|Newsletter No. 674
The 13th Kolkata Film Festival
5 to 22 November 2007
I manage to get up at 7.30 and shout to Lucia and Brian Maeda in the basement
to get up and to get into action. They fly to L.A. this morning. Make
a pot of coffee for everyone. Finally they are out the door and on the
way to the airport. Quiet day at home, pack for India and the early departure
tomorrow morning. In the evening there is a vernissage for Andrzej Krauze.
He is from Poland, but lives in London. His drawings are superb. It is
great to see him again. I also meet Richard Adams from London and dear
friend Bernard Holtrop. Afterwards Bill Bandas, Andrea Kasarsky, Antonia
Hoogewerf and I dine at the Golfe de Naples. Then we walk Bill and Andrea
to the Theatre de Nesle. Antonia and I ponder going to see Judy and
Me, but good sense prevails and we go home for some sleep.
Another early start. Up about 4.15. Quickly get into action. Coffee, shave,
shower, shampoo. Don Todd joins me for coffee. David Lucas and Kelly Bourke
are sleeping. They will be guarding the atelier while I am away A taxi
has been ordered to take us to Charles de Gaulle and it is out front at
5.30, waiting for us. We drive through central Paris and head first to
Charles de Gaulle 1. Don's flight to Vancouver via Frankfurt/Main leaves
before mine. After he is deposited, the taxi delivers me to CdG2. I am
early as I knew I would be, but it is nice to share the ride out with
Don. Sit and read The New Yorker and ponder how the next two weeks
might unfold. Ask the Air France fellow when I check in at 8.30 if Captain
Prakash Bapat will be our pilot to Mumbai, but he does not know. Clear
passport control and purchase two bottles of whiskey to take to Calcutta.
Find the appropriate gate and await the call to board at 10.45. Suddenly
the entire crew arrives and sits next to me. I ask someone about Captain
Bapat and am told he is in Bombay. Once on board, discover that I have
three seats to myself in row 58. A fellow a few seats back passes briefly
to chat. He lives in the 14th arrondissement, a few streets away from
me. He is French, but he does not like France. I love France far more
than he does. I end up watching three movies: two Indian films whose names
I failed to note and Casablanca for the 10th time. Maybe more.
When we finally reach Mumbai, we have to circle for 45 minutes in order
It's after midnight and it's hot. 32 degrees centigrade. I feel terrible
that dear friend Sushmita Sarmah has to wait for me. Clear passport control
and go to collect the two bags I have checked. Everyone slowly but surely
finds their bags and I continue to wait for mine. Ask a fellow also waiting
if I might use his cell phone to call Sushmita. He passes it to me and
I tell her I am inside and waiting. I apologize for being late but she
says it is not a problem. Finally I spot my bags on another carrousel.
Bizarre. Outside see Sush and she is with someone. She introduces Tom
Jones from Brighton. After we have embraced, we go outside in the hot
stifling heat, pile into a taxi and speed toward her apartment. She does
not live very far from the airport. On the way, conversation turns to
the fact that Séamas McSwiney has been visiting. Now he has departed
for Goa. We talk about Brighton and Tom's new life in India. He says that
he thinks he will stay here forever. We soon arrive and I am introduced
to her sister, Lona, and to her boyfriend, Bumpy. We sit around and talk
and talk. I give Sush a copy of Throw a Great Party. Very late
I excuse myself and fall into bed and a deep sleep.
Everyone over-sleeps. Lona
is up and out first. I am up next. The cleaning lady, Chaya, makes coffee
for me. Finally Sush and Bumpy come alive. After Bumpy departs to his
office at MTV and a series of meetings, Sush and I go out to try get me
some rupees and an Indian sem card for my mobile phone. We hop into an
autorickshaw and ride to the Vodaphone office in S.V. Road. All seems
to go OK. We are told that my phone will be working in three hours. Sush
has a meeting she must attend. I decide to return to her apartment and
rest a bit.In three hours time, I still do not have a mobile phone that
functions. Damn. But I have had a good rest and Chaya has spoiled me with
delicious things to eat. Maybe I should steal her away to Paris
In the evening I find an autorickshaw
and speed to Shashi Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre. There is a season of musical
theatre. I have a meeting tonight with Dolly Thakore and then later we
will meet Alyque Padamsee at a club called Escape. I immediately see Shashi
sitting at a table in front of the theatre. He and I talk briefly. Sit
quietly and wait for Dolly. Shashi's delightful daughter, Sanjna, walks
up to me and welcomes me to the theatre. And shortly afterwards, Dolly
arrives. After our embrace, it is time to go inside the theatre. The performance
tonight is called Aisa Kehte Hain. It is in Hindi. Directed by
Manav Kaul. Dolly has a favorite seat and we are almost the first ones
in the theatre. Dolly tells me I missed something wonderful yesterday
evening entitled JAZZ. It was in English and was a history of jazz.
