Guwahati / Mumbai, Aug 3: Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI)’s newest production “Ishu” is a feature film that will instantly take the viewer to a world of a kid whose innocent and happy-go-lucky world turns topsy turvy thanks to the superstitious society of adults around him.
Set in a remote tribal Rabha village in Lower Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, this Assamese feature film is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel “Ishu”, and marks the feature film debut of National Award-winning film critic and acclaimed documentary director Utpal Borpujari.
The film takes a look at the inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’ that is prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, through they eyes of an innocent child whose favourite aunt is branded as a ‘witch’ by the evil village “Bej” (quack) who conspires with another aunt to do so.
Treated like a fairy tale albeit set in today’s times, “Ishu” is a sensitive take on how such incidents impact a child psychologically, with the narrative taking the viewer along protagonist Ishu’s quest to find his aunt who goes missing after being assaulted by the villagers at the instigation of the villainous quack.
The social evil of ‘witch hunting’ has been a recurring problem in Assam, so much so that the state Assembly unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, following years of sustained campaign by civil society organisations and an intervention by the Gauhati High Court. The Bill, however, is still awaiting the President’s assent to become a law.
Several incidents of witch hunting has been reported in Assam during this year too, while according to data placed in the state Assembly, 93 cases of witch-hunting were reported and 77 persons, including 35 women, were killed during 2010 to 2015.
“However, despite its sensitive and serious backdrop, my film treats to subject in a way that it is suitable for viewing by children. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given it a U certification without any cuts,” says Borpujari, who believes that children’s films can affectively take up social issues if handled sensitively.
CFSI Chairman MukeshKhanna said this movie will give a clear message to the people that social evils are bad and must be eradicated from the society. “Children are the future of our country and should always be motivated. By practicing social evils like ‘witch hunting’, we are making circumstances worse for children and disturb their psychology. This will have an adverse effect on the children and will not help them in their career and overall development.”
“Movies like ‘Ishu’ bring awakening in the society about the ill-effects of social evils and educate people about their harmful aspects on the society. CFSI will continue to make and promote such films whose themes are aimed at bringing about transformation in the society for the benefit of mankind, particularly children,” he says.
According to Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO of CFSI, “This is a highly sensitive film in which exploitation of people due to social evils such as ‘witch hunting’ is highlighted. The movie is informative, educative and throws light on the harmful effects of social evils practiced by people in the society. The movie tells the audience that such evils harm children and have an adverse effect on their psychology. Our attempt at CFSI has always been to focus on issues concerning children and their welfare.”
“I am happy to note that in Assam, a Bill to prevent social evils like “witch hunting” has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly, and is awaiting President’s assent. Let us hope that it would become a law soon.”
“This is the first feature film made by well-known film critic and documentary film maker Utpal Borpujari and we hope that children as well as elders will like it,” he says.
Incidentally, the script of “Ishu” was chosen as the only Asian entry into the 2012 Junior Co-Production Market of Cinekid International Film Festival, Amsterdam.
In the film, the lead role is played by 10-year-old Kapil Garo, who hails from Sonapur area near Guwahati. Kapil, who has given a performance with a maturity much beyond his tender age, was selected for the role after the director and his team interacted with nearly 300 kids across Assam. “Kapil has the required innocence and charm that I had visualized in Ishu, and being from a village himself, he blended naturally with the character,” says Borpujari.
The film also stars two-time National Award (Special Jury Mention)-winning actor Bishnu Kharghoria and National Award-winning Manipuri actress TonthoingambiLeishangthem Devi, along with veterans like Chetana Das and Pratibha Choudhury and talented younger actors like MonujBorkotoky, DipikaDeka and NibeditaBharali. Others in the cast include Mahendra Das, Rajesh Bhuyan, Naba Kumar Baruah, MonujGogoi, etc.
Along with KapilGaro, other child actors in the film include MahendraRabha, SrabantaRabha and UdayRabha.
The film’s dialogue, with emphasis on how the Rabha people living near Goalpara area speak Assamese with a particular accent, has been written by Borpujari in collaboration with award-winning theatre director SukracharjyaRabha of the famed Badungduppa Kala Kendra of Rampur, Agia.
Several actors from the Badungduppagroup, including Dhananjay Rabha and Basanta Rabha, have acted in pivotal roles in the film, which has been shot in pristine locations of several Rabha tribal vilages near Agia in Goalpara, located on the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra.
It may be mentioned that NSD graduate and actress Pranami Bora conducted an 8-day workshop for the actors of the film at Badungduppa Kala Kendra premises, and MadanRabha and BasantaRabha were in charge of imparting accent training for the actors so that all of them could deliver their dialogues in the local accent.
The film has been edited by the legendary A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia, all National Award winners. The cinematographer is Sumon Dowerah, a veteran of many award-winning and mainstream films in Assamese, while other prominent crew members are JItendra Mishra (executive producer), Hengul Medhi (final sound mixing), Monjul Baruah (associate director), Homen Borah (production manager), Golok Saha (art director), Rani Dutta Baruah (costumes) and Achitabh (Shanku) Baruah (make up). The assistant directors of the film were GhanshyamKalita, Ronal Hussain and MonujBorkotoky.
An M.Tech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee, Utpal Borpujari won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India in 2003. As a professional journalist, apart from cinema, he has written extensively on politics, society, culture, literature, etc., while working with some of India’s top media houses. Since 2010, when he decided to turn a filmmaker, he has made several acclaimed documentary films that have been screened across the world in various film festivals. Among them are “Mayong: Myth/Reality” (2012), “Songs of the Blue Hills” (2013), “Soccer Queens of Rani” (2014) and “Memories of a Forgotten War” (2016). Borpujari has also served in international film juries as an erstwhile member of the International Federation of Film Critics, apart from having served on juries for National Film Awards and Indian Panorama. He has also curated films as well as served as a consultant for the Northeastern sections in the International Film Festival of India as well as various other film festivals. “Ishu” is his debut fiction feature. He is currently developing scripts for a Hindi and an Assamese film.
