Saturday, October 10, 2020

Pujas 2019 - The Year of the Edgy... A Review

This has been a long year… longer than the literal count of days…. longer in its abject downturn in all forms…. Seems like the last festive season could be seen just as a tiny speck on the horizon… I don’t even remember the last time people around the world merrymaking without any apparent worries…. Nobody could have imagined what lay before them when they bade farewell to the last Pujas. The past 7 months have been particularly unprecedented with a global pandemic writ large on the entire humanity. We could not have faced a more testing time where almost every living human being on the planet was at risk. The disease has managed to spread its dreaded cobwebs far & wide across all corners of the globe rendering even established health and public service infrastructures insufficient. We have struggled to cope with the surge of the pandemic both in terms of lack of immediate medical solutions and also the severe impact on the country’s exchequer. In more ways than one this has been a dark year.

But then this is a Happy Blog, and rather than procrastinating or languishing on negatives, let me try to contribute my two pence of optimism to lighten the overall sullen mood. A few small snippets of hope to kick-start the piece - Even as India's total novel coronavirus cases has crossed 13 lacs, the fatality rate has registered a sharp decline to 2.35%, one of the lowest in the world… Recovery rate percentage increasing on a daily basis…. Positive cases lower than the National Average of 11% in around 30 states. So these are oddments of information which form a silver lining as a backdrop to this Corona Nimbostratus.              

Durga Pujas for me is an explicit catalyst which enhances the generic happiness quotient throughout the various social strata of West Bengal. Definitely, this is Bengal’s showcase event where it becomes the cynosure of all cultural, economic & interpersonal discussions. It draws global attention nowadays with mammoth exposure over TV, Radio & Digital media. Unlike yesteryears, where Pujas were perceived to be an occasion primarily for the elder statesmen of the society, the festival in the recent times have garnered colossal benefaction from the youth. And that is where & how Durga Pujas have evolved becoming an inclusive carnival….

A look back at some of the highlights of 2019 Pujas, reigniting some of the memories of last year -                   

The Bloopers of the Year

Barisha Club

Rintu Das’s unique theme raised cognizance about the damaging influence of radiation emitted by cell phone towers towards birds and their habitats. The pavilion façade was designed with a soaring faux Mobile communication site and many Dish Tv antennas surrounded by carcasses of dead birds signifying the deadly effect. Sadly, it was a classic case of a great concept falling flat on the back of half-baked finishing. The exteriors looked too shoddy and the interiors had a tinge of tedium. The Mandap interior was fabricated by hanging earthen pots while the walls were mirrored to demonstrate an infinitive appearance. The deity in its calming version was without armaments, her hands acting as shelter to the bird-kind, both ways pretty much atypical and unconvincing.

The Cell Phone Tower at the Entrance laced with Dish Antennas with a Dead Bird imagery 

Earthen Pots hung from the Ceiling in a mirrored interior rendering an Infinity effect  

Deity in the form of a Tree resembling Mother Nature

Tridhara Sammelani

Gouranga Kuilya’s theme “Drishtikon” or “Perspective” dealt with presenting simple two dimensional artworks in the form of window blinds that portrayed various eminent women personalities resonating into multiple versions of Devi Durga… the cages kept in the front section, came across as being graphic stumbling blocks which really could not add value to the language bespoken by the artwork…. the Red, White and Copper combo was extremely loud for visual comfort and most importantly, the artiste’s concept didn’t transpire into fruition due to somewhat inadequate execution. The optical illusion which was supposed to be played out through the treatment of bi-dimensional illustrations, unfortunately got underwhelmed in the cluttered setting.

The Entrance Facade in Abstract almost providing psychedelic visuals

Interior colour scheme was too Loud, and designs too cluttered

Minimal clarity of the theme was a bummer...
those flowers on the platform added to the conundrum

Devi Image was a sight to behold

Pallisree, Ultadanga

Giant busts of most kinds are a bummer for me. A Giant bust resembling an ogre right at the entrance of a Mandap is double the reason to rile me up. The lead up to the Mandap was equally forlorn showcasing upturned umbrellas hanging in the foyer, dated in design and irrelevant to the overall setting. The theme – “Bawrno Moitree” attempted to capture unity through different hues but unfortunately fell way short both in execution and semblance. The interiors presented an array of multi-coloured murals depicting faces some of which reminded you of ancient Egyptian illustrations while others were Kathakali visages. Well, the jury is still out on their justifiable connection with the theme. The entire Mandap was a sorry account of decorations which looked largely unfinished and also woefully packaged.

