Friday, September 20, 2019

Pujas 2018 - The Year of the Storytellers.... A Review

As the days get shorter and the nights longer in this part of the oblate spheroid, Bengal gradually gets ready for its disproportional share of annual frenzy. Last 12 months Bengal has experienced changes which were perceived as apocalyptic even couple of years ago. Yes, more political than economic unlike across the nation which is also a change in its own way. But Bengal’s political settings have always have had a not-so-passive influence on how its biggest cultural conundrum shaped up each year.  If during pre-independence Pujas were an expression of belligerent nationalism, post 1947 it was more of a showcase of Bengali cultural renaissance aided mostly by Bengal’s early rightist governance. By the mid-60s the left-wing started to rise its head in Bengal polity and a time when the entire state was marred by labour unrests, industrial lock outs and political turbulence. This was also a span where Durga Pujas somewhat took a backseat and inspite of the yearly spike, the progression of this socio-cultural fiesta got fairly stunted. Bengal’s Dark Ages had its reasonable share of effect on the local Puja committees who were starved for benefaction and sponsorships. The incumbent State Government run by the Communists also stayed away from direct patronage due to their disapproval to idolatry resulting in a period of stunted growth for this pop-cultural phenomenon. The 90s saw the Indian economy opening up to liberalisation leading to a surge in multinational brands entering the market and thereby introducing the opportunity for those brands to realise & tap the immense potential of Durga Pujas as a significant tool for consumer transactions. Investments grew exponentially every passing year and with the leftists gradually hacked out of the political equation, the Puja committees found renewed vigour & aid as the new Regime directly backed the Clubs through various strategic initiatives & appeasement policies. From an estimated 3900 cr industry in 2011 the Pujas got a quantum leap in the last decade, as the projected business value of Durga Puja as an event is set to treble itself by the turn of 2020.
So, exactly a week to go before Kolkata goes berserk... The signs are not too promising with the weather bound to play spoilsport. Even if we want to believe the urban folklores.... this year Maa arrives and departs on a Horse, which promises a dosage of natural calamities alongwith... something that does not augur well for the anticipating populace.

All that considered, when have we been fazed with such uncertainties... after all this is Durga Puja Times.... the only time a true blue Bengali braves everything to get a glance of his/her Divine Muse.... Let us just sit back and review the festivities of 2018 to get this year kick-started….
Bloopers of the Year

Arjunpur Amra Shawbai

My farthest venture for the year in terms of distance covered... this quaint Puja is a new tyro for Puja honours... conceived by Bhabatosh Sutar the Mandap is designed on the theme - Naad (Resonance)..... the pavilion is in the shape of a giant conch shell made with small bamboo pieces... the Mandap interior is in the form of a swirl with the Devi & her wards carved out of it..... even with an accomplished theme maker at the helm the entire display seemed crude and in spite of a largely duo-tonal exhibit, there was a sense of unnecessary melancholy....

The entire Mandap-scape with sparse, somewhat irrelevant Installations
The Giant Conch Shell providing Canopy to the Main Sanctum

The rather ill-formed Deity emanating from a Swirl
Chorbagan Sarbojanin

Kolkata Theme Makers' visualisations have reached an epitome of surrealism... Debatosh Kar's visage of the world beneath ground levels is a tedious creation.... the entire Mandap is a realm which we can only perceive but can't envisage on a daily basis.... the gamut of anthills and millipede dunes are excellently furnished through lights/sounds to the audience making the experience a tad creepy.... I couldn't fathom the reason behind Dzonkha Art-form of the Idol... Gosh, all we wanted to see was some meaningful artwork and certainly not a compendium to a well forgotten episode of “Expedition to an Animal Kingdom”...

The Walls dotted with Anthills & Subterranean Insect Dunes

A Creepy, Eerie Mandap-scape
Transversal View of the Sanctum 

Befuddling Dzongkha Imagery

Nalin Sarkar Street Sarbojanin

The kitschy graffiti on the walls at the entrance was a sight to behold.... but unfortunately that was the end of it…. Abhijit Ghatak's Mawgno Chaitanya (Sunken Consciousness) was one of the first in the year which bordered on my list of Bizarre Brigade... too much clutter in the artworks led to a loud output... too much conjectural communication tried to be put forth, hence the actual objective got diluted.... and most importantly the deity looked like the hapless Queen of Spades.... a disappointing outing after a superlative 2017.... 

