Author Archives: Shonali Ganguli

Venice’s Othello turns into Meerut’s Omkara

The English Language Centre in Kolkata held a blog contest on ‘The Shakespearean film/adaptation that has influenced me most and why’. Sanchari Saha was one of three winning entries. Read her blog below

Four hundred years later, we still appreciate the world’s favourite playwright, William Shakespeare. His legacy of written works ensures his relevance to society, past and present. His characters and stories reveal universal truths about the human condition in a way we can all relate to; whether it is the tragic outcome of unchecked greed and ambition, an unrelenting desire for revenge, or the pursuit of love. His representation of human nature is just as real and as relevant today, as it has been through the centuries. Even now directors and producers all over the world make films which are inspired by Shakespeare’s dramas.  One such movie is Omkara, directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, an Indian director. The film is inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello. I have recently watched this movie and it kept me spellbound.

Vishal Bharadwaj had a vision to turn Venice’s Othello into Meerut’s Omkara and he made sure that vision turned into an epic reality. Omkara is a superlative and exhaustive work of passion and tribute, skill and style. What stands out the most is how most of the characters are dynamic and they teach us a lesson. There is a huge sense of catharsis at the end of the film which I liked the most. Characters like Indu and Omi grabbed my attention. The characters are very strong characters in a different way. Every actor does their part beautifully, but Saif Ali Khan is brilliant as Langda Tyagi. His dialogue delivery and authentic character lends Omkara strength.

To sum up, Omkara is about revenge, love for money and power, dark politics and jealousy. It is one of the rare movies where the antagonist receives more empathy than the protagonist. The movie is superb and is a must watch for cinephiles.

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Beatrice wins hearts with her wit

The English Language Centre in Kolkata held a blog contest on ‘The Shakespearean film/adaptation that has influenced me most and why’. Pranjal Mondal wrote one of three winning entries. Read his blog below:

“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore
To one thing constant never-“
-Much Ado About Nothing (Act II Scene III)

A noteworthy work as far as Shakespeare’s comedies are concerned, Much Ado About Nothing needs no introduction. The wit of the characters, the excellence of the plot and the occasional powerful humour makes the play an unforgettable experience. When such an immaculate plot is handled by a director as talented as Kenneth Branagh, it is bound to be a visual delight. Directed and produced by him, Much Ado About Nothing compels admirers of Shakespeare to appreciate ‘the loftiest hill’ even more. There have probably been far better Shakespearean adaptations in the history of cinema, but this work has influenced me the most.
Through the skills of Branagh, both as an actor and as the director, justice has been done to the work of Shakespeare. The gentleness of Hero, the wit of Beatrice, the credulity of Claudio, the wisdom of Friar Francis, the villainy of Don John and so on have been dealt with in the best possible way. Moreover, Emma Thompson as Beatrice and Kenneth Branagh as Benedick have not failed to captivate the audience with their expressions.
Although the play is a comedy, there are certain serious elements that enrich the plot. First, the way Benedick voluntarily parts from his dearest of kin to stand beside the lady he loves is unprecedented. Beatrice too plays the role of a woman of strength by not deserting her cousin even in the roughest of circumstances. Through the film, Branagh rightfully glorifies them.
On the other hand, the viewers are away from disappointment as he equally vilifies the diabolic nature of Don John and the changeable and credulous mind of Claudio. There are numerous aspects in the play which reflect what the qualities of a true human being should be. Apart from qualities like loyalty and chivalry, the playwright conveys the definition of a true man through Benedick. Thus the work has permanently occupied a little niche in my heart.
I must say that Beatrice is my favourite character. She is adept at winning hearts through her wit. You must be wondering what my favourite dialogue is. It is the one that defines Beatrice’s wit the best, the one she uses to accept Benedick’s proposal- “I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life for I was told you were in a consumption.”

