Friday, May 27, 2011

Grant for Asian photographers

This is a wonderful opportunity for documentary photographers from India. Read on:

Reminders Project and the Angkor Photo Festival with the purpose of providing financial support to emerging Asian photographers is seeking entries of projects that demonstrate a commitment to the subjects they work on, with a aim to make a positive impact on the local community.
In recent times, more and more Asian photographers are emerging onto the international scene, producing work of outstanding calibre and giving exposure to little known issues from their region or their own countries.
However, one of the biggest obstacles faced by these photographers is the difficulty of finding financial funding to support their projects. In-depth, investigative work requires long periods of research, and without help, many of these projects cannot be realized. Understanding the need for recognizing and supporting such projects, this completion is being organized to bring the unseen works of Asian Photographers to the world stage.
Award Components
+ Financial support of up to US$3,000 for a photo project
+ The awarded project will be shown at the 2012 Angkor Photo Festival
Eligibility Criteria
This grant is open to projects fitting the following criteria:
+ An in-depth photographic documentation in Asia
+ Explores critical issues in Asia which are unknown or under-reported
+ The project must make a positive impact on the local community and help vocalize the issues at the grassroots, local community or NGO level.
Judging Process
Representatives from Reminders Project and the Angkor Photo Festival will review applications, which will then be judged by a jury panel consisting of five international photography professionals.
The jury will take into consideration:
+ The strength of the photographer’s photography portfolio.
+ How closely the proposed project adheres to the Project Criteria and to the grant’s mission.
Last date for submitting the entries is July 29, 2011
For more details and information, please visit the Angkor Photo Festival


Saturday, May 21, 2011

RIP Badal Sircar

                                                    Picture copyright and courtesy: Natarang Pratishthan (www.naratang,org)

The Outsider: Badal Sircar (1925-2011)

Badal Sircar remained, in many ways, the outsider in Indian theatre, writes Sudhanva Deshpande 

He was a prolific playwright, author or more than 50 plays, and the winner of several awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Padmashri. Ebong Indrajeet (Evam Indrajeet, ‘And Indrajeet’, 1963) and Pagla Ghoda (‘Mad Horse’, 1967) are undisputed classics of the modern Indian stage, translated into several languages and performed across the country. They blazed a trail, and opened new vistas. Badal Sircar was a playwright of great power and technical sophistication. Playwrights and directors we consider masters today – Shombhu Mitra, Girish Karnad, Satyadev Dubey, B.V. Karanth, among others – acknowledged their artistic debt to Badal Sircar. Girish Karnad, for instance, says that he learnt about the fluidity of form from Pagla Ghoda, and Satyadev Dubey says that every play he has done after directing Evam Indrajeet has the shadow of this masterpiece on it.

And yet, when he was at the peak of his creativity, hailed as a modern master, Badal Sircar quit and went away.

He didn’t quit writing, and he didn’t go away from theatre. He quit being a ‘playwright’, and abandoned the urban proscenium stage of psychological realism and the box set, a theatre that showcased the actor and pandered to his ego. That sort of theatre often became, in effect, a vehicle for the actor to show off. In Bengal, the urban proscenium theatre was also overtly verbose. When an actor of the calibre of Shombhu Mitra was on stage, no one minded, because it was a pleasure to listen to him deliver Tagore’s or Badal Sircar’s lines. With his level of virtuosity, you almost felt it was right to show off. It became a drag when lesser actors pretended they had the stuff.

But then, what was the alternative? Sircar couldn’t simply have embraced the rural theatre. He was city-bred, and he did not want to be an imposter in the rural theatre. So he created what he called the ‘Third Theatre’. This was a theatre that lived and breathed among the common people, that spoke of their lives, that cried their tears and dreamed their dreams. This was theatre for social change. Later, he preferred the term ‘free theatre’ to ‘Third Theatre’. Not only was this term less confrontationist, it was also more accurate.

In the early seventies, the world, especially Bengal, was in turmoil, and this is the turmoil Sircar captured with such precision in his third classic, Michhil (Juloos, ‘Procession’, 1972). He had already formed his theatre group Satabdi, in 1967. Sircar and Satabdi performed their plays anywhere – in large rooms or halls, in the open, in fields, in parks and gardens. This was ‘free’ theatre. It required no ticket to see it, and it required very little money to do. More importantly, it was free in the sense of being free of constraints and obligations. It was insolent, unafraid to speak its mind.