Damn. This performance is extremely difficult to follow. At the interval,
Dolly suggests we slip away. She has an early morning shoot and she does
not think she can stay up late.
We are driven to Escape and talk all
the way about her son, Quasar who is a theatre director and his theatre
activities, about Indian cinema, (I mention Water, Black, Page Three),
about the film, Mittal vs Mittal, she is currently shooting (it
deals with marital rape). Dolly tells me about Deepa Mehta, who directed
Water, and who later directed a film entitled Fire which
resulted in fundamentalists threatening to burn down cinemas because it
was about a lesbian relationship between two sisters-in-law and showed
Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das kissing. We also discuss the Calcutta Film
Festival. I give her a copy of Throw a Great Party and tell her
that I suspect she does not need this book, but she might find it amusing
nevertheless. We arrive at Escape and up we go. It is a loud disco. But
a private party tonight for Rohit Verma, a fashion designer. I am introduced
to dozens. All Bombay's Beautiful People. And then Alyque Padamsee and
I are embracing. What an interesting character he is! We have known each
other nearly forty years. Dolly fairly quickly excuses herself and heads
for her bed. Alyque dances a lot with a number of exceeding beautiful
young women. And then I am introduced to one of the most beautiful of
all and it is Alyque's daughter, Shazahn. She wants to be involved in
Hindi cinema. Shortly thereafter, I tell Alyque that I am tired and that
I will return to my host's home in Santa Cruz and bed. He is concerned
that I might not know the way, but I assure him that I do. Go outside,
find a taxi, and shortly thereafter I am delivered to Pioneer Heritage
Residency. I have easily directed the driver up Linking Road to Shastri
Lazy and quiet morning. Well, not so quiet. Fire crackers explode from
time to time because of the Diwali celebrations. Bumpy gives me a CD that
he likes. Raghu Dixit is the musician and he is from Bangalore. (I am
listening as I write these words.)
Lunch at Trishma in the New
Link Road with Sushmita, Bumpy, Lona and their friend from England, Nick
Smith. Bumpy wants me to try the crab and garlic dish. We all ask him
to order for everyone. He does and he gets it just right. We stuff ourselves
and it is all extremely delicious. Especially his crab suggestion. Bumpy
insists upon treating us all for lunch. I tell them it is on me when they
come to Paris. Maybe Lona will come in December.
Bumpy, Sush and I taxi to the apartment.
We collect my bags and Sush comes with me the short distance to the domestic
airport. I am early, but I prefer to be early and to lazily make my way
to the departure lounge. Read babyji and wait for my Jet Airlines
flight to be called. Plane leaves at 5, on time, and we arrive two hours
Lots of improvements in the
Kolkata airport. Manage to collect my two bags fairly quickly. There are
two men holding a sign that says Kolkata Film Festival. When I go up to
them, they check my name off a list and welcome me. I am given a small
folder containing Kolkata Film Festival programme and a letter of welcome.
They seem disappointed that Antonia is not with me. I report she will
arrive on another flight in a few days direct from London. Out we go into
the hot steamy evening and I am put into a small jeep. Just the driver
and me. We drive through Diwali celebrations. Everyone is in the streets.
We drive to the Bengal Club.
At the desk, I ask about Audrey Gomes and am shocked to learn that she
recently died. I cannot believe it. I am told that her sister, Gilda,
will be at the reception desk in the morning. I was looking forward so
much to seeing Audrey. I ask if Yorgos Tsemberopoulos is staying in the
club and am told he is not. Nor is he expected. Damn, I wonder where he
Go up to Room 9 and begin to
put my things away. My passport, plane ticket, euros, and Visa card go
into the room safe. Read the Letter of Welcome addressed to all the Delegates
from Nilanjan Chatterjee. And begin to explore the Programme. Call Subha
Nandi and tell her that I am in The Bengal Club and ask when we can meet.
She tells me that she is boycotting the film festival because of political
problems. But we can meet nevertheless. She gives me Chiru's mobile number
and I call him. He is out celebrating Diwali and asks if I would like
to join him. I thank him, but say, wisely, that I will stay in the Bengal
Club and have a quiet and restful night. We shall meet tomorrow. I ask
him about Felicity Ward and Lilly Peel and the other young university
students from Britain that I met last year. Am told they have all returned
to the U.K.