That image placed at the Entrance was as repulsive as it
could get 

I'm sure the Walls tried to capture what the artiste had ideated, but fell largely short

There was definitely something amiss with the Idol


33 Palli, Beleghata

Displays exhibiting Communal Harmony remained one of the favorite subjects for most Committees and hence have been done to death.... over the years there have been few good ones, but most ones have been lacklustre and unimaginative... Here, Rintu Das took up this premise with his signature story-telling manner and depicted the oneness of all faiths through various metaphoric props stating "Amraa Ek, Ekaa Noi"... a huge umbrella stood at the entrance providing shelter to all visitors and inside, multiple pillars formed foundations of inter-faith relations, but they too were shown as attacked by wood mites… the Pandal interiors bore a slew of the religious iconographs – the Om, the Cross and the Crescent…. Within the sanctum sanctorum, one could hear recorded Hymns, Church Bells & Azaan to endorse communal harmony…. sadly, the execution came out a bit tacky.... the idols in Dokra style & made of brass, sat on shrines suspended in air which gave this a mark above average only for freshness sakes!

The Checkerboard Facade exhibiting miniature models of various places of worship sheltered by
umbrellas failed to make a clear-cut point   

The Foyer leading to the main sanctum

Wooden Frames and various religious Symbols adorned the Walls 

Cluttered Designs stating communal harmony were seemingly overbearing 

Devi in Copper-Metal finish 

Arjunpur Amra Shawbai

This Club at the eastern fringes of the City, over the last couple of years have attracted the Puja audiences through some engaging promotions… this year themed as “Loy” or “Fusion”, the project was helmed by the reknowned architect and art practitioner, Asim Waqif… the sanctum was lodged in a Bamboo thicket, while different kinds of bamboo were also used here to don up the Mandap… the Black Hole effect on of the walls deserved special mention…. The scaffolding was intentionally kept as semi-open… the lilting background score ensured a captivating ambience… the sensor-based Dhaak was also a first of its kind…. But the predominant monotone of the Mandap came across as being without any context and overtly drab…. But the biggest disappointment was the deity created by the notable Vietnamese Origami artiste, Hoang Tien Quyet which in spite of it’s novelty looked like a juvenile school craft specimen than a quality idol.

Entrance to the Bamboo Thicket

Designs made with Bamboo Installations

Black Hole Effect on the Wall

A semi-open Sanctum 

Devi and her kids perched in the Grove basking in Sunlight

The Origami Idol 

North Tridhara Sarbojanin

Samrat Bhattacharya's "Durbaar Durga" or “Dauntless Durga”, an illustrative tribute to the only female Public Mini Bus Driver in Kolkata, Protima Poddar, touched an empowering chord... the Mandap was a fair mix of quirkiness and clever craft... the props were conjured mostly out of Mini Bus items like Steering-Wheels/Seat Covers/Number Plates etc.. the Mandap ceiling also had a Google Map charting Ms. Poddar's daily route.... the kitschy-ness of the theme could not really find its foothold due to the somewhat untidy stylization… the atmosphere and overall ideation were plucky but not enough to be counted amongst the best…. the Idol was simple but had absolutely no alignment with the overall display/theme… another sample of a great thought not fulfilling its potential.

A Mini Bus Installation at the Entryway

A life size Model of Protima Poddar, on whom the entire Mandap
was dedicated

The route charted on a dummy Google Map

All props & ancillaries indicative of the Public Transport and the vehicle  

Neat Imagery


Avenue South Pallimangal (Protichchhobi by Sushanta Pal)

Gorgeousness found its new address here…. Sushanta Pal’s creation under the creative premise – “Protichchhobi” or “Reflection” was excellently presented in an open Galleria set up… the Mandap also showcased a tinge of site-specific installation with seamless inclusion of adjoining apartment window grills/frames that were used as wall murals… the finest part of the entire show was in its ultra uber minimalist subtleties both in terms of structural designs and colours clearly making it a sight for sore eyes amongst the clutter…. the deity in bland Ceramic finish was a scorcher… 

A palatial Atrium for the Shrine

Modern Structural Designs fabulously incorporated into this Site Specific Installation 