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Pop culture adds the twist

The English Language Centre in Kolkata held a blog contest on ‘The Shakespearean film/adaptation that has influenced me most and why’. Senjutee Mazumder was one of three winning entries. Read her blog below:

Of all Shakespeare’s adaptations I have watched till date, the one that has impressed me the most is the 1996 American romantic drama “Romeo + Juliet” directed by Baz Luhrmann starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the leading roles.
While there are several reasons to love this movie, the main reason is that it has successfully reproduced the ambience of romance as was done by Shakespeare in his original play. Set in the late 20th century, it has slight alterations in settings, characterisation and description of plot while retaining the original dialogues of the play.
The context of the play is perfectly put up. The exchange of contemptuous dialogues between the Capulet and Montague boys and their fights reflect the terrifying spirit of violence whereas the development of love between the two lovers amidst the hostility is truly admirable.
The portrayal of the ball dance in the party scene is simply marvellous and the fanciful costumes and familiar music delights the audience. The scene of Romeo and Juliet’s first acquaintance is mesmerising. Their subsequent falling in love, giving way to a secret proposal and marriage, also adds a pleasing note to the plot.
The tragic ending of the film evokes immense pathos and thus makes the film sensational and heart-touching. The tear-jerking scene of the lovers’ death also leaves a deep impact on the viewer’s mind. The background music is skilfully matched with the settings. Numerous references to pop culture add a new glamour to the plot.
This film teaches its audience the basic moral precepts inherent in the story. Replete with terror, romance, humour, pathos and glory, the movie seems to be the most fascinating interpretation of the classic Shakespearean play.

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The gigantic world of Shakespeare

Young actor Riddhi Sen performs Shakespeare at the British Council in Kolkata

Young actor Riddhi Sen performs Shakespeare at the British Council in Kolkata

Actor Riddhi Sen, who was part of the Shakespeare Day celebrations at the British Council in Kolkata on 23 April 2016, writes on how it’s essential to keep performing and reinterpreting Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare wrote plays on kings, soldiers and empires but even now his work perfectly fits our surroundings. Surprising, but if we really look around it makes perfect sense.
As a citizen of West Bengal it’s really wonderful to see how Shakespeare has been adapted on screen and stage repeatedly in recent times. There seems to be an urgency to adapt Shakespeare. What’s more interesting is that his plays don’t require interpretation. They fit smoothly into any situation.
The great Utpal Dutt staged Macbeth in the time of Emergency. In recent times we’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare in Bengali film and theatre. I have been really privileged to be a part of the play Macbeth, directed by my father Koushik Sen. The play gained a lot of accolades, including a review by Andrew Dickson in the Guardian. What amazed me was how Macbeth defined the exact socio-political situation of 2012 Bengal. It’s really inspiring to see how Julius Caesar becomes the story of Kolkata’s underworld in Srijit Mukherji’s Zulfiqar.
This gives me confidence as an artist to find out how Shakespeare’s plays live and breathe in my surroundings. It creates an insatiable desire in me to be a part of this gigantic yet human world of Shakespeare. It creates a sense of urgency in me to work with his plays. Maybe I’m not mature enough but instinctively it forces me to deal with all his characters and bring them under one roof in the form of a play or film.
I was amazed and inspired when I saw Kashmir become the setting of ‘to be or not to be’ in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider. It’s really important for our generation to realise that it’s just not important to interpret Shakespeare but it’s a bigger responsibility to make the plays more approachable for the masses. It’s more important to uproot the notion that in order to understand Shakespeare it requires a great deal of knowledge and maturity.

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Technology for professional development

Report launched during event co-hosted with The Open University at British Council Delhi on 30 September 2015 

Launching the Technology for professional development report at British Council New Delhi. From left to right: Michael Connolly, Assistant Director English Partnerships British Council India, Chris Brandwood, Director English British Council South Asia, Bhanu Potta, Founding Partner ZingerLabs, Nirupa Fernandez, Assistant Director English Language Services British Council India, Rob Lynes, Director British Council India.

Launching the Technology for professional development report at British Council New Delhi. From left to right: Michael Connolly, Assistant Director English Partnerships British Council India, Chris Brandwood, Director English British Council South Asia, Bhanu Potta, Founding Partner ZingerLabs, Nirupa Fernandez, Assistant Director English Language Services British Council India, Rob Lynes, Director British Council India.

