Varun Dhawan on ‘Street Dancer 3D’, dancing with Prabhudheva and D-day rumours

Varun Dhawan on ‘Street Dancer 3D’, dancing with Prabhudheva and D-day rumours

Varun Dhawan has an exciting lineup in 2020 and Street Dancer 3D is just the beginning. The Remo D’Souza film reunites the actor with his ABCD 2 co-star and childhood friend Shraddha Kapoor. Last week in an interview at the JW Marriott in Mumbai, Varun shared with The Telegraph his reasons for wanting to be a part of this film, how he got over Kalank’s box-office failure and the marriage rumours.

My best friends, Aman and Ankit, who I’ve known for 30 years took me to Phuket for my birthday where we did an MMA training camp. For conditioning, the teacher would kick you in the stomach. The minute that guy would kick me in the stomach, I would stop thinking about (the pain of Kalank not working) and started thinking about this pain
My best friends, Aman and Ankit, who I’ve known for 30 years took me to Phuket for my birthday where we did an MMA training camp. For conditioning, the teacher would kick you in the stomach. The minute that guy would kick me in the stomach, I would stop thinking about (the pain of Kalank not working) and started thinking about this painStill from the film

If the trailers are anything to go by, Street Dancer 3D is more than just a dance film. Is that what caught your attention about the film?

That’s exactly what caught my attention, because I had already done ABCD 2, which was a film purely dedicated to dance, the struggles of dancers and the hardships to achieve a big place on the international scene. With this film, it was way more than that.

There was a documentary on SWAT (Seek Welfare and Awareness Team) which works in the UK in rehabilitating people from different countries who don’t have homes and need shelter. It’s a very interesting topic that’s been mixed in a small way with dance in this film. In fact, some of them have been featured in the film as well. There’s a good cause in the film and that cause was the reason I wanted to do it.

Your last masala film was Judwaa 2, after which you had three very different films —October, Sui Dhaaga and KalankThis film, in comparison, seems like a safer bet. Is that fair to say?

To make a ‘safe bet’ work is also difficult. You’re right about the fact that this is more in the zone that people want to see me in or what they recognise me for. But if I just kept repeating myself in this day and age, I don’t think people would be excited. If the youth is showing excitement and there’s hype about this film, it’s obviously also because there are so many dancers from the country featured in the film. But there is an X-factor to the story, it’s not similar to ABCD or ABCD 2. So, they’re liking that little edge that is there.

Alia Bhatt spoke about the failure of Kalank being tough to get over. In your career, it was one of those very rare films that didn’t work. How do you get over a film that doesn’t work?

My best friends, Aman and Ankit, who I’ve known for 30 years, took me to Phuket for my birthday where we did an MMA training camp. For conditioning, the teacher would kick you in the stomach. The minute that guy would kick me in the stomach, I would stop thinking about (the pain of Kalank not working) and started thinking about this pain. That straightaway brought me back to the present. That was my birthday present from my best friends and it was very therapeutic. I began enjoying the present and having fun with my friends once again.

They even put a date to it and said it was happening in December. So, now they’re going to keep trying. The media had been really bad at predicting it so far, they’ve not got it right. I’m not playing this game. There’s no date set (Varun is slated to get married to girlfriend Natasha Dalal). Once that happens, people will get to know, it’s very difficult to hide today
They even put a date to it and said it was happening in December. So, now they’re going to keep trying. The media had been really bad at predicting it so far, they’ve not got it right. I’m not playing this game. There’s no date set (Varun is slated to get married to girlfriend Natasha Dalal). Once that happens, people will get to know, it’s very difficult to hide todayThe Telegraph picture

That sounds painful. I’m guessing it’s not an experience you’d want to repeat?

No, I would. I’m a big fan of MMA and the UFC and have a passion for learning these things. It was a good three-four days we spent there and had fun.

During ABCD 2, you had spoken about going through intense training. Did that help with this film as well?

After ABCD 2, for the next one or one-and-a-half years, I found dance really easy. The more you practise, the better you get. The more you’re dancing, the better your feet move. But the minute you stop, it gets tougher. Because it was a four-year gap, it was tough to get one’s body moving that way again. And this is not regular dancing, it’s another level. We’ve done a lot of urban and new-school dance has evolved since then. So, I was still finding myself not quite up to the mark and not as sharp.

I had to lose a lot of weight because dancers are very lean and I was a little bulked up. It’s also one of the reasons I did the film, because I wanted to feel super active again. It’s a different feeling. Nobody can imagine that you’re going to be able to dance for eight hours, but you can. And you’ll be fine the next day. It’s just that you have to keep doing it and make it a routine, and that’s what happened for 65-70 days.