Today is my birthday. I have had a good night's sleep. And today I learn
that Norman Mailer has left life. He and I met in 1962 when John Calder,
Sonia Orwell and yours truly co-organized the first Edinburgh International
Festival Writers' Conference. There were 70 novelists at this conference
including Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Khushwant Singh, Mary McCarthy,
William Burroughs, Alek Stefanovic, Niccolo Tucci and Norman Mailer. We
were all together for one week. And what a fantastic week! Norman Mailer
and I met again on a number of occasions. Including once in Cannes when
he was the President of the Jury and we had a private dinner with Sally
and Wynn Chamberlain. Just the four of us. Norman and I also met at another
Edinburgh Book Festival. We corresponded over the years and he seemed
to like to get my newsletters. A great writer has left us.
Breakfast in my room. Then
go downstairs to talk with Audrey Gomes' sister, Gilda. Learn that Audrey
died in August. She has two sons, one of whom is adopted. I tell Gilda
how much I liked her sister, how sad I feel about her sudden departure
It is time to introduce myself
to the other delegates staying in the Bengal Club. I excuse myself from
Gilda and begin to introduce myself. There is U. Radhakrishnan, the secretary
of the Federation of Film Societies of India, Jindra Markus, a film-maker
from Amsterdam, Vijitha Gunaratne, a film-maker from Sri Lanka but who
also lives in Sweden. And two others from Sri Lanka who are not staying
at the Bengal Club, but who are staying in a hotel nearby. They assisted
Vijiitha on his film. Their names are Kasyapa Gunaratne and Si ri mahipala.We
pile into a bus and slowly make our way to Nandan. Nilanjan Chatterjee
welcomes us upstairs in the conference room outside his office. We fill
in forms and are asked to report to Soumitra Mitra's office to get our
Delegates badges. It is great to see Soumitra again. I ask him about his
Back at the Bengal Club, decide
to get my eyes checked at Lawrence & Mayo in Park Street. It is the
same nice woman who checked me last year. I end up ordering three pairs
of reading glasses.
Tonight is the official opening
of the 13th Kolkata Film Festival. Beautiful dancers in amazing costumes
greet all those attending the opening. Inside the large Nandan 1 auditorium
delegates and other guests have the first two rows reserved for us. I
decide to sit on the front row so I can stretch my legs. Yorgos Tsemberopoulos
comes over to greet me. He arrived last night and they put him up in the
Oberoi Grand Hotel. It's not The Bengal Club, but it is very nice. And
much more luxurious than the Bengal Club. There are lots of short talks.
We learn that there are approximately 250 films from all over the world
that will be screened in some eleven cinemas over the next seven mornings,
afternoons and evenings. (And, of course, superb dinner parties every
The best talk is given by the
Governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, as he drew a parallel between life and
black & white films and said that as in the latter, there were many
gray areas in life. After all the talks, many on the platform come down
to meet the delegates in the first row. Both Yorgos and I meet Governor
Gandhi, shake his hand and we thank him for his remarks. He smiles and
welcomes us to Calcutta. I am blissfully unaware of the Nandigram violence
taking place just outside the city.
The opening film is The Violin,
directed by Francisco Vargas Ouevedo. Made in Mexico, it's a joy to listen
to the Spanish dialogue. Beautifully shot in Black & White, the film
holds one's attentions to the very end. Violence is always very near the
surface. It is amazingly relevant to what is going on right now just outside
There is a party in the Calcutta Club after the opening screening. . End
up sitting at a table on the open-air terrace with R.H. Kampani and with
his grand-daughter, Nidhi Kampani. She is a sweetheart. Learn that she
is a fashion designer and will be moving to Mombai. She designed the costumes
for the film, Black. I tell her that I saw the film in Calcutta
in 2005 and found it delightful - especially the sets and the costumes.
Yorgos Tsemberopoulos joins us and I introduce them to each other It's
a fun start to the festival.
Sunday, 11th: The
Sunday Statesman is delivered to my room. I read about the violence
taking place and why Subha Nandi feels a need to protest. A complete text
of Governor Gandhi's statement is published. It ends with these words:
"Enough is enough. Peace and security should be restored, without
any delay, from where they have been evicted from Nandigram." Strong
words. Necessary words.
After breakfast in the Bengal Club,
make my way to Nandan 1. Upstairs outside Nilanjan's office, talk with
his young assistant, Sudeep Bhattacharjee. He is terrific. Ask him to
recommend a few Indian films that I must see. He recommends four. Sudeep
thanks me for all the help I have given Nilanjan and the Kolkata Film
Festival. I tell him I am a big fan of the Kolkata Film Festival and that
I will do all I can to help them. There is a lunch party at the Calcutta
Club given by EIMPA. I go over with Jindra Markus. Begin to meet lots
of people: A couple from London. Her name is Suzanna Taverne and his name
is Marc Vlessing. He has brought the film, Dostoyevsky's The Gambler,
directed by Karoly Makk. Meet briefly Michel Spinosa, from Paris, who
has directed the film, Anna M. Also there is a fellow from Warsaw
named Michal Kwiecinski and we chat briefly. Talk longer with a film director
from Colombia, Luis Fernando Bottia. He has a feature film in the festival
entitled Juana Had Hair of Gold. Talk with the photographer, Prashant
Arora, who I met last year at this very same party. He gives me a superb
photograph he shot of me last year. Talk as well with Katherine Batliner,
a young film maker from Vienna. She has a short film here entitled Dernière
(which I never manage to see).
