Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pujas 2016 - A Recall... A Review

To set the ball rolling let’s start the Puja Blogathon of 2017, with a throwback of the immediate past year reviewing the best, bizarre and also the most underwhelming ones of Circa 2016. Similar to most years 2016 Pujas had high expectations from all quarters in terms of creativity and innovation especially after an awe-inspiring 2015. What’s more, after quite a reasonable span of time, 2016 Puja week was occurring during mid-October which arguably is the most charming season in Kolkata…. a whiff of nip in the air, pleasant after hours… Autumnal Fall at its very best. The teasers & postering campaigns were well under way from as early as April. As expected, most of the bigwigs commenced their respective promotions with usual one-liner creatives giving an essence of what would be in store. Some messages were direct & straightforward whilst others cryptic & obscure. But each communication made an effort to be unique in its own little way. The objective was singular and goal specific…. to create a buzz much prior to the actual razzmatazz in order to attract higher footfalls. Sometimes such an objective over-delivers and generates monstrous response thereby resulting in more chaos & disorder than one can even anticipate. We have had a similar sour experience with Deshapriya Park Sarbojanin in 2015 where Civic Authorities had to permanently stop the Puja on Maha Shasthi evening due to massive rush choking the Park and adjoining roads. The city Police had to issue a Public Notice citing that the Puja organisers had failed to put up a proper infrastructure to host an event, which attracted "peculiar media hype that created unwanted attention of the people”. But more on that disaster probably on a different piece. For the time being, let’s restrict our attention to some of the promos of 2016.

After the absolute misadventure of 2015, I had only imagined that Deshapriya Park Sarbojanin would come up with a minimalistic campaign in trying to bury the ghosts of 2015. But as luck would have it, the organisers came up with this equally titillating promo – “Hajaar Haath, Ebaareo” (literally translating to – “Its Thousand Hands, This Time”). A promise of a surrealistic thousand-handed Durga image! The tide was again headed trouble-wards. Well I, for one, could almost foresee another calamity brewing. Am sure, so did the Civil Administration. Thankfully precautions were adopted wisely and no such debacles were replicated during Pujas. South Kolkata breathed a virtual sigh of respite. All in all, due to the edginess of the content this turned out to be one of the most recallable teasers of the year. Naktala Udayan Sangha also is amongst those Committees who lend a lot of thought behind most of their creative. Susanta Pal, the theme maker for the year has his policy of designing all the respective promotional materials and this was no exception. Being an ace visualiser & “Art Practitioner” as he loves to call himself, Susanta almost always gives an abstract feel to his artworks. The teaser designs were based on the tagline – “Amraa Khnujchhi Antohshaar” (meaning “Discovery of Inner Core”). A profound message and also an intriguing one considering a sea of possibilities in terms of what the designer could present as a theme before the audience. Another variety of publicity is taking the gimmicky route. More than a couple of Puja Committees have successfully trodden that path, wherein the only sort of issue lies in the ultimate acceptability and success of the stunt. Nowadays the audience is clever enough to call a cheap trick and reject any creative output based on such ploys. So basically going gimmicky is a bit of a dodgy decision which could turn out to be a sensation if plans go your way or otherwise could even end up as a blooper if things fall apart. I could sense tad trickery in the teasers of Santoshpur Lake Pally which said – “Shonaar Durga ebaar Lake Pally’te” (implying “Lake Pally presents a Durga Idol made of Gold!!”).... too hard to digest?!!…. may be, may be not….. bearing in mind, this being one of the most social network savvy Puja committees of the city who tactically make it a point to be well connected most parts of the year. Along with the “Gold” insinuation, the Committee also claimed in its various promos that it was for the very first time that they were bringing together an all-female designer-artisan duo of Aditi Chakraborty, one of the most sought-after amongst the new crop of theme makers and Subhamita Dinda, a well-known sculptor-painter & wife of the globally renowned Sanatan Dinda. So the campaign was well devised with the Gold stunt cleverly wrapped in a much hallowed envelope of women’s emancipation in a largely male dominated profession. These 3 campaigns were arguably the most catchy & impressionable promo campaigns for the year.