Whenever we talk about culture and traditions of Northeast India, especially related to music and dance, one of the first names that comes to our mind is none other than Dr. Prashanna Gogoi – an ethnomusicologist who had earned world-wide acclaim with his numerous research studies, spell-binding performances, choreographer of prestigious national and international festivals with his constant hallmark being innovation. The recipient of numerous awards and distinctions from across the world, and one of the youngest members of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi, Dr. Gogoi has spent an entire lifetime, trying to understand the nuances of our diverse folk traditions and practices, taking them in front of the global audience and being in a constant bid to experiment and innovate, while keeping the basic rules in mind. To talk about his latest achievement, he has been entrusted with the music production of the entire SAARC games – an event which brought immense fame to Assam.
While very little needs to be said about him, for the uninitiated, Dr. Prasanna Gogoi is the illustrious son of late Bhuban Chandra Gogoi and Srimati Kiran Gogoi. Although his family hailed from Konwar Gaon of North Lakhimpur, Dr. Gogoi was born and brought up in Ziro of Arunachal Pradesh on account of his late father’s posting and where he did his initial schooling. A multi-faceted personality who excelled in numerous streams, Dr. Gogoi passed out from Ziro HS in 1st division. A keen sportsman with a passion for medicine, he later on joined the Assam Agricultural University to pursue his B.V.Sc and A.H. degree.
Although the recipient of numerous fellowships from the Indian Government, like the ‘Junior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India in Sept. 2005 for the Research Project-An Echo of Assamese Folk music with special reference to Scientific and Acoustic improvisation of the traditional ”Bin” and recognizing it as one of the major assisting instrument in Tokari Geet, Deh-bichar Geet, Borgeet and Satriya Dance of Assam’, ‘Senior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt.of India in 2014 for the Research Project-Semantics & Semiotics of Bihu Dance of Assam with reference to music & musical notations’, Dr. Gogoi shot to international acclaim when he won the bronze medal in Double Reed Traditional Wind Instrument (juria pepa) and the prestigious Delphic Laural Award in Traditional One or Two Stringed Instrument (bin), representing India, in the III Delphic Games – 2009, held at Jeju, South Korea.
Having performed and conducted seminars and workshops and felicitated in more than 25 countries, he was nominated as a Guru for Bihu dance by the Union Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Govt. of India, in the year 2003, under the “Guru Shishya Parampara” scheme. Earlier last year, he received another major honour when he was appointed as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, for Folk & Tribal Arts – one of the youngest cultural personalities to be bestowed with the honour.
A regular artist of AIR, Doordarshan and an artist who has performed in countless programmes across the country, some of his most memorable achievements are personal Bihu performances in Delhi for the President of India Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, composing the music sequence of Bihu dance for the Republic Day tableau parade in 2005, performances in the closing ceremony of Commonwealth Games-2010, organized by Zonal Cultural Centres Ministry of Culture, Govt of India, on 13th October, 2010, besides countless others.
In the international arena, some of his notable performances include performances of folk music and dance of Assam in Mauritius and Reunion Island, France in November’ 2001, presentation of folk music & dances of Assam as a solo performer and with troupe in Mauritius, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa & Dubai in November’ 2007, performance during during Incredible India’s @ 60 Festival – depicting a panorama of rich Indian Culture, besides many others.
While Dr. Gogoi’s expert as a performer and musicologist is well known, he is all a choreographer of repute, having choreographed prestigious shows on Dance & Music of India during the ”Festival of India Celebration” under the sponsorship of Ministry of Culture, Govt of India, at Bushan & Seoul, South Korea and Naminara Island Republic in 2009. Besides composing and directing the music sequence for the Republic Day Tableau for Assam in 2005, some notable choreographic shows include choreography of a cultural programme on musical ensemble of Manipur, Tripura and Assam with folk dances in honour of Her Excellency Smt. Pratibha Devi Patil, President of the Republic of India and Her Excellency Dr Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Auditorium, New Delhi on March’ 16, 2009 to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between India and Chile.
A north-easterner at heart, he was also the choreographer and Music Director of – ”Unity Dance” & “Drums of the Hills” in the opening ceremony of Hornbill Festival-2013 during the visit of President of India on 50 Years of Statehood Day in Kisama, Nagaland.
As mentioned earlier, innovation is the hallmark of Dr. Gogoi’s career and he personally manufactures his own musical instruments. The same have been widely appreciated and he has been invited on numerous occasions to teach and showcase his instruments. Some of his visits on those lines include a musical training tour to Reunion Island (France) on the eve of “ Dipawali Celebration” there in October, 2011, invitation to demonstrate the crafting of folk musical instruments of Assam and teaching folk music & dance to the students of University of Valladolid, Spain, amongst others.
As a researcher and master craftsman on traditional / folk musical instruments of Northeast, his sole efforts are aimed at their revival for the upcoming new generations. Amongst his innovations, he is the inventor of ‘Hansa-Bin’ – a chordophone (fiddle-string instrument) of Assam, which he developed under the research project – An Echo of Assamese folk music with special reference to Scientific and Acoustic improvisation of the traditional ”Bin” and recognizing it as one of the major assisting instrument in Tokari Geet, Deh-bichar Geet, Borgeet and Satriya Dance of Assam, in September, 2007. He is the inventor of Cane Drums for a 50- member Nagaland State Cultural Delegation in 2013 to take part in the Royal Edinburg Military Tattoo Show in Scotland and for Hornbill Festival 2014, at Kisama Heritage Village, Nagaland. Not just craftsmanship, he is presently working as a research person for the documentation of all traditions of Bihu of various communities of Assam, for archives under Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), New Delhi.