Today is a major strike. Up at 7 and have a coffee. Read today's Statesman
and wonder what is in store for us. After the breakfast feast, I wonder
if I can get to Nandan to see the film, Luise ist 14 (Fourteen
is the English title), made by the two fabulous young women from Berlin.
The strike prevents my being able to get to Nandan for the 9.15 screening.
And it is the only scheduled screening.
At 11.15, I see a bit of three films:
The Gambler, directed by Karoly Makk, Free Zone, directed
by Amos Gitai, and Penumbra, directed by Vijiitha Gunaratne. I
now would like to see all three films in their entirety. Still what can
one do when all three films are screened at the same time?
At 13.00, I lunch with Caroline Kirberg
and Judith Angerbauer upstairs outside Nilanjan's office. They are so
bright, so attractive. I apologize for missing their screening. I produce
the found glasses and they do not belong to them. (Later Caroline and
Judith give me a DVD of their film and I watch it when I am home in Paris.
It is a sweet and tender story of teen-aged angst and a search for love.)
Talk with Pacho Bottia from Santa Marta, Colombia and with a young couple
from Chili. Also talk with Katherine Batliner. Yorgos and I talk about
John Flattau and about his nephew, Kostas Papacharalampous.
At 15.00, go to see Back Door,
directed by Yorgos Tsemberopoulos. I have seen the film before in my room
in Paris via a videocassette. But now on the Nandan 1 large screen, it
is a different experience. Made in 2000, the film is set in Athens in
1966 just before the military seized power. We see all this through the
young thirteen-year old Dimitris who has to grow up fast when his father
collapses and dies on his own building site. This period in Greek history
is captured in all its madness, told through the microcosm of this family.
In the evening there is a party in
the Park Hotel. The hosts are the Bharat Chamber of Commerce. The Park
Hotel is a short distance from the Bengal Club. One can walk there in
less than five minutes. The strike is still on, but am able to stroll
over early. Meet a number of people including K.K. Khemka. One of his
positions is Honorary Consul General of the Phillippines. Talk with another
co-host, Pavan Poddar. He attended the University of California at Berkeley.
We have an immediate rapport. For some reason, talk to him about my People
to People "travel books". (I posted him a copy of Poland.)
I see Marcia Bezerra from Rio de Janeiro and ask her if she lost a pair
of glasses at the Kenilworth Hotel party and she did. Tell her I have
found them and will give them to her tomorrow at the Bengal Club party.
She expresses joy and wonder. Load my plate with delicious food and find
a round table. Sit with Suzanna Taverne and Marc Vlessing. Yorgos Tsemberopoulos
joins us. Discover that Suzanne and Marc are warm, intelligent and attractive.
M.P. Sukumaran Nair sits with us as well. He has directed a film entitled
Drishtanthan that will be screened on Wednesday at 19.15. Enamul
Karim Nirjhar also shares our table. He is a young architect from Bangladesh
and he asks me to be sure and see his film, Aha! I promise to do
Yorgos, Suzanna and Marc decide to
continue talking with a late night drink somewhere, but I bail out and
head for my bed.
Up at 7.30 for morning coffee and a quick read of The Statesman.
Then a bacon and eggs feast at 8. I have missed the bus again. Decide
to go to Nandan via taxi. The driver does not know the way and he cannot
understand or seem to accept my directions. So it is a crazy ride. Go
upstairs and sit in Nilanjan Chatterjee's office and we discuss the festival.
He thanks me for my contributions to this festival and says that he wishes
me to contribute to next year's festival with my suggestions. And that
he expects me to be again in Kolkata for the 14th festival. I assure him
that I will do all I can to help make the festival an even bigger success
next year. Go out to the Media Centre to check my email. Jindra Markus
sits next to me. Visit briefly with Soumitra Mitra. See Marcia Bezerra
and give her the lost glasses. Talk with Michal Kwiecinski about Warsaw
and my many trips to Poland.
The two Berliners are on the front
page of the daily news bulletin.
Yorgos Tsemberopoulos has a press
conference at 14.00 and I sit and witness the questions and his answers.