Varun Dhawan as Sahej in Street Dancer 3D
Varun Dhawan as Sahej in Street Dancer 3DStill from the film

Was it daunting to dance with Prabhudheva?

He’s from a different world, he’s unbelievable. And trust me, you’ve seen nothing till now. Watching Prabhudheva in Street Dancer 3D is by itself worth your ticket price. I promise you that and I’m not saying this to sell the film. I felt really embarrassed that however much I practise, I’m never going to match this guy. He puts Shraddha (Kapoor), Nora (Fatehi), me… everyone in the star cast to shame.

Your character is a Michael Jackson fan and there have been a few child molestation allegations after his death. What’s your take on separating the art from the artiste?

It matters in all walks of life, for anyone we look up to and when such disturbing things come up. It definitely will hurt if anything is true but there isn’t absolute clarity on this one. It’s not like R. Kelly or Harvey Weinstein, where they were proved to be 100 per cent guilty. There is no doubt there is a lot of evidence, but even in the country where he was accused, they haven’t been able to come to any sort of judgment. It’s very divided. And it’s the same around the world because he is a worldwide icon. Even where his death is concerned, a lot of people thought he was murdered by the doctor. There are divided opinions and you don’t know what to make of it. So, you don’t remove their work right away. If the person is alive, it’s a different case, because you’ll see a fan reaction there and then. Unfortunately, when a person’s passed away, it’s very difficult to make a judgment because you liked him for a certain aspect of his life.

Shraddha and you have known each other for eons and this is your second film together. Have you learnt anything new about her as a co-actor?

She feels really cold. In cold countries, she’s freezing and falls ill… catches a cold very easily. And then she gives it to me. That’s not fun!

Marriage rumours are back in circulation…

They even put a date to it and said it was happening in December. So, now they’re going to keep trying. The media had been really bad at predicting it so far, they’ve not got it right. I’m not playing this game. There’s no date set (Varun is slated to get married to girlfriend Natasha Dalal). Once that happens, people will get to know, it’s very difficult to hide today.

What’s the rest of the year looking like for you?

Busy. I’ve shot Coolie No. 1, most of it is done and it releases on May 1. I start shooting for Mr. Lele, which will release on January 1, 2021. And after that there’s the Arun Khetarpal biopic. I just took a good break in Switzerland, so am re-energised and am spending the rest of the year shooting.

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Murshidabad heritage tour

Murshidabad heritage tour

Murshidabad, the capital of undivided Bengal, has restored at least 10 heritage buildings, some of which will soon be included in a heritage tour that will start later this month.

“Murshidabad is replete with history and some of the buildings tell the story of undivided Bengal. We always wanted them to be restored properly. We conceived the idea of their restoration and involved local people to achieve this feat,” said Darshan Dudhoria, the secretary of the Murshidabad Heritage Development Society.

The Murshidabad Heritage Development Society was founded in 2010 with the objective of restoring and reviving the heritage structures in Azimganj and Jiaganj in particular and Murshidabad in general.

It was conceived and created by the Sheherwali community, who are businessmen from Rajasthan who migrated to Bengal looking for business opportunities in the late 1700s.

The society will be hosting the three-day Murshidabad Heritage Festival 2020 in January to showcase the art and culture of the district, organise a heritage walk and curate the food to bring Murshidabad back into the “tourism, cultural and heritage” map of the world.

The festival from January 24 to 26 will take place at the recently restored Katghola Palace in Lalbagh. The society will provide a guided a tour that will start with a visit to the Cossimbazar Rajbari, followed by sightseeing of heritage monuments, palaces and museums, and cultural programmes with chhou and raibenshe troupes.

There will also be a heritage walk at Azimganj, complete with the taste of the Sheherwali gourmet cuisine and a tour of taanti para (weavers’ locality).

There will also be a visit to the Hazarduari museum, said Dudhoria.

In the last decade, the society has also mentored and encouraged residents to restore the properties and the old houses.

One of them is the Bari Kothi (Palace of the Elder) that was built in the late 1700s but later abandoned. It has now been developed into a heritage hotel.

“It could be used as a pilot project for other hoteliers to come and adopt the old houses in the area which can be developed. The society has earmarked 97 buildings in the area for restoration. The idea is to identify assets and for people to come and know about them,” said Dudhoria, also the co-owner of the Bari Kothi heritage hotel.

A part of the work by the society includes generating interest in the heritage among school and college students by organising quiz and photography exhibitions.

