Monday, 9 May 2011

Rabindranath Tagore: On Science, God and Truth

It’s really a great day for florists here. It’s 25 Boiśākh, 1418 today! Rabindranath Tagore turns 150 today according to the Bengali calendar. So it’s a moment for all of us to feel proud about the man who won Asia its first Nobel, who composed songs which we cannot stop listening to, wrote poetry we never forget and the man who gave the country our national anthem. But should we? Last year, on this day, I expressed my feelings about the celebration of his 150th birth anniversary. (Why do we have such fondness for multiples of twenty-five?) We have decorated the statue of Tagore with endless garlands to feel good and have only added to the halo that surrounds the “image” of Tagore. Making Tagore a divinity to worship and not a human being to discover (and re-discover and re-re-discover) is, I believe, something Tagore himself might have considered an insult.

Today, in this post, I’ll explore an aspect of Rabindranath which is rarely discussed about him, except, perhaps, in academic circles. (I had another topic on mind which is almost never in limelight, but let’s keep that for another day.) I wish to ignore all the titles, prefixes and suffixes that surround Rabindranath’s name and cut right to the heart of his ideas. It goes without saying that I am writing this also because it’s a very personal topic to me – a topic that always stirs up my thoughts. I am absolutely unqualified and incompetent to offer any conclusive viewpoint. At best, my aim is to explain why the topic matters so much to me and I don’t think I can do that very well because some of these ideas are way beyond my comprehension.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Thoughts on Inception

I start my film-reviewing session of 2011 with two sci-fi movies which couldn’t be more different from each other. Released in two consecutive summers, both movies were admired by the critics and audiences alike. Enthusiasts on the Internet (to be polite) greeted the films words like “awesome”, “masterpiece”. However, what I feel about these movies has nothing to do with the general reaction to the movies or the backlashes and counter-backlashes or the publicity machinery behind these movies. (I dislike the word “overrated”.) I wish to describe my thoughts and emotions based only on the images and sounds that appeared before me. Here's the review of one of the movies. Needless to say, this review most likely contains important plot points i.e. SPOILERS, if such things matter to you. So read them only if you wish to.

Inception (2010)
Written and directed by: Christopher Nolan

Most detractors of Inception pin down the film on an essentially wrong note. They want Inception to be a dream movie in the surrealistic traditions of European films like , Last Year at Marienbad, Wild Strawberries, The Andalusian Dog. It’s unfair on my part to expect a film which must submit to my preconceived notions of a dream-movie and not allow it to become what it wants to be. So Inception unfolded before me exactly the way the film wanted to.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Last IYA2009 Event

(Last year, I promised to myself not to write any more blogposts after the Avatar review, although I had a lot to write about, including this one. As I resume regular blogging once again, this is first post I could think of. It's sixteen months too late , but as they say, it's never too late.)

As you all know, we had taken part in the 100 Hours of Astronomy and Galilean Nights as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. We also did other events to observe the IYA2009. The efforts of our organisation, Prof. Dhirananda Roy Study & Research Centre, were extensively covered in the press. So we were invited to various parts of West Bengal to hold events to popularise astronomy.

The last event we did in 2009 was particularly noteworthy because of its extent and the number of people it reached. It was one of the most popular events we held as a part of the IYA2009. It was held at a book fair on a public holiday. More than a thousand people were part of our event that evening

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Avatar Review: John et Jim

The Eye
As the latest James Cameron film stops being the flavour of the season (well, almost), it assumes a whole new avatar for me.

A warning must be issued here. This isn’t a “review” of the film (I mean, two paragraphs about the plot, one about the technique, one about the acting, one about this and another about that and an easy and oversimplified good-mediocre-ugly categorisation issued at the end very conveniently dismissing all other opinions) so much as a journey into the corners of my thoughts. This review discusses topics I’d hardly imagined it’d when I saw the film. This is, as you’ll discover, two (maybe more) reviews for the price of one. There was something I wanted to review on this blog since 2009, but never could. Avatar gave me ample scope to do it this time. Issuing a spoiler warning for this film (and the subjects I’m going to discuss) is not only completely pointless at this stage (given the film has grossed a meagre $2.7 billion), but defeats the entire purpose of my review itself. You’re advised to avoid reading this piece if you are not familiar with any of these (which I believe is unlikely).

