Sitarist Anoushka Shankar will enthrall music lovers in Kolkata on November 3 as she will perform live during the screening of the 1928 silent film, “Shiraz: a Romance of India.” She has given the background score for Shiraz. The screening is taking place as part of the India-UK 2017, Year of Culture initiative. The British Film Institute (BFI), British Council and Sangit Kala Mandir in Kolkata have teamed up for the event which will also see performances by seven other musicians.
Speaking to the press, the 36-year-old sitar player described her performance in Kolkata as “home-coming.” “I can’t tell you how happy I’m to be back in Kolkata after a couple of years, with a very strong Bengali connect with this film. And as of me this project really feels like a homecoming in a lot of ways, to bring back the film in India. For me it seems like coming back to a piece of my history and performing here… I’m very very happy to be here,” she said.
The iconic 1928 film directed by German filmmaker Fraz Osten narrates the story behind the construction of the Taj Mahal. The magnum opus shot entirely in India, with glimpses of the Taj Mahal, has an all-Indian cast and as many as 50,000 actors, as per reports. Shiraz tells the story of a potter’s son who fell in love with Princess Selima and follows his childhood sweetheart when she is sold to the future Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram) and how he is ultimately destined to design the Queen’s mausoleum.
The film is based on a play written by Niranjan Pal, the son of Bipin Chandra Pal of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio of the Indian freedom struggle. The film is produced by Indian cinema pioneer, Himanshu Rai who also played the lead role in Shiraz. Rai, born in a rich Bengali family, was educated in Shantiniketan and London. He then went on to produce and worked with Osten in three films under the banner of Great Eastern Indian Corporation, of which Shiraz was the second venture. The duo later started Bombay Talkies.
Anoushka Shankar, while talking about her first venture as a music composure, defined the experience as “enriching and intense.” Referring to her father, Pt Ravi Shankar’s work in films, she said, “When I took the job of composing music for the film, the first thing I did was to rewatch Apu Trilogy and note the markers.” Adding that she doesn’t know if she was able to design it the way her guru and father would have done, she hopes audience loves it and it has done justice to the film and not overpower it.
Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI said, “Anousha (Shankar) was a natural choice. When we decided to restore this film, she seemed perfect for the job.” Sharing how much he loved Pt Ravi Shankar’s work in Pather Panchali, Baker added, “It’s unbelievable that he composed the music in one evening and how much it affects the audience every time one sees it.”
Talking about the painful task of restoring the film, he highlighted how difficult it was to restore the film that had multiple issues to deal with. “When in 1942, BRI received the film’s negative it had already started decomposing. So by 1950, it was copied to preserve it but it too started decomposing pretty soon. Beyond that, there were issues about scratches, image stabilisation, flickering,” he said. Everything that we received is there, and while restoring there may have been a few scratches that could not be done away with totally, but it has not been deleted, he said.
Talking about the music, Shankar highlighted how she has tried to make it something appealing to the audience of today and it is not just Indian instruments that have been used. “I have tried to create a balance between Indian and western instruments, and kept in mind the scale of the orchestra. Knowing that we would be travelling a lot while performing, I did not think it was feasible to do it on a grand scale of say 40 musicians. So a team of eight-members has created the score and it’s more like a concert screening.”
After the Hyderabad chapter, the film is about to be screened in Kolkata on Friday (November 3), at Siri Fort in Delhi on November 4, and on November 5 it will be screened at Shanmukhananda auditorium in Mumbai.