There has been much discussion in recent years on the potential of technology to help deliver high quality training content to teachers who otherwise may not have access. The British Council is committed to exploring the feasibility of this and experimenting with innovative ways of using a range of digital channels to assist teachers with their professional development.

On 30 September, the British Council co-hosted an event with The Open University to explore the topic in detail through a panel discussion featuring five professionals working in the field. The panel discussion was chaired by Dr Tom Power, Senior Lecturer at The Open University in the UK and Programme Director of the English in Action project in Bangladesh. A recording of the event will shortly be made available on our YouTube channel – details will be made available here later this week.

Themes emerging from the event included general agreement that pedagogy trumps technology – teachers need to be taught when digital content can help their development (and indeed their learners) but also how to use it appropriately and judiciously. The panel was quick to recognise that it is not technology that makes a difference, but teachers. Additionally, there was considerable discussion around the function of technology in providing opportunities for collaboration: social media and forums on MOOCs or online courses can provide much needed space for sharing and discussion. The need for support was also clear: teachers need help in developing their own ICT skills in order to make the most of opportunities available through digital channels. Overall, there was a general consensus that technology can provide unprecedented opportunities for developing both pre- and in-service teachers’ skills, but that there is still further work needed before it can be done efficiently and effectively in India.

In addition to the panel discussion, the British Council launched a report entitled Technology for professional development: access, interest and opportunity for teachers of English in South Asia. The report highlights findings from research conducted by ZingerLabs and EZVidya in 2014. This included a detailed survey of 892 teachers from six countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – investigating their access, attitudes and preferences with regards to using radio, TV, mobile, computers and social media for their development. The survey was supported by a series of fourteen focus groups in seven locations and interviews with industry experts and school leaders. Additionally, the team conducted secondary research into national trends and existing initiatives which are harnessing technology for educational purposes in the South Asia region.

The key findings of the research were as follows:

  •  Access to digital is similar across the region and the various segments of the sample population (e.g. private vs government sector, urban, semi-urban and rural locations, etc.)
  • Teachers are positive about the potential for making more use of technology for their professional development.
  • Digital literacy and ICT skills are low and there is a lack of confidence in using technology.
  • Computers and mobile phones are the most popular channels for professional development content, while radio and television are not preferred because of a perceived lack of interactivity.
  • There are currently inadequate user payment models to support commercial development of content.
  • Teachers are interested in participating in communities of practice and want resources that clearly suit their context and needs.

The report can be downloaded for free from our website .

Are you a teacher? Do you work in teacher education? What are your views on teachers using technology for their professional development? Write a comment below to join in the debate or tweet us @inBritish or @TeachEngIndia using the hashtag #digitalteachers.

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‘Future News gave me a wider vision and a sense of fearlessness’

Sayan Ganguly was one of the young journalists selected from India to participate in the Future News Conference 2015. He writes about how he connected with delegates from across the world

At the conference with delegates from other countries

At the conference with delegates from other countries

Our excitement peaked as high as we were flying when a message flashed across our screen: ‘Time left for arrival is 5 minutes.’ As our airline gradually descended through the clouds we caught our first glimpse of Edinburgh. The tiny fields, the cottages, the toy-like cars moving in a line and the vast water body called ‘Water of Leith’ looked enticing and gave us a short preview to what our five-day stay would be like.

There were two other delegates from India along with me. As we stepped out of immigration clearance the air was cold and refreshing. A few minutes later we found a cheerful lady from the British Council waving a placard and soon we were amid the other delegates from 20 other countries, ready to take part in Future News 2015, a conference for aspiring and budding journalists from across the world.

With delegates from Bangladesh and Pakistan at the Edinburgh airport

With delegates from Bangladesh and Pakistan at the Edinburgh airport

Personally, I was excited to see the Pakistani delegates, maybe emanating from a deep sense of an unexplained brotherhood. I knew from the very onset that we would click and I was not disappointed.

