Theatre Theatre

Tagore’s women in the modern era

Fusion singer and theatre writer-director Isheeta Ganguly is juggling her time between wrapping the final edits of the script of her play that will be adapted into a movie, and finishing the team rehearsal for her forthcoming play Sundays with Chitra and Chaitali.

The play is an outcome of her love for Tagore’s music, that resonates in every Bengali heart and household. She had learnt the music while listening to it on LP records as a child. “It just happened without effort. I grew up in the US and came to India/Kolkata to learn Rabindra Sangeet from Suchitra Mitra. By the time I was 15-years-old I released my first album of Tagore songs. In the next few years I released seven more albums,” recollects Isheeta, whose first album was titled Tomari Nam Bolbo.

However, it was not until she took up theatre production at Brown University in the US, that she was drawn to musical theatre. She was a part of the musical theatre that was inspired by Tagore’s dance drama. This was the time she fell in love with Tagore’s work all over again, she says. “Tagore’s dance dramas always fascinated me. After working on my first drama, there was no looking back,” says Isheeta.

Tagore’s women in the modern era

The singer describes her relation with Rabindra Sangeet as the bridge that connected her with Kolkata. She didn’t just stop at learning to sing Rabindra Sangeet, she studied Tagore’s music as well while also deciding to do her Masters in Public Health from Columbia University. “All through my college life, I participated with several musical theatres and then collaborated with the prestigious Battery Dance company in the NYC for a dance ballet based on Rabindranath Tagore’s music with Mallika Sarabhai,” she recollects.

Her proficiency in both Rabindra Sangeet and western styles of singing also led to collaborations on a number of international projects including a multimedia work called Riot with Shabana Azmi, Madhur Jaffrey and Shashi Tharoor in New York City, the inaugural performances of four Indo-American Arts Council Film Festivals with Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and the late Ismail Merchant.

All this, with a demanding career as a management consultant. “My profession as a consultant didn’t stop me from performing at prestigious venues and it finally led for collaboration with Tanushree Shankar for Chiranthan with a voice-over by Amitabh Bachchan. My work, however, came to be known in India after my second collaboration for a piece of fusion music called Where the mind is without fear with a voice-over by John Abraham. This time around I was at the prestigious Kala Ghoda festival and Brinda Miller asked me to do a musical theatre based on Tagore’s women,” explains Isheeta.

She describes her journey as an enjoyable one where it led her to some of the finest works of Satyajit Ray based on Tagore’s women, which also happened to be the topic of her thesis. “ During this time I met Satyajit Ray and my discussions demanded a feminist implication of the women in Ray’s movies like Ghare Baire and Charulata. Satyajit Ray couldn’t interpret anything and said my ‘my films are a take on Tagore’s women,’” she says.

From there on, Isheeta went on to write Three Women, a musical drama that was well received. As someone who closely read and worked on Tagore’s music and later films, Isheeta summarises Tagore’s women as bold and courageous but lacked freedom and power. “So, I guess that led to desperate romantic relationships,” she adds.

Isheeta finds the issues of that era continue to be relevant today. ‘How much to step ahead and how to assert’ that is her feminist perspective but “it is not a plain male bashing script,” she asserts and adds her inspiration for other perspectives comes from the discussions she has with her husband. “My husband provides the Yin and Yang for me as an artiste.” This thought led to her second musical production Sundays with Chitra and Chaitali, a modern take on Tagore’s women.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 9:09:00 AM |

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