What this theatre did require, though, was imagination. Too much of what goes in the name of ‘street theatre’ (particularly today, when the NGOs have appropriated the form to a great extent) is patronising, artistically weak, imaginatively barren and plain boring. Sircar’s theatre was never barren, intellectually or aesthetically. You might or might not agree with him, but you could not dismiss his theatre. In plays such as Bashi Khobor (Basi Khabar, ‘Stale News’, 1978) and Bhoma (1979), Satabdi created some of the finest instances of ‘physical theatre’ in India.

In other words, in Sircar’s work, writing, directing, and acting in plays became seamless parts of the larger process of creating theatre. And while he continued writing plays, the act of creating theatre involved, more and more, the reconfiguration of the performance space, and manipulation of actors’ bodies and voices to create meaning. Dialogue within the group became for him as important as dialogue in the play and dialogue with the audience.

Satabdi began performing in a room on the second floor of the Academy of Fine Arts three days a week. The room could take about 60-70 spectators, and was named ‘Angan Mancha’ (‘Space Theatre’) by Sircar. A few months after Angan Mancha came into being, Sircar learnt of theatre taking place in Surendranath Park (formerly Curzon Park) in the centre of the city. A theatre group named Silhouette had started this, and this became Satabdi’s venue as well. Initially, Sircar was sceptical about the audience taking to his plays, which were more complex and sophisticated than the average street theatre being performed there. But he was to be surprised. Over time, a serious and regular theatre going audience developed at Surendranath Park.

Ideologically, it is a little hard to characterise Badal Sircar’s theatre. He started with light hearted comedies (Ballabhpurer Rupkatha being the best known, and is still popular), then went on to express the angst and rootlessness of the urban middle class in his classic plays, and eventually, in his post-proscenium phase, he became more consciously anti-establishment.

However, a certain sort of political ambivalence is inscribed into his plays and in fact into his dramaturgy itself – in the sense that the non-verbal can just as easily ‘flatten’ meaning and equalise opposites. His theatre could was, variously, angry, nihilist, hopeful and deeply humanist. I am not being pejorative when I say that Badal Sircar’s theatre reflected a certain ‘middle class’ view of life. In fact, it could be argued that this was the result of his deep honesty and self-reflexivity. He didn’t delude himself that he could, in some magical way, transcend his class roots simply by mouthing radical slogans. In talking about his creative journey, he recounts the following:

‘But should we make a play on the Santhal revolt of 1855-56, taking roles of Santhals and the oppressors? The answer was – no. Then what? We shall show it from our point of view, that is, the point of view of a contemporary person belonging to the city-bred, educated middle class community. Why? Because we want to link that revolt to the present-day reality.’[1]

Sircar’s relations with the organised left remained awkward at best. Utpal Dutt, Sircar’s near exact contemporary and member of the CPI (M), hardly ever spoke kindly of Third Theatre. Perhaps because he was familiar with Dutt’s style, which was somewhat robust and highly polemical, to the best of my knowledge, Sircar didn’t respond to Dutt in kind. Some of his less patient followers did, however, and the mutual suspicion hardened over the years. This was unfortunate, because Sircar made a tremendous contribution by taking quality theatre to non-formal spaces. He was a key figure in what Safdar Hashmi called the ‘democratisation of Indian theatre’.

Above all, what Badal Sircar did was to seed practice and train practitioners. This is a part of his legacy that has not been appreciated enough. But through the 1970s, he travelled all over the country, holding workshops in the techniques he was exploring. The Kannada left-wing theatre group Samudaya (the theatre director Prasanna was associated with it, as was, though not so centrally, Karanth) invited Satabdi for a performance, and followed it up with a two week workshop with Sircar in Kumbulgod. This led directly to Samudaya taking up street theatre in 1978. Samudaya went on to become one of the finest exponents of street theatre in the coming years.

Or take the case of the Manipuri director, H. Kanhailal. Expelled from the National School of Drama because he couldn’t manage either the ‘high’ Hindi expected of him, nor very good English, Kanhailal found his own unique idiom after a workshop with Sircar. It was Sircar who introduced the non-verbal, physical idiom to Manipuri theatre. Sircar had got the psycho-physical exercises of the avant-garde Euro-American theatre from the Polish director and theorist Jerzy Grotowsky. In 1972, Sircar performed four of his plays in Imphal. Kanhailal saw these, and the following year he spent nearly a month in Kolkata, learning these exercises.

Eventually, though, the student in some ways rejected the teacher. But this was not a simple rejection. Kanhailal learnt from Sircar that to express complex issues and thoughts through theatre, one had to be neither a prisoner of the frills of the proscenium stage, nor of verbose playscripts. An empty space was enough, if the actors’ bodies were expressive, and the spectators’ imaginations could be fired. In a word, Sircar gave Kanhailal the confidence to find his own voice.