After the three-day conference I walked out as an individual with a broader wavelength,  a wider vision and a fearlessness that was imbibed from certain magnetic personalities especially the Reuters’ Managing Editor and ex-Pulitzer winner Paul Ingrassia and Al Jazeera’s war correspondent Sue Turton.

Sayan at the Pollock Halls of Residence with delegates from Lebanon

Sayan at the Pollock Halls of Residence with delegates from Lebanon

The delegates also added to my learning curve. They came from diverse backgrounds, from various countries each with their own perspectives and problems when it came to media and the role it played.

Apart from diving into the history of Edinburgh’s streets and alleys post-conference we also experienced each other’s cultures through long nights of debates, dance and exchange of new ideas.

My Pakistani friends left me with an important message, which echoes my sentiments: “We love you all. It’s not our people but only our governments who are at fault.”

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‘Future News helped us understand global realities’

Sarah Zia was one of the young journalists selected from India to participate in the Future News Conference 2015. She writes about her experience 

A weekend full of news is not a big deal for journalists but a weekend full of young people brimming with idealism and confidence, all set to learn from the veterans of the profession, was certainly a pleasant surprise for the nearly 80 delegates from various Commonwealth countries. From 4-6 September aspiring and early-career journalists gathered in the iconic Scottish Parliament to attend master classes on a wide range of topics related to journalism such as warzone reporting and business journalism.

The Future News 2015 Conference was organised by Future News in association with Reuters, Herald and Times group as well as British Council.

Over the course of three days, industry seniors shared valuable insights on otherwise unknown aspects of the profession apart from sharing significant tips on how to maximise one’s output as a journalist. The key talking point across the three days was the unpredictable nature of media and the disruption caused by the rise of new forces such as social media.

The line-up of speakers included Paul Ingrassia from Reuters, Donald J Macdonald from STV, Alice Enders from Enders Analysis, Douglas Fraser from BBC Scotland and Greg Beitchman from CNN. Among the most popular talks were by Sue Turton from AL Jazeera English and James Waterson from Buzzfeed UK. The speakers were an interesting mix of regional and international players.

A key highlight was Turton’s address on how she survived conflicts and the difficulties of reporting on the move for a 24X7 news environment. Similarly, being connected to a live news meeting at the Reuters headquarters was an experience that gave us an insight on how news was made. Theoretically, most of us were aware of the relevance of news values like proximity, but hearing the top editors at Reuters take major decisions gave us an idea of how these principles were implemented.

The three days were not just about learning new ideas and insights but also about understanding the experiences of fellow journalists in other countries. While some challenges are universal, others are more local and this event helped us understand global realities in a better way as we heard straight from the horse’s mouth.

The key USP of the event was the diversity of themes discussed under one roof. To say, I returned as an enriched person, would be an understatement.

Sarah Zia (left) and fellow delegate Sweta Goswami (right) with Sue Turton from AL Jazeera

Sarah Zia (left) and fellow delegate Sweta Goswami (right) with Sue Turton from AL Jazeera

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Future News was a confidence booster

Sweta Goswami was one of the young journalists selected from India to participate in the Future News Conference 2015. She writes about the insights she gained

Sweta in Edinburgh

Sweta in Edinburgh

Working for two years as a metro reporter with a leading national newspaper in New Delhi somehow gradually limited my thinking process. Not that I did not enjoy my work, I certainly did and still do. Unknowingly I was just drudging along; stuck beneath a pile of routine stories. The courage, confidence and most importantly, the very realisation that my output in terms of reportage can go way beyond the boundaries of the national capital or even India is what Future News 2015 gave me.

Future News 2015, a conference organised by the British Council for young journalists, is a major confidence booster right from the start. It starts with you being selected along with just two others through a national level essay competition. Getting selected for it in a country as big as India itself is quite something (read: to add to your CV).

