STAGE DÉCOR BASANTA UTSAVA 2015, EXPLORING PALASH
STAGE DÉCOR BASANTA UTSAVA 2015, EXPLORING PALASH
This year 2015AD, instead of focusing my camera on the usual morning bonanza of living colours of Basanta Utsava, I decided to get a close glimpse of the stage décor for the evening program held at Ashrama Ground by Sangit Bhavana. Actually my intention was to attempt some kind of documentation on one of the aspects of Basanta Utsava. Thankfully, Mr Sudhiranjan Mukherjee, the stage director of Basanta Utsava evening for quite some years now, happen to be known to me, and I decided to pester him right from pre Basanta Utsava days, to which he obliged. The overall effect appears to be very interesting (actually it is for you to judge!) and I greatly enjoyed the whole experience, including the thought process leading to the stage décor, thanks to Sudhiranjanda. Hopefully you will also enjoy the experience. In this endeavour, naturally text will have much less importance, so photographic documentation will be the main idea behind the presentation.
This year the consorted play ‘Basanta’ was staged, and as per idea the pain of the transition from Spring to Summer was the key theme. For some time now Sudhiranjan Mukherjee, faculty Siksha Satra, is exploring flora and fauna of Santiniketan for design purposes and ‘Palash’ is currently under study. In fact a more elaborate exhibition from ‘Palash to Design’ is slated at Rabindra Bhavana museum from about middle of March 2015. I was in fact quite intrigued to just have a glimpse of idea about the rich possibilities in exploring design patterns, specially the possibilities the flower Palash can offer. Interestingly mathematical interpretations of such designs under ‘Study of Fractals, Dynamic Systems and Chaos’ is now an emerging area in Science offering huge possibilities for scientific exploration as well.
Sudhiranjanda was exploring the possible design patterns arising out of Palash, and decided to execute the idea experimentally for the stage décor for Basanta Utsava 2015 in much simplified form. The study he went through was fairly interesting to follow. I formed some idea on how artists build upon a concept around their ideas.
The unfolding of patterns created out of Palash were clearly visible. I was particularly attracted to the dynamism of the flows and really liked the sketch of the dancer with Palash-adorned garlands, which cannot be traced anymore in Santiniketan. Use of Palash as decorative flowers at the time of Basanta Utsava now is strictly prohibited to prevent large scale destruction of the flower in nearby areas during this festival at Santiniketan.
The patterns created by Palash flower ensembles can be fairly intriguing, in the sense that Palash applies several design patterns to suit its purpose, mostly according to the size of the branch and optimization of design structure to capture maximum amount of sunlight. That is the normal procedure with most of the trees; but Palash offers wide varieties of design arrangements, as will be apparent to you by observing the actual photographs of Palash flowers. Palash is in fact quite an intelligent tree in the sense that it can manipulate the design structures according to its need; whereas most of the plants only adhere to a single design pattern in their floral arrangements.
On Sunday, 1 March 2015, I had a trip to Sudhiranjanda’s house to get some idea about the stage décor. The decorative panels were spread all over the floor, with the artist engrossed over them. The formats were simplified, but fairly interesting at the same time. To adhere to Santiniketan style of design created by stalwarts like Nandalal Bose, Suren Kar, Gouri Bhanja and Jamuna Sen and trying to explore new expressions somewhat within the old format is becoming a difficult task for present day artists of Santiniketan. Though the think tank of Sangit Bhavana is keen to re-create the old ambiance in stage décor; the problem is sufficient and categorical photographical documentation of stage décor is almost nonexistent, even in archives of Rabindra Bhavana. The general impression is photographic documentation of stage décor was not taken up too seriously at the time of Rabindranath Tagore and immediately thereafter; or the photographic data if exists at all, has never been categorized properly. In this regard I really do not know the utility of this documentation of stage décor at 2015AD; but I know that 50 years (or even 20, to be honest) from now even these will not be available if not documented properly. I wonder if Visva Bharati is interested to document such festivals from various angles just to pass on information to the future generations in Santiniketan; though I think Sangit Bhavana must be having some sort of such collections. Anyway, let us keep focused on delicately expressed endeavours of Sudhiranjanda for the time being!
In the huge light galore and due to the distance between the stage and the viewers, we usually miss the finer points of stage décor and the dress worn by dancers. This might be one reason why the dress of the performers and the stage décor often get unnoticed. But on careful observation both are interesting to watch, and certainly worth documentation. Next year, if permitted, I might try to document the dress and make up of performers in the evening dance drama.
I was a casual visitor to Basanta Utsava 2015 morning, as I was due to land up at the stage at around 3 PM on the day of Basanta Utsava for capturing the stage décor part. The morning had by then settled into a quiet but fleeting afternoon, Sudhiranjan Mukherjee was busy at work. Sudhiranjanda is a very soft spoken and unassuming personality at the surface; but fairly dynamic when it comes to work, more about him sometime later. Let us track the photographs, which were rather tough to snap because of the large dimensions of the stage, and that from 4PM onwards moving about the stage arena became quite a complex proposition in presence of re-instated bamboo barriers!
The patterns used by Sudhiranjanda were fairly suggestive; I heard from him that Katihar-i stitched decorative pieces have traditionally remained favourite in Santiniketan as they were used extensively by earlier stalwarts like Nandalal Bose and Suren Kar.
Looking from different angles, the camera being unable to get a panoramic view, the stage looked interesting. For the viewer, due to size and length between the spectators and the stage, either it is impossible to get the full view of the stage from near; or the details get drastically hazed out from a distance with a panoramic view. The size and length factor still remains technically unresolved for an open air stage in Basanta Utsava. Such a stage decoration in an auditorium would have certainly appeared distinguishingly brilliant. I personally feel, in occasions like Basanta Utsava, the dimension of the stage has changed hugely from the times of Rabindranath Tagore and hence there should be some real modifications in styles with perhaps keeping the spirit of design similar, from the stage décor used in earlier times in Santiniketan; maybe a point to ponder for Sudhiranjanda in coming days.
The natural light was fading out soon; around 5.30PM it was the time for testing the sound and light systems. I searched for a final glimpse of the essence of the stage decoration tuned in with the flower ‘Palash’ for the presentation ‘Basanta’ by Visva Bharati in the evening.
Let us now watch the stage along with the performers through the eyes of Sudhiranjan Mukherjee. Incredibly, this year due to internal disturbances in Visva Bharati the process of staging Basanta Utsava got delayed to a great extent, the stage was conceived within a week and Visva Bharati managed to upstage Basanta Utsava right from the morning programs barely with a weeklong preparation both participation and administration wise. It was very nice to discover the ever resilient Visva Bharati, just as always! I am extremely thankful to my young friend, Indrajit Roy, a professional photographer, to happily contribute the snap shots of the stage along with the performers in the evening for this blog article. I am also naturally grateful to Mr Sudhiranjan Mukherjee, for allowing me to go for a rather unprofessional documentation of stage décor Basanta Utsava 2015 at Santiniketan.