Talk of the Town

Celebrated film-maker, artist and poet Muzaffar Ali has once again landed up an exciting new project. And this time round, it has all the elements of cross-cultural integration -- a recurrent theme in all that he does. Along with his wife, Meera Ali, he has agreed to do the costumes for ``The Fakir of Benares'' -- an opera which will be staged here in March 2002.

The legendary opera which has an Indian theme was composed by Leo Manuel in France in the year 1922 but it was lost to the world during World War-II. The long-forgotten classic is now being revived by the French composer, Aude-Priya Wacziarg, who chanced upon the libretto in a music shop in Paris and was fascinated by it.

``I see it as a process of cross-culturing -- bringing the world together on the platform of love,'' says Muzaffar, pointing out that ``as a film-maker, it is a great challenge for me to participate in an event in which Indian and French talent will come together.''

Incidentally, this is the first time ever that a full-fledged opera will be staged in India. The legendary French opera tells the story of Sundara, an ugly woman, who hunts for a suitable life-partner and eventually manages to find one before the fakir enters her life. ``What impresses me about the opera is its attempt to make love as a bridge between two different cultures,'' says Muzaffar.

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When Shah Rukh Khan had casually enough mentioned during a stage show once that it was his luscious lips that girls swooned over, most people present for the show had laughed out aloud. Not necessarily because they disagreed with him but because the statement itself was accompanied by a coy smile instead of the customary Khan arrogance.

``I have S-shaped brows, a real big nose and hair that never seems to fall in place. With a face like this, I really don't know what people like about me,'' was what he had quipped during his ``Rendevouz with Simi Garewal''. That Shah Rukh Khan has no illusions about his looks is well known alright, and although he has not really gone ahead and flaunted his other assets -- like some of his contemporaries -- he is amused to know that people find the posters of ``Asoka'' provocative and obscene.

``I really can't understand what is so obscene about the posters. You just have a man and woman sitting rather close to each other. And if it is the kind of clothes that is bothering them, we can't really help it. We are talking about a time when Kamasutra was written. Sensuality has been traditionally a part of our country. I can't understand why people are uncomfortable accepting it,'' is what the Khan had to say about the recent opposition to the posters in Kolkata.

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At times, minor changes in mundane matters raise big questions. A glance at the itinerary of the conference on ``Prevention and Control Strategies against Crime'' by the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science (NICFS) does just that.

In the whole process of finalising the schedule, confirming dates with speakers, and making available the necessary logistics at the venue, the organisers in a rare stroke of creativity decided to call the two seminar rooms ``mandaps''.

Soon the mandaps were named after two famous criminologists -- Panakal Mandap and Venugopal Rao Mandap -- providing it an ``Indian'' flavour. Interestingly, the rest of the nomenclature remains quite English: plenary session, keynote session, technical sessions,...

As someone flipping through the programme details remarked: ``Nobody objects to using Indian terminology but the way it has been done here looks odd. It appears as though they were forced to adopt such nomenclature, which obviously raises uneasy questions in the mind.''

For a conference that could not be held by the Indian Society of Criminology for the past six years due to financial constraints, it could well have done without such complications on its comeback trail. But perhaps, as a scribe commented, this is the nominal price one has to pay for government sponsorship these days.

(By K.Kannan, Lakshmi Balakrishnan and Pranab Dhal Samanta)

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