Time really flew since the day I was informed that I was selected for the fully-funded trip to Edinburgh, the venue for this year’s conference. By the afternoon of 3 September, I was there at the Edinburgh Airport and by evening, I had already made around two dozen friends from countries like Egypt, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Lebanon and of course UK.
The three-day conference began 4 September onwards, and on the very first day I got to learn how news from various continents is discussed in daily editorial meetings in an organisation as big as Reuters — all thanks to Reuters Managing Editor Paul Ingrassia for the insight. Until then, I was just used to daily editorial meetings to discuss stories pertaining to New Delhi or at max, for the whole of India. On the same day, Andy Bissell of Bournemouth University gave me some real witty techniques to be used while interviewing a personality.

Day 2 was probably the most exciting for all the 93 delegates present in the conference. Sue Turton, foreign correspondent with Al Jazeera gave us an amazing sneak peek into how war/conflict reporting is done. The videos she showed actually kept most of us at the edge of our seats.

On Day 3, the last day of the conference, we were given an insight into the world of start-ups. James Waterson of buzzfeed.com narrated the story of how the start-up has grown in just two years since its inception and has now even overtaken The Guardian.

The sessions aside, the major takeaway for me from Furture News 2015 has been two fold — First, it helped me build a rapport with the speakers off stage during tea or lunch breaks second, I ended up making a lot of friends from across the globe. We all are connected through Facebook and Twitter and most importantly, everyone happily agrees to debate, discuss or just talk about the issues that persist in their respective country.

Meanwhile, the learning did not just end with the culmination of the conference, it is still on. The real work starts now, which is gradually building on the network you created in just 3 days!

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Building bridges through dance

Vanessa Mirza, Director, Dance Bridges Festival, Kolkata, India 2015, writes about her experience of organising a multi-dimensional dance festival in Kolkata. The British Council was one of many partners of the festival, which concluded recently. 

The Dance Bridges Festival. Photo by Tanaya Bhattacharya

The Dance Bridges Festival. Photo by Tanaya Bhattacharya

The Dance Bridges Festival is a new initiative for dance and the performing arts in Kolkata by Dance Alliance Kolkata. The theme: “Talking Points in Choreography; Dialogues Across Cultures” emerged from a personal curiosity as a choreographer to know more about the creative process of different artists and how cultural influences affect choreographic works.

In curating performances for the Festival, I selected works that highlight this individuality and specificity, sometimes in subtle ways in others more overtly. Artists for the Festival included Van Huynh Company (UK), Anarchy Dance Theatre (Taiwan), I-Fen Tung (Taiwan), Sydney Skov (USA), Janet Reed (USA),Tomas Danielis (Austria), Rocio Berenguer (France), Prasanna Saikia & Buoyant Performing Arts (India). There were also special presentations and workshops by Waileth & Bardon (Sweden) & Meghna Bhardwaj (New Delhi).

Every artist and piece carried a different flavour that is a result of a personal history of dance training, choreographic style, creative decisions but also a reflection of cultural perceptions, thinking and infiltrations. It has been a great pleasure to network with different artists and provide for their needs creating an international experience for performing arts right here in Kolkata.

Artists in residency with members from Van Huynh Company

Artists in residency with members from Van Huynh Company. Photo by Tanaya Bhattacharya

A very special part of the Dance Bridges Festival, was a three-week residency with artists from the Van Huynh Company in Kolkata with local dancers. Choreographer, Dam Van Huynh created a beautiful work titled “Resonance” with a company of five local artists and dancer Ieva Navickaite for the Festival. The 20-minute piece has original music accompaniment by Martyna Poznanska created from environmental sounds she recorded live in Kolkata.

Along with performances, the Festival included a section of film screenings with 20 dance films from over 14 countries. The dance films were curated in collaboration with Screendance Festival Sweden, Goethe Institut Kolkata, Gati Dance Forum and other independent artists. This was a truly unique part of the Festival and brought audiences insights into choreographic developments in dance as an art in the medium of film from across the world. During the Festival there were also several workshops in eastern and western styles of dance at different studios in the city providing another platform for sharing knowledge, connection and exchange.