In anticipation of Avatar, I wrote a post describing my fond memories of Cameron’s Titanic. To this day, watching Titanic remains my most wonderful experience inside a cinema hall. I was expecting Cameron to reawaken the five-year-old in me, inspire awe and induce heartfelt emotions with another powerful drama. I was ready to bow before the King. A few weeks later, I was off to the theatre, bursting with excitement. After the screening was over, I found myself sorely disappointed. I could hardly understand what the fuss was all about. Was I being over-analytical in watching a film that was simply supposed to be enjoyed and experienced? (I didn’t even take my notepad along!) Did I grow too cynical and fail to enjoy the simple pleasures of life Avatar was supposed to provide? Where was the plot? Where was the excitement? Where were characters I could deeply care about? Where was the drama? The visual effects were brilliant; 3D was also great, but I got used to it so quickly that it, in my view, could no longer be used as an excuse to camouflage the hackneyed and predictable plot. I tried every bit to be swept by it. I just couldn’t go with the ride, perhaps because I’m not particularly fond of amusement park rides. Even taken as an experience, this one didn’t quite measure up to Titanic. “Oh, Jim, did you really have to do something this unimaginative?” I said loudly as I exited the theatre, much to the bewilderment of people around me. It was a perfectly forgettable movie, I thought. Then began the problem (and, needless to say, now begins the review).

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Celebration Begins!

Rabindranath Tagore
The world-wide celebration to observe the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore begins today. Rabindranath turned 149 today. I don't think I will be able to express in words what this day means to me. It offers me a passage to look back at the days of my childhood. Today, it will be a completely futile attempt on my part to give an account of my feelings of those days and my thoughts on Rabindranath and his vast body of work, because it will be endless. So I will keep this post short.

Bishnu De asks in a famous poem whether Rabindranath is all about the celebration that surrounds his birth and death anniversaries. All these years, after all these celebrations, it seems the same to me. On the morning of 25 Boiśākh, we turn on the television to watch the celebration taking place. We recite his poems and sing his songs with heartfelt passion.Some of us listen to Rabindrasangeet every day. Rabindranath is the reason of our cultural pride and rightfully so.

But for all our passion for Rabindrantah's works, we have strangely ignored Rabindranath himself. We love reading his poems and singing his songs, but not often do we pay attention to the thoughts and ideas expressed in the poems and songs. We have little time to look a Rabindranath's revolutionary ideas which were way ahead of his time. We have perhaps forgotten Rabindranath the thinker. It's the halo around him and his work that probably attracts us too much. We do not like to waste time to rediscover and interpret his works, because we have a notion that we know everything about Rabindranath. As I learnt from people very close to me, Rabindranath needs to be discovered everyday. He was not a man with stagnant ideas. It is fascinating to study the way he constantly changed.  His works need to be looked at. His ideas are as valid today as they were a century ago.

Rock-n-roll remix of Rabindrasangeets and some abysmal music videos are not really what I call "reinterpretation". frighteningly, Rabindranath is being abused today. Only today, I caught some astrologer on a TV channel proclaiming that – are you ready for this? – Rabindranath promoted astrology! There are soaps which integrate  out-of-context and horribly-sung Rabindrasangeets to add layers of meaning to them. Filmmakers alter our national anthem to use make their awful films something "deep" and then tell us that Rabindranath's intentions for writing it weren't very noble. Even the dates of his birth and death are tweaked conveniently. There are many more awesome gems, but in discussing them any further I will be giving them undue importance.

It is exciting for me that his works will be translated in many languages and be spread all over the world. People from other cultures will perhaps be able to do what we don't: perceive Rabindranath in a new way. Mixing of all forms of culture to form an enriched, superior form of culture was all Rabindranath wanted.

This year-long celebration, I hope, will bring us a new Rabindranath and help us get rid of the stagnancy of ideas.

So let's make this celebration a successful one! Let's rediscover Rabindranath!