In the field of academics, he has been teaching traditional/folk dance, music and musical instrument crafting to various interested students and individuals by organizing workshops in different places since 1997 till date. Regularly invited to demonstrate the art of musical crafts making across the country and globe, his list of achievements are simply endless and not possible to recount here.
In recognition of his immense contributions to the field of culture and innovation, he has been bestowed with a plethora of awards, which includes the ‘Asom Shrestha Pepa Badak ” ( best buffalo horn pipe player of Assam ) award consecutively for three years since 1993, 1994 and 1995 in Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani, Latasil ; in 2002 & 2003 again the same title in different places of Assam, the ‘Asom Bihuwa 2002 award’ at Chandmari, Guwahati in April, 2002, ’Shrestha Asom Bihuwa’ (best Bihu all-rounder of Assam ) in 2003 and the much prestigious ‘BOR BIHUA’ title in the year 2011.
Dr. Gogoi lives in Guwahati with his wife Mousumi Saikia Gogoi, a Bihu Samragyee herself, a son, Chao Boncheng Gogoi, who has already started performances on stage and in films and a young daughter, Nang Chenxun.
I recently got in touch with him for a candid conversation. Although the conversation stretched on for quite many hours, following are excerpts:
Aiyushman: Thank you for taking out time.
Dr. P. Gogoi: It is a privilege on my part.
Aiyushman: You were born and brought up in Ziro. How did you develop a fascination for Bihu?
Dr. P. Gogoi: Well, you are right. But during the winter months, we always used to come down to our native place. And we had a very strong influence of tradition and culture at home. So Bihu was something which came naturally to us.
Aiyushman: You studied medical sciences. So there were no initial plans to be part of Bihu project as such?
Dr. P. Gogoi: Bihu has always been there in our lives. My aim ambition was to join the Army which was followed by medicine. So even while I joined AAU, not many people that I was really keen abour horseriding. In fact, I had represented the NCC for two years in the horse squad of NCC during the Republic Day celebrations.
Aiyushman: So how did Bihu happen?
Dr. P. Gogoi: You can call it accidental. We were performing our cultural activities simulataneously.We always used to perform Bihu songs as per their original structure. When I was performing, Mukul Bora noticed me and approached me to be a part of their troupe. My first public performance as such was at Rangapuriya Silpi Samaj in Ganeshguri. While everyone was playing modern versions, I stuck to the original Bihu traditions. I received the first prize then. And from 2005 onwards, I started getting invited for shows abroad.
Aiyushman: As a performer and ethnomusicologist of repute, what are your views on the current spate of Bihu in Assam?
Dr. P. Gogoi: Well, I always tend to get in the midst of controversies but I need to speak what is in my mind. Bihu today is no longer what it used to be in the ancient days. Most of the people of Assam are merely acting like parrots, totally avoiding any adaptation. One should understand that Bihu was never meant for stage. The moment it came to stage, it lost its basic essence. We have to adapt to changing times. Most of our performers play by learning. But I play with staff notation. You can call it like a classical form of music. There was a big controversy about it because people did not want to accept it. But at the end of the day, folk is also like classical music. We also have our own matras, just like classical music.
To put it simply, Bihu was earlier performed in the Rajdarbars while table used to be performed in kothas. But table today enjoys classical status while we don’t. Even Sattriya dance would have, in all probability, remained a folk dance if it was not the efforts of late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.
So basically, I feel that the mindset of the people should change and they should be more receptive to adaptations and change. Things are getting modernised. We have to adapt to changes. That is why research plays an important part here so that we can bring in new influences while retaining our traditional influences.
Aiyushman: How would you define tradition and culture?
Dr. P. Gogoi: Very interesting question. See, culture is not just about music and dance. It is about our way of life. Of Course, music and dance is there but in today’s age, cultural practitioners have been relegated to mere entertainers. One one hand you talk about retaining tradition, and on the other you have a traditional cultural performance before any event, be it a political event or sports ceremony. The mindset needs to change.
Aiyushman: What are your views on the current trend of Bihu workshops and Bihu shows being aired on channels?
Dr. P. Gogoi: To be honest, it is a good sign. Parents want to teach their children about the basic of their culture. But at the same time, people should know as to who the experts or teachers are. Who are conducting the workshops? Do they have sufficient knowledge about it? For instance, the kind of Bihu performances that are being aired during Magh Bihu are not performed at this time. While the exposure is definitely good, we should not teach wrong things.
Aiyushman: How did your interest in developing your instruments start?
Dr. P. Gogoi: It all happened by chance. When I was in the Veterinary College, we had to go to the 9th Mile area to collect parasites. While there, I saw a lot of buffalo horns which were thrown away. I started collecting them and tried experimenting with the tone and scale of the sound. That is how I developed my own pepas – all of which have their own scale. The research continued further on.
Aiyushman: How do you feel with the immense recognition that you have attained?
Dr. P. Gogoi: I definitely feel good. But it gives me more pleasure to know that I have taken our own instruments to the world outside and see people appreciating the same. It has been a tremendous exciting and learning experience for me as well, which I believe will continue to go on.
(First published in The Sentinel)
How Padma Shri awardee Neil Herbert Nongkynrih made the Shillong Chamber Choir adept at Khasi opera as well as Hindi film music
For a person credited with adding a sizzling new layer to Meghalaya’s musical traditions, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih’s celebrations after winning the Padma Shri earlier this year were muted.