But soon, Kanhailal moved away from psycho-physical exercises. The Bengali actor needed to be ‘freed’ from his/her social inhibitions, so that s/he could begin using the body truly expressively. The Manipuri actor was the product of a different cultural milieu. S/he was physically less inhibited, and more athletic and flexible. Then there were other sorts of cultural conditioning. While Sircar encouraged – even demanded – a strong eye contact between the actors and with the audience, in Manipur, eye contact was something of a taboo. But even though he eventually moved away from psycho-physical training, there is no doubt that Sircar had unlocked the founts of Kanhailal’s creativity. Kanhailal’s extraordinary work, including early classics such as Pebet, Memoirs of Africa and, later, Draupadi and Dakghar, could not have been possible without Sircar’s defining influence.

It is an irony that while Sircar’s plays for the proscenium stage remain justly well-known, his post-proscenium career is hazy in the minds of theatre lovers. But perhaps that is how he wished it. He was a man who had walked away from the spotlight. Many think he spent his last years in a sort of retirement and that Satabdi had become defunct. Neither is true. About a decade before his death, Sircar had an accident, which had severe implications on his physical ability to act in or direct plays. What he achieved, though, was to enter into creative, nurturing collaborative relationships with other theatre groups active in and around Kolkata. Some of these groups folded up fast, but two had a long life – Ayna (founded 1978) and Pathasena (founded 1979). Both these groups considered Sircar their mentor, and he played an active role in training them, and sometimes also directing plays for them.

His last years were spent, by all accounts, in some financial difficulty. While some festivals and groups did confer awards upon him, he got no institutional support. We as a nation must hang our heads in shame at this. Too many artists who have played defining roles in the creation of modern India have died in need.

Badal Sircar went the day the Left Front lost. For all his differences with the left, I am not sure he would have relished the prospect of anti-communists coming to power in West Bengal. He timed his exit perfectly.

‘End of an era’ is a cliché. I never met him, but he was a moral compass. He embodied everything that drew me to left wing theatre – the inventiveness of the form, its rough texture, the ability to say a lot with very little, an unwavering commitment to the people, smell of the earth, and of the rain. Habib Tanvir died in 2009, and now Badal Sircar. The touchstones are gone.

(Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, and works as editor with LeftWord Books. He can be reached at

[1] Badal Sircar, Voyages in the Theatre, New Delhi 1993, p. 37. For a detailed analysis of Sircar’s theatre till the early 1980s, see Rustom Bharucha, Rehearsals of Revolution: The Political Theatre of Bengal, Calcutta 1983. A good analysis of his later years can be found in Shayoni Mitra, ‘Badal Sircar: Scripting a Movement’, The Drama Review, 48, 3, Fall 2004. For Sircar’s influence on Kanhailal, see Rustom Bharucha, The Theatre of Kanhailal: Pebet and Memoirs of Africa, Calcutta 1992. For his influence on Samudaya, see Narendar Pani, Staging a Change, Bangalore 1979, and Rati Bartholomew, ‘Samudaya’s Jatha, Karnataka’, How, 6, 1-2, 1983.

(This tribute is reproduced here with the consent of the writer) 

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Raja and the 2G Spectrum Scam timeline

                                                                  Picture courtesy:

A Delhi court today sent DMK chief Karunanidhi's poet daughter and MP Kanimozhi and Kalaignar TV MD Sharad Kumar to jail in the 2G Spectrum scam case. They join former Telecom Minister A Raja on a day Time magazine put A Raja on the top ten list people who abused power.

The following is the timeline of how the 2G Spectrum Scam came a full circle. The timeline is courtesy PTI:

     May 2007: A Raja takes over as Telecom Minister.
     Aug 2007: Process of allotment of 2G Spectrum for telecom along with Universal Access Service (UAS) Licences initiated by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
     Sept 25, 2007: Telecom Ministry issues press note fixing deadline for application as October 1, 2007.
     Oct 1, 2007: DoT receives 575 applications for UAS licences of 46 companies.
     Nov, 2007: The Prime Minister writes to Raja directing him to ensure 2G spectrum allotment in a fair and transparent manner and to ensure licence fee was properly revised. Raja writes back to the PM rejecting many of his recommendations.
     Nov, 2007: Finance Ministry writes to DoT raising concerns over the procedure adopted by it. Demand for review rejected.
    Jan, 2008: DoT decides to issue licences on first-come- first-serve basis, preponing the cut-off date to September 25, from October 1, 2007. Later on the same day, DoT announces on its website saying those who apply between 3.30 and 4.30 pm would be issued licences in accordance with the said policy.
     2008: Swan Telecom, Unitech and Tata Teleservices sell off a part of their stakes at much higher rates to Etisalat, Telenor and DoCoMo respectively.
     May 4, 2009:  An NGO Telecom Watchdog files complaint to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on the illegalities in the spectrum allocation to Loop Telecom.
     May 19, 2009 : Another complaint was filed to the CVC by one Arun Agarwal, highlighting grant of spectrum to Swan Telecom at throw away prices. CVC directs CBI to investigate the irregularities in allocation of 2G spectrum.
     July 1, 2009: Delhi HC holds advancing of cut-off date as illegal on a petition of telecom company S-Tel.
     Oct 21, 2009: CBI registers a case and files an FIR against "unknown officers of DoT and unknown private persons/ companies under various provisions of IPC and Prevention of Corruption Act.
     Oct 22, 2009: CBI raids DoT offices.
     Nov 16, 2009: CBI seeks details of tapped conversation of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia to find out involvement of middlemen in the grant of spectrum to telecom companies.
     Mar 31, 2010: CAG says that there was large scale irregularities in the spectrum allocation.
     Apr 2, 2010: CBI DIG Vineet Agarwal and DG IT Milap Jain, who were investigating the case, transferred.
     May 6, 2010: Telephonic conversation between Raja and Niira Radia made public by the media.
     May, 2010: NGO Centre for Public Interest litigation moves Delhi High Court seeking investigation into the scam by SIT or CBI.
     May 25, 2010: Delhi HC dismisses the petition.
     Aug 2010: Appeal filed in the Supreme Court against the High Court's order.
     Aug 18, 2010: HC refuses to direct the Prime Minister to decide on a complaint by Janata Party chief Swamy seeking sanction to prosecute Raja for his involvement in 2G scam.
     Sept 13, 2010: SC asks government, Raja to reply within 10 days to three petitions filed by CPIL and others alleging there was a Rs 70,000 crore scam in the grant of telecom licences in 2008.
     Sept 24, 2010: Swamy moves SC seeking direction to the PM to sanction prosecution of Raja.
     Sept 27, 2010: Enforcement Directorate informs SC of probe against firms suspected to have violated FEMA. Says can't deny or confirm now Raja's involvement in the scam.
     Oct 8, 2010: SC asks government to respond to CAG report about the scam.
     Oct 21, 2010: Draft reports of CAG placed before Supreme Court.
     Oct 29, 2010: SC pulls up CBI for its tardy progress in the investigations into the scam.
     Nov 10, 2010: CAG submits report on 2G spectrum to government stating loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to exchequer.
     Nov 11, 2010: DoT files affidavit in SC saying CAG did not have the authority to question the policy decision as per which licence were issued to new players in 2008.
     Nov 14, 2010: Raja resigns as Telecom Minister
     Nov 15, 2010: Kapil Sibal given additional charge of Telecom Ministry.
     Nov 20, 2010: Affidavit on behalf of PM filed in SC. Rejects charge of inaction on Swamy's complaint.
     Nov 22, 2010: CBI tells SC it will file chargesheet in the case within three months.
     Nov 22, 2010: CBI tells SC role of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia would be examined by it.
     Nov 24, 2010: SC reserves verdict on Swamy's plea seeking direction to PM for grant of sanction to prosecute Raja.
     Nov 25, 2010: SC ticks off CBI for not questioning Raja.
     Nov 29, 2010: CBI files status report on 2G spectrum scam probe.
     Nov 30, 2010: SC questions CVC P J Thomas's moral right to supervise CBI's probe into 2G spectrum scam as he himself was Telecom Secretary at that point of time.
     Dec 1, 2010: SC directs original tapes containing conversation between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and others be handed over to it.
  Dec 1, 2010: Raja questions CAG findings in the SC.
     Dec 2, 2010: Government places recorded tapes in the SC.
     Dec 2, 2010: SC comes down heavily on Raja for bypassing and overruling PM's advice to defer allocation of 2G spectrum by a few days.
     Dec 8, 2010: SC favours including in the probe period since 2001 when first-come-first-serve was the norm for spectrum allocation.
     Dec 8, 2010: SC asks Centre to consider setting up of a special court to try 2G spectrum scam case.
     Dec 8, 2010: ED submits report. Says money trail covers 10 countries, including Mauritius.
     Dec 14, 2010: Another PIL in SC seeking cancellation of new telecom licences and 2G spectrum allocated during Raja's tenure.
     Dec 15, 2010: Swamy files petition in a Delhi court seeking his inclusion as a public prosecutor in 2G spectrum case.
     Dec 15, 2010: Swamy mentions in complaint that Raja favoured "ineligible" private companies Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd and Unitech Wireless Ltd in allocating the spectrum.
     Jan 4, 2011: Swamy moves SC seeking cancellation of 2G spectrum licences.
     Jan 10, 2011: Supreme Court issues notice to Centre on the plea seeking cancellation of 2G licenses. Also issues notices to 11 companies which allegedly did not fulfill the roll-out obligations or were in eligible.
     Jan 30, 2011: Government's decision to regularise licences of the companies which failed to meet the deadline for roll-out obligation challenged in the Supreme Court.
     Feb 2, 2011: Raja, former Telecom Secretary Siddartha Behura and Raja's former Personal Secretary R K Chandolia arrested and next day they were remanded in CBI custody.
     Feb 8, 2011: Raja remanded to two more days of CBI custody. Behura and Chandolia sent to judicial custody.
     Feb 8, 2011: Shahid Usman Balwa, promoter of Swan Telecom, arrested by CBI.
     Feb 10, 2011: SC asks the CBI to bring under its scanner corporate houses which were beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum. Raja remanded to CBI custody for four more days by a special CBI court along with Balwa.
     Feb 14, 2011: Raja's CBI custody extended for three more days. Balwa's custody extended for four days.
     Feb 17, 2011: Raja sent to Tihar Jail under judicial custody.
Feb 18, 2011: Balwa sent to Judicial custody.
     Feb 24, 2011: CBI tells Delhi Court that Balwa facilitated transaction to Kalaignar TV.
     Feb 28, 2011: Raja seeks judicial proceedings through video conferencing stating that he faces threat to life from fellow prisoners.
     Mar 1, 2011: CBI tells SC that 63 persons are under scanner. Raja allowed by CBI court to appear before it via video conferencing.
     Mar 14, 2011: The Delhi High Court sets up special court to deal exclusively with 2G cases. Balwa also allowed to appear via video conferencing.
     Mar 29, 2011: SC permits CBI to file charge sheet on April 2 instead of March 31. Two more persons--Asif Balwa and Rajeev Agarwal arrested.
     Apr 2, 2011: The CBI files its first charge sheet in the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
     Apr 25, 2011: CBI files second charge sheet and court issues summons to Kanimozhi, Sharad Kumar and Karim Morani taking congizance of the charge sheet.
     May 6, 2011: Kanimozhi and Sharad Kumar appears before court and files bail pleas while Morani sought exemption from appearance on medical ground.
     May 7, 2011: Court reserves order on Kanimozhi and Sharad Kumar's bail applications.
     May 14, 2011: Court defers order on their bail pleas for May 20.
     May 20, 2011: Court rejects bail pleas of Kanimozhi and Sharad Kumar and orders their forthwith arrest.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leica Camera blog and other stories