Artists in residency with members from Van Huynh Company Tanaya Bhattacharya

Artists in residency with members from Van Huynh Company. Photo by Tanaya Bhattacharya

As the artistic director and producer for the Festival, it has been a long process of connecting with sponsors and partners. The Festival was possible due to the support and collaboration of Swar Sangam, ITC Ltd.,Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, the Austrian Embassy & Austrian Cultural Forum New Delhi, The Swedish Arts Grants Committee (Konstnärsnämnden), Alliance Francaise du Bengale, British Council, Screendance Festival( Sweden), t2 Telegraph, 91.9 Friends FM, Soni Power, Add Life Caring Minds, Rhythmosaic Dance Company, Buoyant Performing Arts Centre, Sparsh Studio for Performing Arts, The Calcutta School of Music aHotel Nest International, Chaitown Creatives and Berger Paints.

It is my intention to host this Festival as a biennial event and the next edition is due to take place in 2017. I hope the Dance Bridges Festival grows from this first edition to continue in building artistic bridges and cultural exchanges within creative communities across the world.

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Building relations between humans and the natural world

Parallel Dimension © Anand Moy Banerji / Kristine Michael / Sujata Singh

Parallel Dimension © Anand Moy Banerji / Kristine Michael / Sujata Singh

‘Parallel Dimensions’ brings together the diverse work of three artists who trained in the United Kingdom at formative stages of their careers. Showcasing printmaking, ceramics, painting and drawings, this exhibition delves into individual narratives, societal structures and the intrinsic relationship between humans and the natural world. ‘Parallel Dimensions’ blurs the distinction between ‘fine art’, craft and illustration and serves to demonstrate the potential of diverse media and techniques of art-making.

Anand Moy Banerji

Anand Moy Banerji

Ananda Moy Banerji sees the role of the artist as a social commentator who examines social and political structures that govern the relationships between individuals and communities. From painting landscapes while in rural Shantiniketan, he shifted focus to portraying the chaos of urban everyday life in the mid-Eighties when he moved to Delhi. His recent works explore themes drawn from personal experiences and as a reflection on the state of the world around him. Formal elements such as line, colour and spatial composition play an important role in his work. Ananda Moy studied at Camberwell College of Art under the Charles Wallace India Trust and is currently Vice Principal of the South Delhi Polytechnic for Women, New Delhi.

Kristine Michael

Kristine Michael

Kristine Michael’s initial training was in industrial ceramic design at the NID, Ahmedabad, however her foremost passion and research focus remained the non-industrial craft object, and the aesthetics and beauty contained in objects of everyday use. Her interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement was bolstered by her apprenticeship at the semi-industrial Dartington Pottery, which had strong connections with Shantiniketan and Rabindranath Tagore. She works primarily in clay and has researched India’s design history of ceramic art and craft. Her current body of work delves into the symbolism of forms drawn from nature, how different groups of animate beings relate to each other creating new relationships and interpretations of feminine mythologies. As a Charles Wallace India Trust and Nehru Trust scholar, Kristine studied at Aldermaston Pottery, Dartington and the V&A Museum and presently teaches at the British School in Delhi.

Sujata Singh

Sujata Singh

Sujata Singh specialised in illustration in the mid-Eighties, at a time when image-making was being re-invented through a variety of media and techniques. In the UK, she was exposed to not just cutting-edge work in editorial illustration, with its widely diverse subject matters ranging from politics and satire to food, popular culture and fiction, but also classical Egyptian, Greek, Assyrian, African and Eastern art in the museums there; all of which have impacted the formal elements of her work. She focuses on the human form, for its figurative, pictographic and iconic qualities, and for its potential to serve as a metaphor for the minutiae of the everyday as well as historical cultural narratives. Sujata studied at Camden Arts Centre, Central School of Art and Design and Wimbledon School of Arts. She currently teaches at the British School in Delhi.

The show opens at the British Council Gallery, New Delhi, from 13 August 2015. Timings: 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. Open till 30 September. Details here 

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