The founder of the Shillong Chamber Choir is not given to overt exultations, and the recognition by the government for his contribution to the arts is yet to sink in, 44-year-old Nongkynrih says. “I’m happy today because I’m at peace. Coming back to Shillong was a huge decision and I would question myself. But I don’t regret it,” says Nongkynrih.
To celebrate the Padma Shri, Nongkynrih ordered Chinese food to share with Assamese film-maker Jahnu Barua, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan and was a fellow boarder at Nongkynrih’s hotel in Delhi.
A winding road takes you to Nongkynrih’s Shillong home, Whispering Pines, which also doubles as the school for the choir. Piano strains drift into the spacious living room of the house, built along traditional Assamese lines. White-painted walls display framed memories of previous awards. A light breeze blows past stark white curtains to reveal a beautiful garden outside. Sitting on a leather sofa, Nongkynrih places a kwai (betel nut) in his mouth, and smiles warmly.
“After 13 years in Europe, life had become pretty monotonous,” he says. “A successful career awaited me as a (Western classical) concert pianist but I wanted something more out of life. I decided to come home and produce a choir with a difference.”
At 15, Nongkynrih won a piano student’s passage to London’s acclaimed conservatory Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the prestigious Trinity College, where he found Europe’s foremost pianists, Phillip Fowke and Katharina Wolpe, as teachers.
Back in Shillong, after having performed for British royalty and given recitals across Europe, Nongkynrih suddenly found himself armed with a purpose in life. “Away for 13 years, I felt ashamed with my own life. Doctors said I was stressed out and needed to rest. When I came to Shillong for a short vacation, I felt I was needed here. That’s a great thing, you know—the feeling that you’re needed.”
While he was ready as a teacher, students, though, weren’t as forthcoming. Nongkynrih’s frustration mounted at the high dropout rates of the few who came along, prioritizing their school and college education over that of a start-up choir. In 2002, Nongkynrih took a calculated risk by starting his “home school”, where music would be taught alongside regular courses of study.
His first student, Ibarisha Lyngdoh, now 22, is the “mascot of the home school”, says Nongkynrih. Gifted with an amazing voice, Lyngdoh can sing in Asomiya, English, French, German, Italian, Latin and Khasi. “She gave a solo recital in Switzerland at the age of 13. Such is her potential,” says Nongkynrih.
Lyndoh was followed by further enrolments. “Initially, I wanted only musically gifted children but soon felt that was being too elitist,” says Nongkynrih. Most students have come from troubled families or suffered some sort of mental turmoil. Some parents turned in their children for them to be a “good human being”. “These children now stay with me. I’m very concerned about the present education scenario in India that prevents children from being their true selves. My school is about living together and enjoying music. For me, music is a means to participate in the society.”
Jessica Shaw Lyngdoh, a member of the choir, finds the education at the school life-changing. “It’s not all about singing, but it’s about evolving spiritually. Among the most important lessons Uncle Neil taught me was to lead by example. He is more than just a teacher.”
When the choir gave its debut performance at Shillong’s Pinewood Hotel in January 2001, there were 25 musicians at hand to perform pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart, Neil’s own compositions, Khasi folk songs and popular adaptations of Queen and ABBA—music with positive vibrations, as Nongkynrih describes their repertoire. Globally inclusive as their set list is, their performance of an opera in Khasi—a language rooted largely in Meghalaya—won the group a silver medal at 2009’s World Choir Championships in South Korea. Sohlyngngem, the Khasi opera, was essentially about a girl’s grief for her lost lover, but tied in contemporary Khasi socio-political events—widespread alcoholism, cruelty towards animals, the maternal uncle’s role in a matrilineal society, among others. While promoting local folklore through different forms of expression and showcasing music written in Khasi—“a dying language”—was part of Nongkynrih agenda, “the opera itself was based on a very dark subject interspersed with dark comedy,” he says. “The voice of North-Easterners, especially of the Khasi people, has elements of sorrow in it: (there is) a unique emotional appeal. It perfectly complements the Khasi folk tales which are mostly tragic in nature.”
As an empanelled entity with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Shillong Chamber Choir has performed in Europe, the UK, Canada, the US, South Korea, West Asia and South-East Asia over the years, and before the US President Barack Obama at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2010. But much of India got to know—and love—them for their effervescent interpretation of Bollywood music when the choir participated in 2010’s edition of the TV show, India’s Got Talent, which they eventually won.
While many think the choir was the first group from Shillong to sing Bollywood songs in mainland India, Nongkynrih says it was Amit Paul—the Shillong-born runner-up in Season 3 of TV show Indian Idol—who pioneered it. The choir’s riveting reworking of Hindi film music, nevertheless, stood out against the cultural and socio-political environment in Shillong that has over the decades fed an anti-dkhar (outsiders) sentiment and a highly polarized Westernized culture.
Folklorist, poet, musician and head of the department of cultural and creative studies at North Eastern Hill University, Prof. Desmond Kharmawphlang, feels that Nongkynrih has struck the right chord by fusing old Hindi numbers with choir music. “It is a continuum, you see, as music can never be divided into two poles. One cannot deny that old Bollywood numbers were a big hit way back in the late 1970s,” he says.
Shillong was the capital of undivided Assam till the capital shifted to Dispur in 1972. With the state of Meghalaya also concurrently coming into being, a strong wave of discontentment amongst the Khasis against dkhars followed. It still occasionally flares up through sectarian strife in the hill state.
“What Neil has done is really commendable,” Kharmawphlang says. Similar views were echoed by retired Indian administrative service (IAS) officer Toki Blah: “Living in a place like Mawlai, which is known for the immense anti-dkhar sentiments of the people, I have found that his music has been highly appreciated. It just goes to show that music has no boundaries.”