Afterwards congratulate him for a job well done. I am told to pass by
the office upstairs to collect some expense money. Do so and it is given
At 17.15 see the Indian film, Ek
Nadir Golpo (Tale of a River) directed by Samir Chanda in Nandan
2.. A delightful film about the relationship of a father and his daughter.
As soon as it ends, I rush to see the 19.15 film in Rabindra Sadan. Miss
the short, Showtime. But I make it in time to see Luis Fernando Bottia's
film, Juana Had Hair of Gold, and find it delightful. The actress,
Xiomara Galeano, is superb. Luis himself is someone I like immediately.
One of the many benefits of attending the Kolkata Film Festival is the
opportunity to meet and to bond with wonderful individuals from all over
the world. It is nice to know I have a new friend in Colombia. His film
is opening in cinemas in Colombia while he is here. I hope it does well
there and in other cinemas in the world.
There is another film at 17.30 that
I would love to see on a big screen. It is Gabriela Moraru's documentary,
A World of Paradox. Gabriela is a dear friend and I recommended
her film to the Kolkata Film Festival. Again it is a film I have seen
in Paris in my room on a DVD
Tonight's party is at the Saturday
Club, hosted by Mr. S.S. Agarwal. The Saturday Club party last year was
great fun and it is the case again this year. I have several rum and cokes
and dance to a Latin beat with Judith Angerbauer. What a lovely lady she
Probal Sircar drives Yorgos and me
to the Bengal Club and to the Oberi Grand. We discuss the strike and the
strikers' attitude, (mainly intellectuals from Calcutta) to the Film Festival.
And what our attitude should be to the strike and to the Festival. Should
the film-makers support the strike? It is a very complicated issue, not
black and white, very nuanced. I do not see why the festival or the film-makers
should suffer for something we did not cause. And know nothing about.
Yogos thinks that maybe a room could have been provided by the festival
for strikers to explain the situation to the delegates. But passions could
have gotten out of control. The state government has obviously mishandled
the situation and a tragedy has unfolded with loss of lives and tragic
repercussions. People reading this will have no idea what I am talking
about. In short, as I understand it, a chemical company wanted to build
a new plant and the state government (controlled by the communist party)
wanted to provide land that was being farmed by small land-owners. When
they refused to leave, thugs were used to force them off their land. And
the current impasse ensued. It is so sad.
Call Neelima in Delhi and tell her that Antonia and I will fly late Monday
morning, that we will see her Monday afternoon. Taxi to Nandan. No one
in the office. Talk with two lovely student volunteers. Watch last 30
minutes of a film, Climates, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It
is a love story set in Turkey. Beautiful.
See Sudip Bhattacharjee and he orders tickets for Antonia and me for next
Monday to fly to Delhi. Sudip is a major asset to Nilanjan and the festival.
I would love to invite him to come and stay some weeks in Paris with me.
(Later, at a party, I meet his lovely wife. Her name is Soma.)
The delegates are invited to lunch
today by CINETEL at the Technician, but I forget and do not join the party.
Sit outside Nilanjan's office and wonder where everyone is. Talk with
a young woman who looks a like the actress from Bottia's film. Her name
is Anna Pesonen and she is a Finnish journalist studying in Calcutta.
I tell her that she looks like the heroine in the film, Juana Had Hair
of Gold, and she smiles because she also saw the film last night.
She did her degree on Bollywood cinema. I tell her that I have been to
the Lahti Writers' Reunion eight times and that I am a big fan of Finland.
Give her the Chicago Tribune article and invite her to come and
dine when she is next in Paris Talk with a fellow named Kartik Singh.
He is from America, but lives in Paris. He has a short film here entitled
Saving Mom & Dad. It was screened on Sunday. We exchange contact
Wander into Nandan 1 and see the film,
Vitus. It is a little jewel. Vitus is a young boy who reads encyclopedia
in kindergarten and is a child prodigy. Warmly directed by Fredi Murer,
it deserves a wide distribution. A feel-good film.
Go to the Media Centre and check email. Get a message from Antonia that
she is on her way. She has been in London celebrating her wonderful mother's
80th birthday. Antonia contributed to the celebration by printing her
mother's many poetic gems written to family members over many years. A
Back to Nandan 1 and manage to see
Claude Chabrol's acid indictment, The Comedy of Power, with Isabelle
Huppert playing a Magistrate investigating corruption in the corridors
of power in Paris. A modest master piece.