Coming to the Main Festival, the MET department had not forecasted any rains during the Pujas which made us believe that this would be a pretty hassle-free, pleasant few days. But Murphy’s Law struck menacingly with incessant rains throughout the Puja week thereby marring festive dispositions in a long way. The worst part was that the heaviest showers came down at the peak hours of Pandal Hopping, early afternoon & late evenings resulting in waterlogging in some parts of the city, sluggish traffic and overall downer. This Puja was arguably the dampest in a very long time but it failed to stifle the undying yet a very under-rated Kolkata spirit, something which gets charged to its optimal levels during these Puja days. The city of Kolkata is known to brave any nuisance during the Pujas and this wasn’t any dissimilar. Lakhs thronged to most Pandals of the metropolis to catch a glimpse of their favourite Diva in her multitude Avatars. My Puja jaunts commenced reasonably early and having driven for over 450 km across the city over the 7 days, and having visited more than 60 Mandaps I’ve been a spectator to this relentless character of the common Kolkatan.

As stated earlier, my review of the Pujas will try to include various Pujas in 3 broad Categories – Best in overall terms; Bloopers; and the Generic Disappointments. Would like to reiterate the fact that all the views, opinions & verdicts pertaining to the reviewed Pujas are my own and absolutely discrete. Will concede to the fact that there are some of my personal favorites, with/for whom I’m generally biased and hence would dedicate a couple of lines more on their praise or restrict to milder criticisms. Genuinely unabashed!!!... but that’s the generic philosophy of my blog…. So be it…. Moving on…..

Bloopers of the Year

Barisha Club

Over the years, the President’s Award winner Gouranga Kuilya has given us brilliant specimens of art with his adept visualisation & nifty craft works and when I came to know that he had joined hands at Barisha Club, my expectations quite obviously soared to dizzy heights. The Theme he had coined was “Aalor Shawndhaney” (In Search of Light) which was supposed to be more of an Audio Visual treat with Gouranga’s usual diet of clever yet stylish handicrafts. The first sight of the Mandap was a let-down itself with three eerie conjoined heads of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva mounting up on the horizon. The artwork was callous, and did not have the usual Gouranga charm or finesse. All in all a really horrid exhibition by one of the most respected designers.


The Conjoined grotesque heads of Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwar on a weird
igloo-esque base appearing like a sore thumb from a distance 
Pretty Loud & Hackneyed Artwork
The Idol and the backdrop too, had a sense of
repetition and rerun
























Bosepukur Sarbojanin

A pick from the Bizarre Brigade, there’s always a couple of weirdo’s every year... if anybody wanted to find a prototype of how to trump biggest of Puja committees without costing a fortune, look no further.... Here's one Committee showing a rank middle finger with its innocuous innovative-ness.... Two hoots to replicating Temple structures.... just print whatever you want on a Sheet and spread it across the scaffolding... and Voila!!!!.... you get your Mandap!!!.... the organiser must have been an economist of some sort... no wonder my economist wife liked it.....


The one stop Solution for Inventiveness.... This was an absolute scorcher!!! 
Dakshin Kalikata Sarbojanin

The theme - a noble one, "Awareness against Use of Plastic" created with mostly regular daily Plastic stuff... the execution – loud and clumsy, to say the least.... an Octopus at the entrance, a staggering T-rex, and a couple of Ogres doing the Shrek move inside…. The overt use of fluorescent colours and lurid lighting gave a mind numbing effect on the display…. A real blunder of an effort by Somnath Mukherjee who ironically is considered one of the steadiest Theme Makers of Kolkata Pujas.

A welcoming giant Octopus at the Entrance
Followed by a T-Rex in Awe!!!
















The WTF Ogres inside the Pavillion
Devi puts her hand up,
probably in dire shame!!




















ANTI CLIMAXES OF THE YEAR               

Bosepukur Sitalamandir

This Committee has always been a pioneer in a lot of things pertaining to Kolkata Pujas starting from the cult Earthen Pot Pandal of 2001 to the first active Brand integration through Parle Biscuits in 2014. This year the Committee tied up strategically with ABP Weddings Portal by creating an art form made of various materials used in a traditional Bengali wedding. Gobindo Giri's exhibit represented anything & everything to do with a matrimonial ceremony. Anti-climactic in its final execution, the entire pavilion along with the idol failed to enthuse the audience and finished well short of the sky high expectations.