The Entrance with Graffiti painted on Dish Antennae & Walls 

Ceiling with Wooden Window/Door Frames
Shed Type of Ceiling Design in Contrast Shade  

A Big Clock just before the Stage depicting the Sub-conscious of Life

The Inverted dome installation forming the Hub of the Mandap
The Queen of Spades


Rajdanga Naboday Sangha

Subrata Banerjee's Mawhakorsh'ey Mahamaya had the promise of something big with the Mandap spread across a reasonable expanse.... the entire pavilion carried the impression of the Demon King through models of his sense organs..... the installation of the Demon head at the center was a creative delight but the wood crafted Mayan style motifs looked out of place and irrelevant... the Devi in Her pacific version was beautiful.... the only worthwhile thing was the background score by Humsufi…

The Grand Entrance to the Sanctum depicting Mahisasura's Sense Organs

The Mandap which resembled Mahisasura's Facade
The Mahisasura Bust at the Center of the Mandap

The Wooden artwork followed Mayan Craftsmanship
The Pacific Deity
Sreebhumi Sporting

Puja Parikrama for the year commenced earlier than usual.... a Puja Committee which has always attracted humongous crowds every year due to their gimmicky stunts ranging from adorning the Idol with 4 crore worth jewellery to a more recent one of recreating the fictional Bahubali set.... this time, in its 46th year, the committee decided to replicate Chittor Fort depicted in the Bollywood blockbuster - Padmaavat.... The bright Mandap looms at a height of 110 ft and has ornate wood work with typical Rajasthani Jharokha galleries…. A couple of masquerading stallions welcome sightseers at the entrance…. the Idol inside the air conditioned Mahal has been bedecked in real gold ornaments… if Novelty is somebody's dope, it was a must see of sorts

The Chittor Fort Replica

The Ornate Interiors

The Pompous Image

Tala Park Protyoy

A touch of abstract, a whiff of techno... snazzily created by Debashish Barui... though a tad underwhelming after last year's blockbuster performance... the Idol is very realistic in her countenance.... a good watch nevertheless for this committee who are slowly becoming the "Coup de GrĂ¢ce" for the Northern city fringes Pujas....

The Avant Garde Pavilion

The Sassy Foyer leading up to the main Sanctum 

The Spiffy Ceiling

The Futuristic Chandelier

Somewhat overtly melancholy Imagery


66 Palli, Kalighat (Boyon'er Chaal Chitro by Aditi Chakraborty)

"Boyon'er Chaal Chitro" (Weaving Story Lines) was a fantastic creation by Aditi Chakraborty... the entire Mandap was designed with almost anyything to do with weavers and their paraphernelia... right from installing a life size weaving loom to decking the extensive interiors with yarn and miscellaneous weaving tools, this surely was a worthy awardee of Asian Paints Sharad Samman this year... the idol, in its cherubic plump Avatar was one of the most adorable showpieces in a long long while.... the shrine sat on a gently moving swing giving a lively wrap to a wonderful execution

The Open Entrance
The Sober Artwork Designs

The Weaving Loom as a Thematic Installation

The Decorative Chandelier

The extremely adorable Deity perched on an Old World Swing 

95 Palli, Jodhpur Park (Maya'r Bnadhoney by Bhabatosh Sutar)

There have been very rare instances where Bhabatosh Sutar fails to deliver.... and this one’s also far from an exception.... the virtuoso conceptualiser par excellence, landed a sucker punch with this installation-led site dubbed as "Maya'r Bnaadhoney"... here he showcased the harmonious faculties of the Mother Goddess through referential imagery of Bee Hives.... the entire Mandap was created on a matrix of narrow bamboos trussed in multicoloured ropes.... the deity in matching beige was again a showstopper!!.... another worthy recipient of Asian Paints Sharad Shamman for the year

Pavilion Entrance

A Semi Open Mandap Designed as a Bamboo Reticulation 

Minimalist Usage of Colours

Excellent Imagery

Devi Close Up
Ahiritola Jubak Brindo (Utsarito Aalo by Manas Ray)

A site specific Installation by the very underrated Manas Ray depicting the state & times of a typical red light district.... an array of life like scenes was drafted across the Mandap utilising even the adjacent houses and alleyway.... the miserable lives of the brothel-dwellers was masterfully illustrated through various imagery and communicae... Parimal Pal's idol was one of the best of the season.... an extremely thoughtful and poignant theme.