“This choir is a combination of music and voices that gives goose-bumps to listeners and transports them to an ethereal world,” says journalist and Padma Shri awardee Patricia Mukhim, a founder-member of the choir. “They are perhaps the only choir in India that brings a synthesis between East and West and raises Bollywood numbers to a different level.”
That music for them floats above clannish concerns is apparent in the way Lyngdoh, the choir’s first student, describes their genre-defying approach. “If you attend our concerts, you will find that our foundation is classical music and we blend it with other genres. Our popular numbers include Barcelona, a mixture of opera and rock, which I perform with William Richmond Basaiewmoit, (a choir member); and medleys between Bollywood masala numbers like Yeh Dosti/Ajeeb Dastan; Kaisi Paheli Zindagani/Stand By Me, Kal Ho Na Ho, Manwa Lage and Bar Bar Dekho/’S Wonderful. We also perform Uncle Neil’s own compositions, some based on Hindustani classical music.”
“Most people never thought that a choir group can be fun, can dance on stage and can also make the audience dance along. Most people perceive us differently now,” says Donna Marthong, one of the teachers at the choir. “We never dreamt of performing Bollywood music but when the time came, we had to do it. Now we find that Bollywood music is also catchy.”
“In the beginning, we were quite content performing classical pieces and our Khasi folk operas in front of niche audiences in Shillong and Guwahati,” says Nongkynrih. Then came the call-up for India’s Got Talent; the need to fit 12 different voices into a song and careful selection of new material; fame that contravened man-made borders; the tiring demands of long journeys; culminating with the Padma Shri and a wider engagement with audiences.
“It all started with India’s Got Talent and once we started, I actually started enjoying the joy of revamping these songs and reaching out to more and more people,” Nongkynrih says.
First published in HT livemint. For more details, please write to me or email@example.com
It goes without saying that Assam, with its various ethnic communities, is very rich in culture. Icons like Jyoti Prasad Rabha- Parvoti had set the trend of extracting the essence of musical elements out of the folk varieties and using them in the songs they composed, tuned and sang. Following their footsteps, a good number of Assamese artistes belonging to the new generation have been continuing with their endeavour to utilize the Assamese folk musical elements in their own compositions.
One such group is “Folk Tale” of Kolkata. Folk Tale is a Kolkata based musical band comprising artistes from Assam & Bengal. The artists from Assam are Ms. Anubhuti Kakoty (Vocal), Mr. Emon Goswami (Keyboard) and Mr. Ritu Pawan Kotoky (Guitar). The artists from Kolkata are Mr. Abhik Haldar and Pankaj Malakar.
Anubhuti says, “Folk Tale’s declared aim is to go to the world stage through the rural path and quay of the mighty Brahmaputra of Assam. This was the philanthropic and universal concept propounded by Rupkonwor Jyoti Prakash Agarwala (Gaonliya baatedi, luitor ghaatedi, biswa-dorbarloi juwa.)”
Ms. Anubhuti hails from Jorhat and is going to appear in the final exam of M. A. in Music from Kolkata University. Mr. Emon Goswami hails from Guwahati and is a Sound Engineer working in Mumbai for the last several years. He’s worked in film like Barfi and serial like Satyameva Jayate.
Assam’s Bihu is no longer confined to the State alone. After Bihu performances started in Delhi and Bangalore at the behest of the Assam Association, Bihu was celebrated for the first time this year in British households. The initiative taken by Back2Music and Bordoichila Bihu Goshti was aptly titled ‘Axomor Huchori Britishor Suburit’.
Needless to say, the emotional quotient of every Assamese peaks during the time of Bihu. As such, ‘Axomor Huchori Britishor Suburit’ was a perfect attempt to showcase Bihu huchori in British courtyards. It was also a noble attempt to have an interaction with the Britishers and showcase the rich culture and traditions of the people of Assam. The event also helped market Assam as a potential tourist destination.
The organisers went a step ahead by linking it up with the analogy of door-to-door carol singing as the huchori troupes visited British households in the neighbourhood. One of the promoters said, “The response was simply brilliant. They were impressed with our traditional attire, our drum beats, our food and everything related to Bihu. We plan to make it a regular event from now on.”
Zorami by Malswami Jacob earning rave reviews across the country
Noted journalist and writer from Mizoram, Malsawmi Jacob, recently released the first Mizo novel in English. The book, entitled ‘ZORAMI: A redemption song’ is already earning rave reviews across the country.
‘Zorami’ is based on the Mizo fight for independence that started in the mid-1960s and its social and psychological impact on the people of Mizoram. The main character Zorami, though an individual, symbolizes the people of Mizoram. The book also draws on the history, culture and folk-lore of the Mizo people to bring the story alive.
Malsawmi Jacob is no newcomer in the world of journalism and literature. She has earlier worked as a lecturer in English in Aizawl, Mizoram, and in Bangalore. She has also freelanced as a writer in different publications like The Assam Tribune, the Northeast section of The Telegraph, and the Northeast Frontier. She has published six other books and contributed to four other books.
‘Zorami’ is Malswami’s first novel. It is also the first novel written in English by a Mizo writer.
The book ‘Zorami’ has already earned rave reviews from critics across the country. Echoing his views, Sonny Zachariah, Ex-Principal, St Claret’s College of Bangalore, said, “Malsawmi has immortalised the Mizo people and takes the reader to their very soul.”
Not to be undone, Stacy Wiebe, a creative writing teacher, said, “I feel that I have gained a glimpse into Mizoram’s soul, not only through the history and culture that form the backdrop of the narrative, but also through Malsawmi Jacob’s gentle, unaffected voice.”
Another noted poet Nabina Das said, “Malsawmi Jacob’s story, in the backdrop of stunning Mizo lore and volatile politics, is complex and incisive. The author seamlessly and brilliantly uses Mizo folklore, songs and cultural terms.”
