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Give me your hand

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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CHAT Amar Sen has been quietly nurturing the rare art form of hand shadowgraphy. SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

Flight of TALENTA bird created by Amar Sen (left) with his hands.
Flight of TALENTA bird created by Amar Sen (left) with his hands.

Public memory is very short. Amar Sen stresses upon what is considered one of the tenets of our profession. “In these times, when we are bombarded with images and information, why would anybody remember you unless and until you do something absolutely out of the box,” says the Kolkata-based Sen, who has indeed chartered into unknown territories. At the Travel Agents Association of India's annual convention recently held in Turkey, Raja Natesan, COO of TUI (a joint venture between Le Passage and TUI Travel), showcased a brilliant three-minute video, “Live, Love and Celebrate Incredible India”, using the art form of hand shadowgraphy. At the event, Natesan revealed that there happen to be only a handful of hand shadowgraphers in the world and India boasts two of them. Amar Sen is on the list along with his friend Sabyasachi Sen with whom he started this journey some 39 years ago. The two continue to perform live shows together.

Amar might have accidentally and playfully discovered the art form during a power cut in his area but the genre, he says, is believed to be in practice for the last 1500 years. “It was a Chinese king during the Sun Kingdom, who invented the art form to entertain his ill wife. He used the light emanating from the lantern. So that makes him the oldest practitioner,” he informs us.

Hand shadowgraphy is basically the art of creating varied formations using combinations of hands and fingers against a blank screen. “We do storytelling through this form and one of the most famous stories of our repertoire is the one revolving around a duck and a duckling. Every time I open the beak during our stage presentations, the audience gets ecstatic. They know that it's a hand which is doing it but they can't make out and they clap at that precision,” points out Amar, who also participated in the third season of “India's Got Talent”.

To have the right kind of effect, perfect lighting is imperative. “You need dexterity of fingers and wrist to create the required angles, a perfect screen and the right amount of thickness of darkness.” While the latter two are easy to achieve, it's the nimbleness of fingers which is hard to find. At his institution, Academy of Magical Arts and Research in Kolkata, Amar says, he has been trying to nurture those who have the potential. “A lot of people come to me to learn it but the problem is when I find the talent then I don't find flexibility and when I get the desired flexibility in the fingers, the person is lacking in talent. It's an extremely difficult thing to do and probably that's why there are only a few people doing it all over the world. I feel so disappointed.”

His participation in “India's Got Talent” helped raise awareness about the art form. Amar and his son Arko Sen also run a production company and the duo churns out a lot of corporate films. They have done work for transport companies, schools and promos for fairs and festivals. Early this year Amar created a video, which accompanied the theme song “Kothara Jonmabey” for the Kolkata Book Fair and is quite a hit on You Tube now. Another work of the versatile artiste which has gone viral on the Internet is “Let Calcutta Surprise You”, a promotional video which Amar has made for the Young Presidents' Organisation's meet scheduled to be held in Kolkata in December 2012.

“It evokes the spirit of the city. There are faces you can easily identify like that of Rabindranath Tagore or Mother Teresa. It's easy to make formations of animals but very tough to create faces of well-known people because the challenge is to make them identifiable, but you only have your hands as your instrument and nothing else.”


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