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On a starry starry night

A documentary on Galileo Galilei,titled A Renaissance Scientist also features Birbal,Tansen,the Kalchakra and Mumbai’s local trains.

Written by Jinal Shah |
February 2, 2009 3:22:28 am

It’s the International Year of Astronomy and this Mumbai group has made a film on the father of observational astronomy,Galileo Galilei

A documentary on Galileo Galilei,titled A Renaissance Scientist also features Birbal,Tansen,the Kalchakra and Mumbai’s local trains. Confused?

That’s how the Indian Planetary Society (IPS) is attempting to popularise the life and times of Galileo,400 years after he first pointed a telescope towards the sky,with a film on Galileo’s works. “Since the film is made in India and is for an Indian audience,especially for kids in schools and colleges,it is very important to correlate his remarkable work in Pisa in the 15th Century to what was going on in India then. That’s why Birbal and Tansen,” says Dr J J Rawal,president of the society and former director of the Nehru Planetarium.

Dr Rawal,popularly known in the astronomy circles as India’s Newton,is also the film’s scriptwriter.

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The making of the movie was not an easy task. “To start with,we had no money to make the film. We asked many for donations. Only one philanthropic businessman came forward and donated a good Rs 5 lakh. Then started the real struggle of finding visuals of a man who lived 400 years ago,” recollects Hemal Shah,editor of Kids Science,a monthly magazine brought out by the society.

Last year,the society had made a film on Einstein that found wide acclaim from academicians and students. “Unlike the film on Einstein where we had a hard time selecting motion films available to make our documentary,in this film we had few sketches and of course no film. We sat with our sketch artist and explained to him how Galileo looked and various situations so he could make sketches for us,” adds Shah.

Narrated by Harish Bhimani and with music by Louis Banks,this 30-minute movie will be inaugurated at an international conference on planetary science starting from February 2 in Mumbai,where eminent astrophysicists from US,UK and Sri Lanka and from other states in India are scheduled to participate.

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“The conference is to mark 400 years (1609- 2009) of sky observations through telescopes which Galileo started in the year 1609. This great man in the year 1609 made his own small telescope in Pisa and turned it to the starry night and began observing the sky. This event opened a new era in observational astronomy. Even though his telescopic observations are great observations,his contributions in kinematics is indeed the greatest and that’s what we have shown in the movie,” says Dr Rawal.

To mark 400 years of sky observations through the telescope,the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) have declared the year 2009 as Astronomy Year.

Once the film is released,it will be shown in schools and colleges. “Currently we are attached to 50 schools in the city and do educational projects like quizzes in schools in Maharashtra,Gujarat and even Himachal Pradesh,educating 50,000 children in astronomy,” says Shah.

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“We also intend to show this film in the interiors of Maharashtra and Gujarat. We get our real audiences in village schools. Children there are keen to learn,though they are not exposed to simple things like LCD and projector like city children are,” says Shah.

It’s unfortunate that astronomy is not a subject in school and college curricula,says Dr Rawal. “Children will have to be dropouts like Galileo to become like him,” he jokes.

For those still wondering why the film also depicts Mumbai’s local trains,it is to prove another Galilean theory. “The theory says that if you are sitting in a moving train with constant velocity,you will not be able to differentiate whether you are moving or stationary. It was Einstein who took this theory forward and proved it is true,with trains. There were no trains in Galileo’s times,” says Dr Rawal enthusiastically.

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First published on: 02-02-2009 at 03:22:28 am

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