Zualteii Poonte, Associate Professor in English of Aizawl Government College further said, “The novel is written in Malsawmi’s distinctive restrained, understated, always beautifully lucid style that breaks into poetry in moments of passion.”
The book is available for online sale in most online stores and departments. Here is wishing Malsawmi the heartiest congratulations for her sincere efforts in bringing out ‘Zorami’.
The journey from a technocrat to a creative entrepreneur
Traditional garments and designs express an identity through costumes which usually cater to a geographical area or a period of time in history, but can also indicate social, marital and/or religious status. Such costumes often come in two forms: one for everyday occasions, the other for festivals and formal wear.
Sanjukta Dutta, an Assamese designer per excellence, has been creating a unique combination of clubbing traditions of different geographical areas of the world in only one garment. The base is Assamese Mekhela – Sador but beautified by incorporating traditional designs of different parts of the country into it. Rajasthani tradition, South Indian tradition, embroidery, modern digital printing, etc are a few landmark traditions and techniques which are used by Sanjukta to give a new-fangled look to age old Assamese dresses.
Born in Nagaon to late Gopal Chandra Dutta, creativity was inherent in Sanjukta’s persona from a very young age itself. As a child she expressed her creativity by playing the violin. But fate had other plans for her, she graduated as a BE from Assam Engineering College and started working as an Assistant Engineer in PWD department. That was in 2003 but after ten years, Sanjukta’s passion and drive for creativity compelled her to pursue her energy and time in creative pursuits – something she always wanted.
She realised that her inner passion as an Assamese girl to mould, evolve and personalise our own ‘mekhela sador’ was far stronger than a 9 to 5 government job. Redesigning a living tradition of the state and create beautiful designs to enhance its beauty at an affordable price was what she felt was required – and that became her pledge and the motto as a designer.
It is worthwhile to mention here that throughout her journey, she has received rock-solid support from her husband Bhaskar Jyoti Baruah with whom she entered into conjugal life in 1997 and with whom she is blessed with a beautiful girl Alful Baruah.
THE BEGINNNING WITH SOHUM SHOPPE
Although Sanjukta believed in her dreams and passions, her first major commercial enterprise happened rather by chance. In a chance meeting with Sandeep Chawla, owner of Sohum Shoppe, she was persuaded by him to design mekhela sador and sell them in his outlet. That was the beginning in 2012 and it turned out to be a roaring success.
As an artist, Sanjukta loved playing with colours and designs, and this took her to various parts of the country. From being influenced by the Bandhej of Gujarat, Leheria from Rajasthan, Ari from Kashmir and digital prints, she experimented, twisted and evolved textures with her own touch which were very much based in Assamese ethos but also blended with futuristic tastes.
One of Sanjukta’s most important characteristics is her fixation to customise the dress of brides or her clients. Needless to say, she has a huge clientele queuing up to meet her so that they can get their own personalised custom-made mekhela sadors. It is unbelievable but within a year and a half, she sold more than 3,000 units of her designed fabrics in Sohum itself.
By this time, Sanjukta’s name has already spread far and wide and the orders received were far too much than could be produced. ‘Sanjukta’s Mekhela Chador’ Page on Facebook had received more than 20,000 likes in a year and she was invited to send her products all across the globe – be it in Assam Association events in Calgary, USA, Australia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Delhi and the like. Even foreigners used to come and order custom-made mekhela sadors for their own selves. This year itself, she has custom-designed more than 672 bridal dresses from the beginning of this month. The time had indeed come for further expansion.
In the initial phase when she started off in Sohum, Sanjukta has hired 40 looms in Sualkuchi with a loan of only Rs. 40,000 where she could pursue her dreams, experiment and produce her textiles. However, with the growth of demand, her looms in Sualkuchi could not produce enough textiles.
In 2013, she decided to set up two factories – Maa Durga Axomiya Pat Muga Kapuror Boyon Protisthon – in Guwahati itself. Starting off with a modest six looms, she gradually acquired 35 looms where she produced her characteristic mekhela chadors with different varieties of coloured threads – ranging from orange, blue and yellow apart from traditional colours like red, black and muga.
Sanjukta’s achievements do not end here. Not only did she pursue her dreams of fabricating new textiles, she also employed all those marginalized workers who were left without jobs due to the onslaught of Banarasi made silk clothes in Assam. She brought along all the workers and their families and provided them with lodging, food and all the requirements needed for human dignity. At last count, she had a total worker strength of 50 labourers working in both her factories, which shows her deep concern for humanity as well.
Given that Sanjukta’s clothes have earned international acclaim and popularity, she decided to add a new dimension to her creativity when she started working on designing of traditional Assamese jewellery. “Jewellery, like our mekhela sadors, too seems to have got stagnant and repetitive. I wanted to see if any new dimensions can be added to it so that it earns global appeal,” she says.
At first, she tried to experiment with different shapes and sizes of some of the most popular Assamese traditional jewellery – Dug Dugi, Keru Moni, Junbiri, etc. Her experiments paid off and the designs she produced in her factory in Barpeta were very well received – both by conservationists and futuristic looking people.
In a very short span of time, she has already sold more than 50 pieces of redesigned traditional Assamese jewellery online.
SANJUKTA’S TRADITION REDESIGNED BOUTIQUE
Sanjukta’s fame has spread across various parts of the world. There are instances when she is approached by strangers in different airports and cities who come forward to compliment her on her work. “This kind of encouragement and appreciation is what keeps prodding me to work further on my experiments with fabrics and ornaments,” she says.