Grand Rostrum as Devi's seat

The stunning Idol in Ceramic Finish

Ballygunge Cultural Association (Onnotawmo Jugalbondi by Biman Saha)

Biman Saha’s ensembled Bamboo Grove was a treat… even for the fact that Bamboo is used as one of the predominant and commonest mediums of any pavilion scaffolding, the manner of presentation set this apart from the rest… around 8 different types of Bamboos were utilised in diverse forms and sizes…. The Theme – “Onnotawmo Jugalbandi” or “Collaboration” was amplified through modern materials for pandal decoration such as cotton steel and iron incorporated into the bamboo framework. The cynosure of this semi-open sanctum was a gyrating wheel. The entire Mandap was delicately backlit rendering a tasteful ambience… extremely detailed décor added punch to the lavish spectrum… The Shabeki (traditional) image by Arun Pal was also a grand spectacle….

The Bamboo Grove Mandap

The rotor contraption as a cynosure 

The Galleria-styled Shrine 

Devi in all her Splendor

Mesmerising Idol

Behala Club (Pran’er Pawrob Kawtha by Aditi Chakraborty)

Aditi Chakraborty’s masterful act continued unabated second year running with her presentation – “Pran’er Pawrob Kawtha”…. The designer focussed on some of the oft-forgotten rural festivals like Charak & Gajan by outstanding fusion of Bengal’s native portraitures on contemporary structural designs & installations thus transforming this display into an arthouse classic…. The reflection of the main sanctum & a dragon-esque lion-riding Devi on the overlooking water body enhanced the uncannily illusory environs…

The Gate leading to the main Mandap

Installation in front of the Shrine

Devi enshrined in a beautifully crafted Sanctum

Exquisite Idol

Dum Dum Park Tarun Dal (Ami Brihonnawla by Anirban Das)

Anirban Das took up a much discoursed topic of transgenders in his elaborate treatise – “Ami Brihonnawla”… Spectral hues on kites dotted the Pandal approach… An adolescent looked out from a locked room towards various activities of transgenders - begging at traffic signals and singing to bless newborns… Inside, overhead a transgender figure, bedecked in women's attire and accessories, had been shown as released from a giant cage… The walls are overlaid with hair braids… In spite of this being an edgy issue, the artiste successfully created defining moments in segments across the pavilion which made this a memorable medley… the entire Mandap expresses the story of a gender which has remained incognito due to social abhorrence and this noble effort tried in its own little way to redeem that…. Sanatan Dinda’s idol which followed Vaishnav imagery, aptly complimented the milieu…

The elaborate installations inside the Mandap

The Enchantress in her incognito welcoming the Audience

A detailed treatise through props unveiling the object of the Theme

Masterful execution of the display in terms of Grandeur & Novelty

Sanatan Dinda's brilliant Idol

Kashi Bose Lane Sarbojanin (Ostittwo by Pradip Das)

The evolution of our planet can be traced through the significance of Water in human lives… Pradip Das essayed this post-apocalyptic scene labelled as “Ostittwo” or ‘Existence” construing Water as the supreme vital quiddity of our lives…drawing ample inspiration from water used in irrigation, to logistics & livelihood, the ideator created an ensemble artefact, both thought-provoking and beautifully executed…. The Devi was seen residing on a River Ghat where the water had dried up mirroring the looming threat of extreme water scarcity… a beautifully conceived portrayal of life and survival….      

A Mechanised Irrigation Water wheel as the Pavilion Facade 

The suspended Dinghy in mid air

Ceiling designed to resemble the ever-kinetic Time 

The Idol nestled on a medieval wherry

Close Up of the Stunning Goddess

Nagarik Kalyan Samity (Milawn’e Mawhaan by Sanjib Saha)

In the constant pursuit of new concepts and storylines, nowadays theme makers have somewhat compromised on clarity of thought…. The good old school way of presenting linear themes seems to have been missing over the years…. On their 30th Anniversary, Sanjib Saha brought back the glory days of compact & unadulterated pavilions in his rendition of “Milawn’e Mawhaan” or “Greatness in Unity”… the Mandap, a semi-open one in mesh effect with minimalistic use of props, utilised various forms of kitchenware and utensils…. Exceptional usage of light and a marvellous Idol augmented the overall arrangement…. Naba Kumar Pal’s deity also had a touch of serenity to it adding glory to the amazing aura of the arrangements…. 