Street Entrance to the Main Mandap

Strong Thematic Messaging on the Walls leading up to the Pavilion
Models of Sex Workers lined up the Approach Pavements

Pavilion Facade with adjoining Houses also being a part of this excellent Site Specific Installation
Devi in her "Woman Next Door" version

Barisha Sarbojanin (Andaman by Gouranga Kuilya)

The spotlight was on recreating the lives of indigenous Jarawa tribe of Andamans. Artist Gouranga Kuilya’s choice of theme holds significance in the fact that in a nation infatuated with light skin, Durga imagery has always been pre-conceived as a woman with fair skin.  The Goddess portrayed, as seen here, is the fiercely striking saviour of the forest, having similar complexion like the natives. The background sound of the waves splashing in the distant shoreline also had a soothing influence on the entire viewing experience.

Entrance to the Recreated Andamanese Ambience 
A Slice of a Jarawa Village and its inhabitants 
Very Earthy Interiors
The Impressive Deity
Bosepukur Talbagan (Fyala Kattick'er Swapno by Dibyendu/Purnendu)

This Barowari, during their heydays of early 2000, was renowned for punts with innovation.... this year the organisers commissioned the new conceptualiser duo - Dibyendu/Purnendu who utilised Concrete Underground Sewer Pipe frames for the Pandal scaffolds and decor... the otherwise nondescript livelihood of street-dwellers of the City was depicted through various frescos and montages.... the artistes maintained the original grey hue of the tubes to construe the colourless lives of the roadside populace.... Also, the image of Devi coming out of her mould in the form of a commoner adding a hint of mirth to the unremarkable lives leaves a very apt thought for the discerning audience….

Artworks depicting daily lives of Street Dwellers

Concrete Underground Sewer Rings used as Displays
Entrance to the Domed Pavilion
Devi seen as coming out of her Mould
Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha (Shishu Srom’er Biruddhe by Rintu Das)

This Puja highlighted a major and oft-neglected community vice of child labour. The theme wove a storyline depicting the eternal struggle of a child, represented by the male deity Ganesha, who is compelled to forego his childhood to work. The artiste, Rintu Das used 29,000 tea-cups, four lakh self-made tea bags and other material from tea stalls to do justice to the theme. The Mandap interiors showcased this theme with brilliantly colourful wood and clay artwork running everywhere.

Installation at the Entrance depicted the Mind-space of a Child Labour

A Cult Imagery of a Kid being shackled by a Metaphorical Tong

A Tea Stall Facsimile where most underprivileged Children end up 
Coloured Tea Glasses suspended from the Ceiling 

 A Modeled Kid Roustabout watching Devi 

The End sequence showcasing the sad outcome of most Child Labour who fade away
into oblivion 
Hindusthan Park Sarbojanin (Aaborto by Anirban Das)

An exhaustive tableau of abstract art designed by Anirban Das depicting the atrocities carried out on young kids by forcefully making them to follow conventional modes of studies.... a normal child’s mind  was shown to have wings but shackled by parents by not letting itself be..... Ceiling and wall handiwork was exceptional... the Devi also had a set of pinions..... while the inner sanctum had a flight of stairs, metaphorically referring to attaining Moksha (Pennance)… the entire montage follows the “Cycle of Life” comparing the world to a Circus….

Colourful Passageway forming the Entrance to the Sanctum 
Decorated Ceiling & Interiors

Brilliant use of lights along with Bengal Alpana Art on the Walls

The Abstract Interiors with a Flight of Stairs showcasing the route to Penance
Devi in her Gossamer Winged Avatar
Kashi Bose Lane Sarbojanin (Amaar Awlindey by Pradip Das/Sanatan Dinda)