The number of people who wanted customised mekhela-sadors and jewellery coming to her house has also increased exponentially in recent times. The demarcation between family life – Sanjukta, being a dedicated wife, mother and business woman, and her husband being a top bureaucrat as well – was fast disappearing. With the support of her husband, they decided on the idea of opening a professional commercial boutique – SANJUKTA’S TRADITION REDESIGNED STUDIO – where people can come at working hours and choose or custom order their dresses or ornaments.
“Besides my work with designs, I also have to look after a lot of business enterprises – Golds Gym Paltanbazar, a Bajaj dealership, Subraj dealership, to name a few. So a boutique studio which will be manned by trained experienced persons will help all those who are interested in my designs,” she said.
SANJUKTA’S TRADITION REDESIGNED STUDIO was formally inaugurated on September 11, 2014 in the presence of an august gathering. All said and done, one hopes that this is only the journey of a beginning that has many more eons to travel. Within a very short span of time, Sanjukta has evolved from a technocrat to a designer of global repute and standing. The creativity which flows in her mind and gets reflected in her creations has carved, and is expected, a niche in the hearts and minds of many more people to come.
A folk rock band, Eastern Soul Players (ESP) recently released a folk song based on Lokogeet. The song ‘Jotadhari’ is available at http://www.reverbnation.com/easternsoulplayersesp.
EASTERN SOUL PLAYERS (ESP), a folk rock band from Jorhat, Assam started its journey in 2010. But even before the band was formed, the band members were performing in different genres and were often spending time together chatting and discussing various aspects of folk music of north east India parallel the other genres of the west.
The first performance of the band dates back to January 2010 with limited number of composition but an inspiring feedback from the viewers. Till then, the bands have been trying to work on folks like dehbisaror geet, tukari geet, lokogeet, and the like and have been composing jazz and reggae. Since birth, the band have spend years in knowing folk rock and by this time experiments with several compositions were completed successfully.
The lyrics usually deals with mythology, philosophy and spiritualism. By 2013, the band came out with full might and started performing live. With the expected support from the viewers and wellwishers, the band started recording their assets that they had created so far. ‘Jotadhari’, ‘Axutuxo’, ‘Kuji Baai’, ‘Vobo Boitoroni’, ‘Pita Putro’, etc are some of the compositions of EASTERN SOUL PLAYERS (ESP).
The song ‘Jotadhari’ is based on the tune of folk-songs or Lokogeet. The band does not claim it as a Loko geet, but in respect of the lyrics and tune, the song which deals with a myth tends to approach what is called Loko geet. Jotadhari, being all about Lord Shiva, creates an imaginary scene of Kailash in listeners mind and provides a sense of spiritualism.
The characters mentioned in the song are Lord Shiva, his followers Nandi and Bhingi, His wife Mother Parvati and his sons Karttik and Ganesh.
6th edition aspires to narrate Assamese history through classical dance
The 6th edition of Pragjyoti International Dance Festival (PIDF), organized by Kalpa, starts tomorrow. Conceptualized to exhibit the wide range of India’s classical dance forms together on one platform to sing in unison and to celebrate the rich heritage of Assam, the six-day classical dance extravaganza will be held in Guwahati, Kaziranga and Sivasagar from 15th-20th February, 2014.
The event is an annual feature by Kalpa society held in association with the Sivasagar District Administration, Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India, Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited (ATDC), Directorate of Cultural Affairs (Govt of Assam) and Sub-Divisional Office- Bokakhat. The festival is powered by ERD Foundation.
The 6th edition of Pragjyoti International Dance Festival will offer a tribute to the contribution of the 600-year-old Ahom rule towards society and culture of Assam and will be hosted in the cultural site of Siva Dol, Sivasagar sculpted and spaced by the aesthetic vision of the Ahoms. Through the dance movements and unique expression of a dancer’s language of the mind perceiving the world and its cosmos, the PIDF will communicate the gloried past of the Assam and the Ahom dynasty and momentous contribution of the kingdom towards Indian History.
With this, Kalpa also attempts to introduce PIDF as the “Dance Festival” exploring the heritage sites of Assam, inviting renowned young exponents from Poland, Russia, Italy and various parts of India representing various classical dance forms like Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Manipuri, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Sattriya.
Also addressing to the need of the hour, the festival will speak up for the conservation of nature and preservation of rhinos, making the masses aware and rethink about the pertinent issues of the land and its natural resources by dedicating the evening of dance for the conservation of its pristine glory.
Sattriya danseuse Anwesa Mahanta, Joint Secretary of Kalpa & Festival Director of PIDF says, “Since the past six years, PIDF has been striving towards building an interest for classical dance in the hearts of the youngsters of this region. This year, we want to address two issues that have been on the minds of many people of the region, and yet, were unable to express them for lack of a proper platform. PIDF is a festival of the people, carried forward over the years with their continued support and participation, and designed for highlighting the aspects of our vibrant culture and heritage. We want to use this platform as an opportunity to express our concern towards these issues”.
Sankar Prasad Kakoti Bora, the Regional Director of Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Guwahati, said, “Kalpa, has been organizing the Pragjyoti International Dance Festival in association with the Indian Council of Cultural Relations of the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India, since 2009. Kalpa, under the leadership of Professor Pradip Jyoti Mahanta and Anwesa Mahanta, has been endeavouring to provide a platform for the promotion of young dance talent and also a space for social and cultural convergence.”
Besides the dance performances, Kalpa has also organized a series of interactive sessions, namely ‘Voices’, in three educational institutions in the city on the days of the festival. Through these sessions, the students will get an opportunity to learn and interact with the various classical dancers performing at the festival. These interactive sessions aim at creating awareness about the various classical dance forms of the country and to encourage more and more youngsters to take up these dance forms. The ‘Voices’ sessions will be held at Delhi Public School, Don Bosco Institute of Management and Regional Institute of Science and Technology on 15th, 16th, 17th February respectively.