The Butterfly Installation in front of the 
Topor (Bengali Groom's traditional headgear
during marriage) shaped Pavilion
The Vermilion Pots generally carried by the newly
married Bengali Bride lined up the Mandap Wall
The Gate was designed in the shape of a Bridal Headgear

The Gaudy Interiors

Hindusthan Park Sarbojanin

One of the newest icons amongst Puja theme makers is Anirban Das, who for the past couple of years have staged unique displays and hence his collaboration with this Committee sparked a lot of obvious hope. The concept was “Pichhoo Taan” (Call of Nostalgia), a fictional pavilion with an airborne horse, made entirely out of Betel Nuts, carrying the Devi and her wards. In a throwback to the good old days, Anirban had utilised everyday use items like stitched kantha & needle and reinvented the era when children clustered around their respective grandparents to hear fairy tales. The Pandal was nostalgic in theme replete with reminiscences which have gradually disappeared from Bengali households. In entirety, though the treatment and the execution left much to be desired.


The Flying Horse at the Entrance

Devi seated on a Chariot
Devi's Chariot being dragged by her convoy of troops 
Interior Ceiling of the Mandap


















Shib Mandir Sarbojanin

The ace Frame Maker Bimal Samanta created an abstract installation with various regular wooden articles and christened the pavilion as Choukhupi (Rectangular Frame). When I had first heard about the Theme prior to the Pujas, I was looking forward to it. The façade of the Pandal entrance and the walls inside the main enclosure were the highlights of the entire display, although unfortunately they reeked of repetitiveness similar to a display by the same artiste at Adarsha Palli in 2014. The interiors were very aesthetically crafted and as I had imagined were really crafty and classy, but alas we had seen such woodwork earlier and hence there was a paucity of inventiveness. The lighting inside was also slightly dull considering the largely beige hues. The contrasting blue shades did not work for me. To sum up, a good work which could easily have been superlative but sadly to have missed the mark at a final product level.


The Pavilion Facade made of daily use wooden articles

The Main Seat of the Idol inside the Mandap


The Ceiling Woodwork, vibrant but repetitious

Tala Barowari

A Committee, which perhaps creates the biggest hype during the rundown to Pujas thru' adverts and virals.... every year creating over-the-top displays.... this year too, Subrata Banerjee presented a theme depicting Devi amidst a scene of global anarchy & ruckus. Devi wants peace avoiding all confrontations taking place globally as She is a idol of harmony and serenity. The intense colour combo and the lights used seemed a touch too loud and gory. The theme maker has always been known for his elaborate lighting arrangements and larger than life displays. Sadly this came out somewhat creatively clamorous for my liking.



The cluttered sanctum of the Mandap with Loud illuminations impairing the design quality

The Installation depicting a Nuclear explosion looked like a Vomit eruption 
Idol Close Up
The Idol was emerging out of something
really phoney & creepy

FINEST OF THE YEAR

33 Palli, Beleghata (Kolkata Taxi Installation by Shibsankar Das)

The quirkiest piece of Display of the year by a proverbial mile. Shibsankar Das makes a strong comeback of sorts after couple of nondescript years.  He has masterfully created an Installation Tableau with Kolkata's signature Taxis or Cabs. Around 20 such vehicles have been realligned and mounted to form this unconventional pavilion. The Pandal truly looks like a celestial garage for Yellow Cab Ambassadors. Almost everything used in the Mandap are parts of these ubiquitous vehicles of our Roads. With the progress of Automobile Industries and advent of new age cars, the iconic yellow Ambassadors manufactured by Hindustan Motors, which was once  omnipresent in Kolkata have gradually disappeared from the city Roads. Shibsankar has recreated this ”Nostalgia” by using these Yellow Taxis as its basic theme. The Artiste has ingeniously used 200+ silencer pipes, 300+ car doors as well as other parts of the Ambassador to give the Pandal a kitschy look. The doors formed an arched gateway. Actual full-scale vehicles had been affixed to inner walls while half a dozen bodies had been placed atop the descending pandal roof giving the notion of cars being caught up in city traffic. From the hood of each car a lamp-stand emerged out, relating machine to a sense of worship. Tyres lined the base of the walls. Even Durga’s entourage is seated on a throne placed on the roof of a cab. Superb execution and an apt tribute to the car that had been an unmistakable part of the city!

