Durga Puja 2013 : “Cannes to Kolkata”
The Durga Puja festival is indeed one of the biggest religious cum cultural festivals in the world because of its spectators, but also because of the huge quantity of quality art works made on this occasion. The city of Kolkata and its suburbs, for instance, become a big stage for performances and exhibitions where the Bengali/Indian culture can express itself to a great extent.
This year the Alliance française du Bengale decided to participate in this great celebration between the 10th and the 14th of October 2013, by collaborating in the construction of a pandal dedicated to a special theme and highlighting the brave role of the woman symbolized by the victory of the Goddess Durga against the demon. Moreover, in the light of India being the Guest of Honour at the Cannes Film festival, the Indian cinema was the main theme and the objective of this Indo-French collaboration was to strengthen further the ties of friendship between the two countries.
France is one of the very first foreign countries to take part in this type of project on the occasion of Durga Puja. An entire year was needed to build it up and realise it successfully. The first difficulty was to find a balance between the Indian cinema and its celebration by the Alliance française du Bengale. To achieve such balance, two French artists collaborated with their Bengali counterparts to create the most beautiful and complete structure devoted to the Indian cinema. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris helped to find the artists who were able to understand the stakes and importance of such collaboration. That is how Gopal Podar, an Indian designer artist, conceived the structure and architecture of the pandal while Jean-Xavier Renaud and Gaëlle Foray, two French painter artists, brought a French touch by joining the team.
This pandal had different parts. The first one was a corridor decorated with the inevitable red carpet and more than 100 posters representing the history of Indian cinema with some of its greatest actors, actresses, directors and films of course. In the second part of the structure, visitors became actors and actresses themselves after being spectators. They entered into a dome, built like a big top, and discovered in it all the useful tools to create a movie. Some extracts from Indian and French movies were screened inside, with an original musical composition by Pierre-Antoine Lasnier, Cultural Coordinator at the Alliance française du Bengale. In the third part of the construction stood the statue of the Goddess Durga in the middle of a big yard surrounded by a wall which was painted by Jean-Xavier Renaud and Gaëlle Foray. These two French artists, who had been invited by the Alliance française du Bengale, worked for more than 10 days to create an entire new piece of art. Visitors were able to face Durga while two big eyes and ten hands, in which were held ten French and Indian actresses, embraced them.
Innovation and creativity did not stop there… For the very first time in Kolkata, the Aristobulle Company performed a magic show in the streets of Kolkata during the inauguration of the pandal by the Consul General de France in Kolkata, on the 8th of October. Some other personalities along with the Consul General of the United States and the Director of the ICCR graced the occasion.
The Alliance française pandal received several prizes, the most prestigious among them were those for being the best pandal and having the best theme. This success was the fruit of active Indo-French artistic and cultural interactions for more than a year. The project got a significant media coverage: about 15 articles in the local newspapers, one in a daily online British newspaper, a short documentary for CNBC and an interview for the radio BBC4. Mention should also be made of the fact that not less than 600 000 people came to visit the pandal of the Alliance française du Bengale willing to regain its status in the 70’s and the 80’s as a premier cultural centre in Kolkata, renowned as well for its French language training.