M.P. Sukumaran Nair's film, Drishtanthan,
is supposed to be screened tonight at 19.15 in Nandan 3, but the print
has not come from another festival. There is also Pascale Ferran's Lady
Chatterley at 19.15. A wonderful film that I saw and enjoyed in Paris
(and recommended to Nilanjan and the festival.) Earlier today, the film,
The Way I Spent the End of the World directed by Catalin Mitulescu
is screened. It is also a film I recommended
When I arrive back at the Bengal Club,
I am told there is a small package for me upstairs. It is from Dr, Chittaranjan
Misra who I met at the Harold Pinter Conference in Lyon earlier this year
(23 & 24 March). A magazine entirely in the Orissan language with
4 photographs of Antonia, Séamas, and yours truly at last year's
Festival. All taken by Antonia and I think were taken from her web site.
Tonight I feel like a co-host because
the party is here in the Bengal Club. Mr. C. K, Dhanuka of South Asian
Petrochem, is the real host. Meet and talk with Juergen Fischer, Consul
and Deputy Head of Mission from Germany. It turns out he speaks Swedish
because he was posted for three years in Stockholm. I exchange a few words
with him in Swedish. I see the two Berlin beauties, tell him about them
and their film and then manage to introduce them to Juergen. I leave them
to chat away in the German-language. Soumitra Mitra invites me to breakfast
in his home on Saturday morning. I accept with pleasure.
Delicious food again tonight. Ice
cream with chocolate sauce for dessert. Sit outside under the stars with
Chiru, with Michel Spinosa, with Caroline and Judith. And a beauty from
France that Chiru has invited.
Coffee as always at 7.30 with The Statesman newspaper, followed
by breakfast at 8. Leave a note for Antonia who arrives today from London
that I have five films I have to see and give her the times and places
in case she arrives and wishes to join me. Find a taxi and ride to the
Oberoi Grand Hotel and collect Yorgos. We walk the short distance to the
New Empire cinema where his film, Take Care, will be screened at
9.30. It's a knock-out film dealing with passion and a desire for fame
in today's Athens. Produced in 1990, it subsequently won many prizes at
film festivals. Yorgos and I find a taxi and rush to Nandan 2 to see his
film, Sudden Love, that starts at 11.15. We make it. Another winner!
This film deals with love at first sight between two already married people.
Elini is in Athens and Grigoris lives in Paris. They arrange to meet in
Lisboa and the fireworks begins.
Learn that a hurricane headed for
Calcutta today turns North at the last minute and poor old Bangladesh
is hit and several thousand people are killed. Lucky Calcutta, unlucky
Antonia has arrived from London, but
her bags are somewhere in the Middle East. We decide to see Jindra Markus'
documentary, Emotional Nomads in Nandan 3 at 15.15. It is a delightful
home movie, very self-indulgent, but ultimately fun. And meaningful. There
is a search for love among a group of musicians and the repercussions
Then at 17.15, there is the movie,
Aha!, made in Bangladesh by Enamul Karim Nirjhar. I think this
is the film's first screening. Lots of stories and an amazing mix of characters
all connected to Mr. Mallik who lives alone in his run-down mansion until
his daughter returns from the USA to live with her father. There is pressure
to sell his property to a real estate developer. And there is pressure
of a different kind on his daughter, Ruba. I like the film and hope it
Then at 19.00 in Nandan 1, Michel
Spinosa's film, Anna M. It is my fifth film today and I am a bit
shell-shocked. But I like Michel and this is the only screening. So I
find my seat and the film begins. Alas I cannot take it. The story is
too close to something that happened to me. An attractive woman, in this
case Anna M, in my case I shall not say, becomes obsessed with a married
doctor. And she makes life hell for him. The memory of my story drives
me out of the cinema.
Find a taxi and make it back to The Bengal Club. Rest a bit. Then Séamas
arrives. He, Antonia and I find a taxi. We call Chiru
on the way and collect him at Nandan and head for John and Susan Mantosh's
party at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Their party last year was one of
the best of the festival. And it is one of the best of this year's festival
as well. John is a perfect host. He walks around and makes sure everyone
is having a good time. The two beauties from Berlin fly away tonight.
(Or very early in the morning.) This is their last party and their last
day in Calcutta. John and Susan have gifts for all the Delegates from
abroad again this year. Yorgos reminds me he has a conference tomorrow
afternoon. We pile into the bus and ride back into the city.
The young lad brings coffee at 7.30 and bacon and eggs at 8.30. Antonia
slowly comes alive and has her breakfast at 9.30. She and I discuss shopping.
And dinner on Sunday evening at Mainland China - the restaurant where
she, Stanley Cohen and I had a great dinner last November. I can still
taste the cracked spinach dish. I go out, find a taxi and take it to Nandan.
At 11.15 the film-maker, Sergej Stanojkovski,
and I have a date to talk with some students. Sergej and I met last year
at the Calcutta Film Festival. He is from ex-Yugoslavia, from Croatia
I think, attended Film School in the Czech Republic, and now lives in
Dusseldorf in Germany. We meet the students and they take us to a classroom
somewhere behind Nandan. Their professor has not arrived yet. But I suggest
we start. Sergej encourages me to begin. I produce a quick biographical
report of my past life and activities. The professor, Gautam Gupta, arrives
and joins us on the front table. Then Sergej gives us his life and achievements.