The Entrance to this amazing Mandap constructed with Ambassador Car Doors 
Yellow Cabs mounted to form the partially open Sanctum
The beautiful Installation forming the cynosure of the Mandap

The Ceiling & Interiors also done up with everything to
do with Ambassador Cars
Even the Idol haunched atop an Ambassador
























95 Palli, Jodhpur Park (Ichchha Poorawn by Sushanta Pal)

If one desires for something he/she has to fulfill it by him/herself. If one is gritty & focussed enough to accomplish something, he/she would attain it anyways. Neither would one need to pray to God nor any divine power. This in nutshell was the significance behind 95 Pally’s this year's Durga Puja theme Ichchha Poorawn (wish fulfillment). If you ever want multitude of colours, you can count on Sushanta Pal. The man is an absolute master of the colour palette. Here he renders a unique futuristic design to this Pavilion with ample audio-visual props, with distinctly myriad hues. A camera facing the crowd shot live footage which was routed through a projector that broadcasted the footage on a giant screen installed just behind the Durga idol where visitors got to see their own images. The idea behind this was conveying the message that the Almighty actually resided inside one’s own soul and one just needed to awaken that divine power. The theme music designed by Pandit Mallar Ghosh was also lilting and apposite to the entire exhibit.  
The stylized Multi-colored Entrance to the main Mandap

Almost a Space-Ship kind of Incandescent Interior
The Ceiling also emanated brilliant Colour changing Lights thus giving it a wholesome Audio-visual experience 
The Mandap Sanctorum Wall

Devi's background captured live footage of the audience, truly a sense of fulfilling one's wishes

Ajeyo Sanhati (Maati Toder Daak Diyechhe by Anirban Das)

The hugely talented Anirban Das echoed the theme, “Maati Toder Daak Diyechhe” (Call of the Rustic), by celebrating the Nabanna festival, which is the harvest celebration in Bengal. The Theme maker had actually made elaborate arrangements to grow crops around the Pandal, to make the look and feel authentically bucolic. Around 12,000 lamps and 15,000 clay pots embellished the pavilion along with remarkable Bishnupur-style terracotta models. The simplicity of the idol added glory to the marvellous setting.

Entrance to the Mandap
Terracotta figurines on the Wall

An Ensemble of Smaller Terracotta Murals 


Beautiful Bamboo & Terracotta Dome
The Rustic Idol complementing the Theme

Avenue South Palli Mangal Samity (Pujo Paagol’er Paglami by Rintu Das)

A kitschy installation of multi-hued old world doors forming the façade, skilfully mounted and exhibited by Rintu Das almost like a Method in this Puja Madness echoing the Theme - "Pujo Paagol'er Paaglami". Over the years, a lot of Theme Makers have tried their hand at Installations. Most of those efforts have had been a mishmash of installation and traditional art. Rarely have we witnessed pure Installations. This one is an exceptional sample of an out and out Installation. Brilliant in concept, even better in execution. Personally felt this one Mandap from 2016 easily could have been dismantled from its original site only to be salvaged & showcased somewhere else for future touristy enticements.  
Brilliant Installation of Pandal Facade made of Old World Wooden Doors Mounted on each other


The Site Specific Installation was
stupendously detailed
Entrance to the Main Pavilion
The Idols in Copper tint added Glitz to this Kitsch 

Behala Friends (Awkkhorey Awkkhorey by Biswanath De)

The concept was ‘Maa’ in her various names and in different types of caligraphy forming the pavilion of this puja. Innumerable names of Devi Durga were inscribed on timber consigned in a word jungle throughout nooks and corners of the grand Pandal. Undeniably, even though similar concept was displayed at Adarsha Palli in 2014, this was a much more majestic & comprehensive output. The largely Red & Gold combo augmented the tasteful artwork adorning the interiors. And the bright image of the word “Maa” on the Mandap fascia in devnagri-bengali-ish script would remain etched on the minds of audiences for a long long time.       