Modern designers have a great way of expressing elementary perspectives of life.... they adopt contemporary techniques to showcase the otherwise staid aspects of daily life.... Pradip Das is one of those who skillfully interlaced abstractness with classic art... "Amaar Awlindey" is one such abstract theme perusing life from a nondescript Balcony.... the imagery of the pavilion has everything that we can see on/from a Verandah.... Wooden doors worn at the edges, meshed windows had the paint coming off; the balconies swathed in sarees and the hint of an elapsed legacy hung heavy on the chequered floors… the nuovo colour scheme and the sombre light arrangements have a distinct tinge of grunge to make it more convincing.... Sanatan Dinda makes a comeback to Kolkata Pujas as an Idol-maker after a hiatus of couple of years... the Idol is sublime and corresponds to the tonality of the entire Mandap…

The Softly Lit Mandap showcasing the Perspective of a Terrace 

Interior was a mix of any & every thing you could visualise on/from a Quintessential Terrace 
Rustic Intramurals
A Dinda Masterpiece
Kendua Shanti Sangha (Asha Jaowar Majhe by Babu/Sanjoy)

Kitsch has been my Dope... I search for my dosage of kitsch every year and last year it was served by one of the Clubs which has produced some laudable exhibits in the past couple of seasons... the theme was "Asha Jaowar Majhe" showcasing the Trucks that provide the most important logistics for any Barowari Puja.... 5 garishly yet tastefully painted Trucks formed the platform for the Devi.... the semi-open pavilion with props all pertaining to carrier trucks was definitely worth a dekko... excellent colour combo and traditionally clad idol set made this a grand affair...

Installation of Trucks at the Entrance

Multi-coloured Ceiling

Open & uncluttered Design of the Sanctum Interiors
Devi Close Up
Kumartuli Sarbojanin (Maati'r Pheeshphaash by Parimal Pal)

Arguably the best idol maker in the business today, Parimal Pal served up a superlative display with this work on the Devi getting ready to land on our earthly lives.... the entire pavilion was splashed with clay models and artworks which denoted the preparations for the Goddess and Her wards.... the idol was brilliant… masterful job overall

Entrance resembling a Flower Bud

The Fore-end of a Truck waiting to take Devi to her Makeshift Homes 
Glimpse of a Potter's Studio

One of the Best Images of the Year 

Devi Close Up
Saltlake AK Block Sarbojanin (Sita Hawron by Purnendu De)

Purnendu De's versioning of "Sita Hawron" displayed the kidnapping of Sita from the epic Ramayana... a 9-headed gigantic Ravana was installed at the entrance with its 10th head felled at the ground level.... Metal was the mantra for this 31-year-old Puja…. the 45ft Ravana, as well as sections of the pandal, had been created from metallic materials…. the deity in shades of brown was the artiste signature.... the best overall exhibit in Salt Lake

The 45 ft Ravana soaring high as a Centerpiece

The Effigy Close Up
The Hazel Shaded Sanctum
Extremely Endearing Devi
SB Park Sarbojanin, Thakurpukur (Agnee Shuddhee by Partha Dasgupta)

A collage of terracotta & ceramic overlays with the surrounding ambience illustrated in crude brick and mortar finish showcased the theme “Agnee Shuddhee” meaning “Amelioration by Fire”. Partha Dasgupta’s signature rustic colourscape has always worked across various earlier tableaus and this was no different. The Devi imagery in her astute fieriness works excellently with the message rendered through the Theme.

The Terracotta-Brick Pavilion
Brick Overlays adorning the Interiors

Brick Motifs
Shot of the Main Sanctum
Image Close Up
Shib Mandir Sarbojanin (Maati'r Taaney by Bimal Samanta)

The very minimalistic & bucolic display by Bimal Samanta coined as "Maati'r Taaney" or the Call of the Soil... a very classy ensemble of clay & brick.... an exhibition of how uncomplicated artworks can be created with aplomb keeping sanctity with the overall theme.... The Idol was also equally superlative!!!!.....

The Back-lit Halo'ed Entrance 

The Artworks made out of Brick pieces

Walls also had their share of Brick & Clay Artistry

Posh Interiors
Magnificent Idol 

Behala Nutan Sangha (Sanatan Dinda)

Last year saw the return of Sanatan Dinda, one of the flag bearers of taking Kolkata Pujas to the global spectrum in terms of popular exhibition art.... Dinda returned after a hiatus of couple of years with this exquisite piece of art wowing the audiences all across once again.... A Masterpiece again!!!

Masterful Creativity

Devi Close Up