A meshed semi-open Pavilion as neat as it can get 

Splendidly designed Geometric Wall murals

Various forms of kitchenware as Props

Majestic Idol

Naktala Udayan Sangha (Jawnmo by Bhabatosh Sutar)

Bhabatosh Sutar’s astute theme – “Jawnmo” or “Birth” procreated the eternal life cycle and it’s constant churning… the Mandap was made with iron, tin sheds, straw and clay pots besides other construction materials… At the entrance, a video played on loop displaying earthen pots falling to the ground and getting shattered; earthen pots depicted womb and the shattering depicted death… the uncomplicated style of exhibition right from the stadia gallery type of Mandap to the uncluttered interiors ensured a worthwhile comeback for this committee after a disappointing couple of years… the master sculptor also delivered a superb idol in etched form on a traditional Chal Chitra plate, depicted in her role of being a nurturer, a protector and a guide….

The Stadia-galleria styled Sanctum Sanctorum

Earthen Pots & Pitchers hovering in mid air all across the Pavilion

The ambit of the pavilion atrium was made to look huge 

A beautiful Work of Art - Simple yet detailed to perfection
Samaj Sebi Sangha (Kurnish by Pradip Das)

Figurative installations have been the latest trending artworks in Kolkata Pujas…. From isolated installations in a specific pavilion they have now become in certain cases Mandaps themselves… Pradip das is one of the better exponents of this…. He did an excellent job here with the pavilion fashioned as a quintessential assemblage of lives of the unskilled working class… These people have over the years created numerous wonders around us which has made our lives easier. Unfortunately though, they have remained nameless and this is a beautiful ode to those in eternal anonymity. A superb job of recreating the stalls, bunkers and the associated props made this an absolute masterclass…. The interiors were dimly lit fittingly echoing the understated life of the working class…

The patchworked frontage of the Pavilion

A dummy Cycle Repair Shop at the entrance

A Make Belief world of Nondescript

A montage of the daily lives of the "Unexceptionals"

Resplendent Imagery

Shib Mandir Sarbojanin (Bawndhoni by Bimal Samanta)

Puja designers have been constantly experimenting with newer colour tones and combinations….. Sometimes they work, whilst others don’t…. Bimal Samanta’s “Bawndhoni” composed an exceptional colour fest presented through a matrix of yarns…. The Mandap interiors were crammed with various wall installations & smaller artworks all created using yarn strands…. The ambience stressed the importance of unity and camaraderie, embodied through entwined cords & ropes…. Devi was also seen in an uncommon teal hue complimenting the décor scheme….

The a network of interlaced multi-hued strands 

Exquisite presentation through interwoven yarns across various motifs

Myriad patterns covering the length & breadth of Mandap

Superlative Colour scheme

Outstanding Idol

Tala Park Protyay (Kawlpolok by Sushanta Pal)

Sushanta Pal created a surreal milieu through his thematic treatise – “Kawlpo Lok” or “A Utopian Realm”… the premise though tough to portray, was perfectly depicted in terms of imagery & mood… the interior designs effectively disrupted the inhibitions of traditional presentation with a staggered platform for the deities… the structures inside represented as being larger than life similar to our imaginative realms in perfect tandem with the lighting and  background score…  a truly lyrical effort of bringing ingenuity to life….. one of the best works of recent years, this would be etched in the memory for a very long time…

The Cane Dome Porch at the Entrance

The Ceiling designed as a Light Burst

The Ornate Grandstand

The differential Set up

A Sublime Deity


Behala Friends (Arun Pal)

One of the most underrated artisans plying his trade over the years had been Arun Pal. Here, the usage of “had” is extremely unfortunate as we lost this talented artisan during the Covid lockdown. It almost serves as poetic justice that the finest imagery, in my opinion, also belonged to him. A veteran of many seasons, the artiste was the hand behind some of the behemoth Pujas like Maddox Square, Ballygunge Cultural etc. In 2019, we saw his masterful imagery at Behala Friends. The deity stood tall as a gorgeous beaming Devi, decked in a contrast teal Saree. The ambience was taken up by a notch by the deities’ lavish diadems. A beautiful creation by all means.... 

Devi with her Kids as a covershot

Devi in her Pacific Avatar

Devi as a Close up Shot

Pls write to me, if you think otherwise about these selections. Post your own set of the Best & the Bizarre for the year in the comments Section. All your opinions would be held in the highest esteem.