Mandap Front Facade
Illuminated "Maa" or "Mother" in Devnagri Script as the Rear Facade
Devi and her wards in all Golden Hues
The Ornate Wall
Geometric designs on the Ceiling


 Dum Dum Park Tarun Dal (Maa by Anirban Das)

Another concept where the thematic cynosure was ‘Maa’ – the Real Life Mother. The entire art form here depicted what Mother is in our life. A unique installation art of diverse things used by our Mothers in their daily lives is seen here. The walls of the approach are masked with kantha stitch clothes, Patachitra and cow dung cakes. Whereas the cow dung cakes outside were fakes, made of a mix of cement and plaster, but the ones on the inside walls were real. Wooden panels were engraved with women in action in domestic chores. The corridor was cushioned by a line of traditional bnoti (vegetable chopper) with their vertical knives standing at a height of 14-ft. The central patio had a giant chaki (round pastry board) dotted with Patachitra and enormous inscribed beluns (Rolling Pins). The pandal itself was shaped like a clay oven. Look up to spot hundreds of cow dung cakes hanging from the ceiling. A nora (pestle or grinding stone) formed the backdrop of the goddess. Inside the main Mandap, it was decorated with Warli painting designs and patched up with mirror works from Rajasthan. Debatosh Kar’s idol also deserved a special mention.


Installed Entrance to the Main Sanctum

Bnoti (Traditional Veggie Choppers) lining up the Passage
Sculpted Beluns (Rolling Pins) & Patachitra paintings on Chakis(Circular Pastry Boards)

The Clay Oven shaped Main Dome

The Seat of the Devi & the Interiors

Hatibagan Nabin Palli (Kavad Art of Rajasthan by Gopal Poddar)

I’ve always been biased about Puja committees which patronise ancient art forms which are generally on the verge of extinction. This year Gopal Poddar at Hatinagan Nabin Palli decided to showcase an almost dying flavour from the heart of Rajasthan. “Kavad” is a truly inimitable sample of art which had originated some 400 years ago in the village of Vassi in the Chittor District of Rajasthan. The word “Kavad” has been derived from the Sanskrit word “Kapat” or “Kabat” meaning doors. Locally its referred to as “Chalta Firta Mandir” (Walking/Talking Temple). These mobile temples are wrapped in red cloth and carried from one village to the other by the Kavadiya Bhats (Wandering Minstrels). These troubadours would reach a certain village centre and unfurl the stories of these temples by singing songs describing different narratives from the Hindu Mythology painted on its various doors. Here, they have used many of these Kavads ranging from 6 inches to 20 ft. in addition to that Gopal had also used terracotta work from Udaipur’s Molela region and a specimen of Phar painting to decorate the pavilion. The idol had been masterfully carved out of wood in typical Rajasthani style.    


Entrance to the "Kavad" Courtyard


Numerous Kavads similar to the one above adorned this narrow Hatibagan Lane 

Devi was also perched on a Kavad   
Devi modeled similar to a typical Rajasthani Sherawali Image

Thakurpukur SB Park Sarbojanin (Bnaak by Bhabatosh Sutar)

Bhabatosh Sutar delivers a gem at this Puja located right on the fringes of the city. A chariot shaped Mandap built with various items & tools used for construction like Bricks, Sand, Shovels, Sledgehammers, etc. The Artist meticulously designed the deity of the so-called working class. The theme: Bnaak, is ideally a frame made out of bamboo used to transport weighty loads over long distances. It emphasized the regular struggles of the unskilled manual workers. Specifics in the form of gamchha (Towel), spade and the theme music by Kabir Suman showcased the hardships in the lives of manual labourers. A truly magnificent creation, probably the best of the year purely by its extraordinary level of execution.
The Chariot-shaped Pavilion was as detailed as it can be  
The frontal facade of the Chariot

The Idols shot from Close Range

BEST IDOL OF THE YEAR

Kalighat Milan Sangha (Piyali Sandhukhan)

This Puja should be mentioned only for its Idol... this Piyali Sadhukhan Marvel was a treat for the eyes and arguably the best Idol for the year. A touch of realism in the idol also gets a nod from my end, the girl next door image with a white & red saree draped takes the ultimate cake. Located right adjacent to our CM's residence this Committee would certainly be the ones to look forward to, in the forthcoming years....


Devi & her entourage
Piyali Sadhukhan's soooper execution 

Close up Shot