This is followed by a series of questions and answers directed at each
of us. It's a very stimulating affair and it reminds me how much I like
being with students. Give everyone my Chicago Tribune article including
Gautam, the professor.
At 17.15 in Nandan 2, we go to see
The Grave Keeper's Tale, directed by Chitra Palekar. Antonia and
I stay about half into the film, but I am tired and elect to return to
the Bengal Club and rest.
There are two films that I have recommended
to the festival that are screened today. One is the short film, The
Apologist, directed by Guy Shahar and the other is The Yacoubian
Building, accurately based on the novel by the same name written by
Alaa Al-Aswani. The film is directed by Marwan Hamed. Two superb films.
Tonight, Mr. Pawan Kumar Ruia of the
Ruia Group hosts the party at the Taj Bengal Hotel. And it is a great
party Not sure why, but I enjoy every minute. Have a long talk with three
young lads: Nishan Sarkar, who is somehow related to Dhruba and Subha
Nandi, with Abhishek, whose father is Aloke Kumar and who is an associate
of Dhruba Nandi, and with Suraj Sachbeb, a school friend of Aloke. We
four talk for some time. Talk also with Amos Gitai, a film-maker from
Israel, who has five films in the festival. Of course we talk about Dahn
Ben-Amotz. Learn that Amos lives part of the time in Paris. Séamas
and I invite him to attend one of our Sunday dinners. The food is delicious
tonight as well. After I have a plate of Indian cuisine, Séamas
suggests I try the Burmese. I do and it is extra special. Out host, Pawan
Kumar Ruia, is the Chairman of the Ruia Group that includes Dunlop India.
He is very warm and hospitable. One of his beautiful daughters has a birthday
and at the end of the party a delicious cake is produced and we all congratulate
her. Jindra takes a lot of photographs.
This morning we have a breakfast date with Moonmoon and Sumitra Mitra.
Antonia and I start the day with coffee. Sumitra calls to say that he
is sending a car for us. We slowly get dressed and ready to go. The front
desk calls to say there is a car downstairs for us. It's a beautiful day.
Their home is not that far away. There is another fellow having breakfast
with us. His name is Goutam Haldar and he is a noted film-maker. He and
I were introduced at the Bengal Club party. Breakfast is fun, but not
sure what we eat. Sumitra leaves Calcutta today to attend another film
festival in Siliguri that will screen some of the films we have been watching.
Moonmoon is not feeling well this morning and will not leave the city.
Soumitra gives me a CD of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry read by himself
in Bengali. After a bit, it is time for us to depart. We thank our hosts
for the morning treat and for another festive time here in Calcutta. Sumitra
says that not only must I come again next year, I should plan to stay
longer and travel a bit with him. OK, why not?
We are dropped back at Lindsay Street
and Antonia goes to check on her mobile phone connection. I go next door
to the shop Weekender to see if the young student, Jhuma Das, is there
and to ask her about Nilima Nag, the other young university student who
was so sweet to me in 2005. I saw them both in November 2006, but am not
lucky this time. (I will write them a letter when I am back in Paris.)
Antonia and I walk around to the Fairlawn Hotel to say hello to Mrs. Smith
and to Sam. They are both there. We sit with Violet and exchange news
and gossip with her. Antonia tells Sam that she will be back in Calcutta
in early December and re-confirms her reservation dates.
We take a taxi to The Bengal Club.
I call Subha Nandi and she is just about to have a class. But we do talk
briefly. I tell her that I am organizing a dinner party tomorrow night
in Mainland China and that I would like her and her husband, Dhruba, to
attend. She replies that she thinks they can come. Call Pramod in New
Delhi and tell him that we have booked a flight and will depart Calcutta
late Monday morning. Call the writer, Nabaneeta dev Sen, and ask her if
she is free to dine on Sunday evening. She says that she thinks so, but
would like to bring her daughter with her. Of course. Neelima calls from
New Delhi and we talk about our arrival on Monday.
At 15.15 Antonia and I attend the
Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, in Nandan 3. The film is certainly
an important wake-up call for everyone. I wonder if the world will heed
its warnings and if we will do anything about it. Or is the planet doomed?
At 17.15, we go to see The Grave
Keeper's Tale directed by Chitra Palekar. Antonia likes it. But I
am tired and want to leave.
We go to The Bengal Club to rest until
it is time to go to the closing party. Tonight it is at the Hyatt Regency.