“Our dance festival is an attempt to promote the intangible heritage of classical arts among the younger generation. Dance is an interdisciplinary area that requires a holistic appraisal of literature, philosophy, history, science, music, painting, sculpture, yoga, spirituality, religion, art and so on. Pragjyoti International Dance Festival, now in its sixth year, is one such attempt to showcase Indian classical dance with its holistic understanding of time, space and sound and the interpretations of human mind and body to the context of Assamese heritage, history and its nature”, says Anwesa.
While one of the greatest achievements of PIDF has been to develop interest about classical art traditions and its relevance in contemporary period amidst the young generations it has also maintained high standards by garnering the support and accolades of exponents of Indian dance at this annual dance fest.
Appreciating the efforts of Kalpa, Anurag Singh (Managing Director – Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.) comments, “Pragjyoti International Dance Festival is a vibrant festival with international renowned artists performing in Assam. It gives us an opportunity to promote our diverse culture and tourism. It’s a season’s gift of dance and tradition to the people”.
The Pragjyoti International Dance Festival will be organized in Guwahati, Kaziranga and Sivsagar (in Assam) from 15th- 20th February, 2014. The festival has been divided into three stages:
15th, 16th February, 2014 (Saturday and Sunday) at Rabindra Bhawan, Guwahati
18th February, 2014 (Tuesday) at Kaziranga National Park, Convention Hall
19th, 20th February, 2014 (Wednesday and Thursday) at Siva Dol, Sivasagar
Gayan Bayan: Bhogpur Sattra, Majuli
Odissi: Sanatani Rombola (Italy) and Elena Knyazeva (Russia)
Bharatanatyam: Renjith Babu and Vijna Vasudevan, Chennai
Kathak: Disciples of Ms. Marami Medhi, Guwahati
Mohiniattam: Swapna Raju, Bangalore
Kuchipudi: Sreelaksmy Govardhan, Kerala
Sattriya: Lima Das, Guwahati
Bharatanatyam: Aleksandra Michalska (Poland)
Manipuri: Bibhul Kt. Sinha and his Group, Guwahati
Gayan Bayan: Bogiai Elengi Sattra, Titabor
Odissi: Sanatani Rombola (Italy) and Elena Knyazeva (Russia)
Bharatanatyam: Renjith Babu and Vijna Vasudevan, Chennai
Kathak: Disciples of Ms. Marami Medhi
Mohiniattam: Swapna Raju
Kuchipudi: Shreelaksmy Govardhan, Kerala
Manipuri: Bibhul Sinha and his Group, Guwahati
Bharatanatyam: Aleksandra Michalska (Poland)
Sattriya: Dimpi Sonowal and Rimpi Sonowal, Guwahati
Published in The Sentinel on February 15, 2014
Band members perform in Shillong, interact with local youths and civil society leaders for empowerment of women and girls
For alternative and pop music lovers of the city, there is reason to cheer. Popular all-woman, all-attitude alternative pop music trio from New York City, Betty, will be arriving in the city to perform at Alcheringa – the biggest event of IIT Guwahati’s annual calendar. The performance of the pop group has been facilitated and sponsored by the office of the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata.
Unstoppable activists, the women of BETTY use their music for humanitarian outreach: working for equal rights, peace, and the empowerment of girls and women. The band had performed in the neighbouring hill station of Shillong yesterday.
Talking about the performance in Shillong, a US Consulate communiqué said, “American all-female pop rock band BETTY had a great time in Shillong yesterday! They enjoyed performing for local youth leaders, social activists and government officials and getting the chance to talk with them about the empowerment of women and girls. This inspirational band and their “RISE” program demands violence prevention and emphasizes the need for public attention to end gender based violence.”
The band also performed at Alcheringa, the annual cultuarl festival of IIT- Guwahati.
Prior to their performance in Guwahati on Sunday, the band had an exclusive interview scheduled for mediapersons at the Guwahati Press Club today. The Deputy Director of the American Center Kolkata, Rachel Sunden will moderate the press conference.
BETTY is a pop rock band fronted by Elizabeth Ziff, Alyson Palmer and Amy Ziff. The band’s unique sound is a blend of tight harmonies layered over rocking guitars and a solid rhythm section. Since 1986, BETTY has performed their memorable live show – full of exciting, hook-laden songs, clever word play and manic energy – in clubs, theatres and public arenas all over the world.
The band has toured in the U.S., Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, across Western Europe, Scandinavia and Argentina. Fierce Elizabeth (vocals, guitar), funky Alyson (vocals, bass) and funny Amy (vocals, cello) are the songwriters.
BETTY’s last release “Rise” is a hit featuring the song the band wrote in 2013 for Eve Ensler’s global campaign to end violence against women and girls, One Billion Rising. Unstoppable activists, the women of BETTY use their music for humanitarian outreach: working for equal rights, peace, and the empowerment of girls and women. It is powerful music, and you can dance to it!
With music bearing the message of peace and empowerment BETTY, has been harmonizing arts and activism for almost three decades. Since 2012, the trio has brought their unique blend of music and social issues to local communities across the world via U.S. State Department programs. As U.S. Arts Envoy, BETTY’s music with a message seeks to spread equality, tolerance, and anti-bullying in an effort to fight gender-based violence and homophobia.
While in Guwahati, BETTY also met with representatives from the civil society, non-profit organizations, government officials and local youth leaders via a U.S. Consulate Kolkata outreach program in association with YI (Young Indians of CII).
BETTY’s engagements in Guwahati are part of the trio’s January 29 – February 9, 2014 India Tour that has the band travelling to Shillong, Kolkata and Hyderabad.