Picture Copyright: Paul Szynol
Picture Courtesy: Leica Camera Blog

My apologies. I admit I have largely turned into a twitter link aggregator these days. But, twitter is really offering some extremely interesting stuff to read. So, this week's random reading has the following:

Some Place Else: Paul Szynols on Poland From Leica Camera Blog

Interview with Justin Guariglia, Nat Geo Travel Mag photog From Leica Camera Blog

Rape epidemic in Congo: a rape every 48 hours From Foreign Policy Blog

Portrait of a Fugivtive Micro-Manager From

Cartier Bresson on street photography From Invisible Photographer Asia

                   Iconic picture of the 9/11
Picture Copyright:  Thomas Hoepker
Picture Courtesy: Leica Camera Blog

Thomas Hoepker Interview From Leica Camera Blog

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pakistan's Double Game and other stories

More random reading from twitter links.

The Double Game Lawrence Wright analyses US-Pak relations post-OBL in The New Yorker

bin Laden ideology began to wither on 9/11 OBL analysis by Peter Bergen from New American Foundation

Pak PM's full speech in Parliament on May 9 from

The Renewable Future A commentary from Project Syndicate

Food Fears Return A commentary from Project Syndicate

Sophie Gerrard's photography

When A Subject needs more than `Thanks' from New York Times photography blog, Lens

Happy reading!

Monday, May 09, 2011

bin Laden and other random reading

A still from Sweetgrass, a critically acclaimed documentary on the last of modern-day cowboys in Montana's mountains.
Picture courtesy:

I find Twitter a very good source for sourcing some interesting reading. I email these links to myself and read them online. Sharing them here for you:

My three encounters with Osama from

A timeline of Al Qaida attacks worldwide from The Economist

Getting the bin Laden story from

Interview with director of critically acclaimed documentary Sweetgrass from

Happy reading!