When we finally arrive at the Hyatt Regency after a bus ride of total
madness, meet K.K.Khemka at the front door. He is on his way to another
party. But it seems he has had a look at my web site because he makes
a comment about it. What a nice man!
Mr. Sundeep Bhutoria of Ess Bee Group
is our host. It is an amazing party tonight, but I much more enjoyed last
night's party at the Taj Bengal. I think the arrangements tonight and
a far larger crowd make it difficult to move about. I talk briefly with
Aloke Kumar and his son, Abhishek. And this is very enjoyable. I never
get into the spirit of tonight's party and cannot even find the hosts
to thank them.
Very late at night I find myself sitting
on a low brick wall next to an attractive woman. Her name is Heena Gorsia
and she is involved with a school. She over-hears my telling someone that
I will not be traveling back into central Calcutta in the bus, but will
find a taxi instead. She says that she and her husband, Raju, will be
pleased to drop me in their car because they are driving soon to their
home. Thank them and ask if they can take one or two others. Yes, it is
not a problem. Talk with Séamas and Antonia. In the end, Antonia
elects to stay and Séamas will ride in with us. Séamas is
dropped near Sudder Street. Me at the Club.
Antonia and I have a slow start this morning. And then after her breakfast,
she goes to the catholic church nearby. Begin to make a few calls to see
if we can reserve Mainland China tonight for about a dozen guests. Unfortunately
Nabaneeta dev Sen and her daughter cannot come. And Sam Guha, from the
British Council, also is not free. But we will have about a dozen guests.
I remember to call reception and ask for a car and driver to take us to
the airport tomorrow morning. I am assured a car will be ordered. Then
they tell me that we must change rooms. Someone has reserved room 9. Jump
into action and start moving our things to room 10. It's actually the
same room Antonia and I had to move to last year. It was also on a Sunday
night. Our last night in the Bengal Club last year and again this year.
Antonia returns to find I have completed the move. And she remembers she
likes this room because it has a lovely open-air balcony. We agree to
meet in thirty minutes for a meal in Flury's. I go to the music shop in
Park Street and purchase five Satyajit Ray DVDs. I saw many of these films
in the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh in the late 50s, early 60s. But maybe
it is time to see them all again.
Antonia and I have a snack in Flury's
in Park Street. I have a green Thai curry. It's hot and delicious. Then
we find a taxi, with difficulty, and go to Suddar Street. There we visit
with Violet Smith and Sam at the Fairlawn Hotel
Antonia, Séamas, Jindra Markus
and I find a taxi and drive to China Mainland in Gurusaday Road. We are
warmly welcomed. Antonia and I get a menu and order a vast amount of food
for our guests. We rave about the cracked spinach. When Stanley Cohen,
Antonia and I dined here last November, it was the cracked spinach dish
that we most enjoyed. Our guests begin to arrive and we introduce everyone
to each other. We are eleven: Sona & Saugata Banerjee, Subha &
Dhruba Nandi, Deepika & Vijay Jaidka, Jindra Markus, Chiru Sur, Séamas
McSwiney, Antonia and yours truly. The food is as wonderful as we remembered
it to be. Conversations flow along with the wine. It's a great evening.
When I pay the bill, I learn that two containers of the cracked spinach
has been put into a bag for me to take away. What a kind thing to do.
This morning Antonia and I fly to New Delhi. We are both up early. After
coffee, we both refuse breakfast. Later we kick ourselves for not having
it. I get an SMS text message from Sam Guha to say that he is stuck in
traffic and cannot make it to the Bengal Club before we depart to the
airport. Then it is time to depart The Bengal Club
Smooth flight to Delhi. We exit the
airport and find our driver straight away. Heavy traffic, but we soon
arrive at our destination. After greeting Dolly and Mr. Kapoor, Antonia
and I go downstairs to see Neelima and Pramod Mathur. We have coffee and
a long talk. They have re-arranged their busy schedules in order to be
able to attend our dinner party tomorrow night at the Indian International
Centre. On Wednesday, Pramod and their son, Vinod, are flying to a location
to shoot a film. Then shortly after that, they are flying to China to
participate in a film festival.
Upstairs again and we call Sanjeev
Prakash. We arrange to met him in a restaurant he likes entitled Gulati
in the Pandara Road Market. Mr. Kapoor orders a car and driver for us.
And off we go. We arrive first, so wander around the market a bit. It
is full of restaurants, but only at Gulati is there a waiting list. Then
we are given a table and we order a soup and wait for Sanjeev. He is soon
with us. Lots of talk about Calcutta and our dinner party tomorrow. Also
talk about Paris, mutual friends Karolina Blåberg, John Calder,
Sheila Colvin, Séamas McSwiney, and of course talk about Bergen
and Sanjeev's future plans.