du Soleil and musicals, do.”
“So, to sum up, I think this will mean that the quality, originality and diversity of films will improve and the main beneficiaries are likely to be the artists/filmmakers and the audience. As George Lucas said in a recent interview with Screen International, nowadays anyone with $3,000 of equipment can make a film with the same technical standard as a Hollywood film. What will make the difference is not the technical quality but how good the films are and, hence, how many people like them.”