“There is a change in the mindset of the students who earlier had no value for the heritage properties but now take pride in them. Because of lack of awareness, they used to scribble on the walls or make graffiti but now they understand the value of those structures,” said Sandip Nowlakha, the vice-president of the Murshidabad Heritage Development Society.

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Tea gardens welcome tourism plan

Tea gardens welcome tourism plan

Stakeholders of Bengal’s tea industry have welcomed the state government’s decision to relax land rules to facilitate tourism and setting up of alternative businesses in estates that can also generate employment for the local population.

The government had introduced a tea tourism policy in 2013 allowing gardens to use a maximum of 5 acres of land for tourism. According to the policy, construction could also be carried out on 1.5 acres if the garden is in the plains and on 1 acre if the estate is in the hills.

Because of these clauses, the tea planters’ fraternity had felt discouraged to take up tourism projects in their gardens, pointing out that the stipulated land was too less to initiate any such project. Another section of planters had pointed out that they needed a policy that could provide options for launching commercial activities other than tourism.

Last November, the government decided to increase the land ceiling for tourism projects and other specific commercial purposes to 15 per cent of the total land available with a garden, subject to a maximum of 150 acres.

The government also came up with the Tea Tourism & Allied Business Policy 2019, allowing construction on 40 per cent of the land earmarked for tourism and other commercial activities.

Along with tea tourism, the government has allowed wellness centres, educational institutions, hospitals, cultural, recreation and exhibition centres, horticulture, floriculture, medicinal plant cultivation, and food-processing and packaging units.

“This has opened a new vista for the tea sector and tea companies can now explore ways to utilise unused stretches of land in their gardens. There is always a potential for tea tourism but there are gardens that might think of getting into other allied activities in case they feel that the estates are not located in areas conducive to tourism. So far, they did not have any option other than tourism,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary-general of the Tea Association of India.

In the new policy, the state has also mentioned that if any such project is taken up, there should be no reduction in the plantation area and no worker should be retrenched.

“It also mentions that out of the total employment generated through a project taken up in any garden in keeping with the policy, 80 per cent of the jobs should be provided to locals, particularly to the children of tea workers. It was a longstanding demand of tea garden youths to create employment opportunities for them. We believe that now that the new policy is in force, many tea gardens will draw up projects. This means, many of these youths will have the chance to get jobs,” said Mohan Sharma, the president of the Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union.

The policy also offers the option of shifting workers’ quarters in case contiguous land is needed, but simultaneously makes it clear that the project planned in the garden should be in consonance with ecological and environmental regulations.

“Any tea company intending to take up a project needs to apply before a screening committee that has been constituted at the state level. The committee will go through the project plan and then approve it. The company will have to sign an agreement with the district collector and start the project within three years from the date of striking the deal,” an official said.

Sumanta Guha Thakurta, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association, pointed out that the new policy had also created the scope for tea companies to join hands with investors and expert agencies.

“If required, a tea company can get fresh investments. This would encourage even those tea companies that would have otherwise found it tough to make investments on their own. Some of our member gardens have already planned to submit project ideas to the state,” he said.

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Basanta Utsav date changed

Basanta Utsav date changed

isva-Bharati has decided not to hold Basanta Utsav on Holi this year because of growing footfall on the campus during the festival in previous years.

Varsity officials said they were trying to prevent a repeat of last year when 2.5 lakh visitors converged on the festival venue, resulting in hooliganism and crowd control problems.

“We have decided that we will not organise Basanta Utsav on the day of Holi like in the past years. It will probably be organised between Holi and the preceding full moon,” said Anirban Sircar, officiating public relations officer of the varsity.

Sources said vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty had asked for prospective dates from senior officials and teachers at a meeting recently. “Two dates were proposed. But we might declare it at the eleventh hour just to avoid unprecedented crowd,” a senior official said.

“Last year, all roads leading to the ground had got blocked, leading to traffic snarls, suffocation and unwanted harassment. There were also complaints of molestation.”

Basanta Utsav was started by Rabindranath Tagore in the early 1920’s on Basant Panchami. In later decades, the festival was shifted to the date of Holi.

“More recently, the Utsav has become a playground for hooligans. Thousands of people having no regard for the culture of Santiniketan or Rabindranath Tagore disrupted the harmony of the programme. We welcome the move,” said Sudripta Tagore, a resident of Santiniketan and descendent of the Tagore family.

“The more important thing is that there is no rule of organising Basanta Utsav on the day of Holi. Tagore had arranged it as a way to welcome spring, not to play Holi.”

A girl student said: “We don’t know whether changing the date will be a solution. But if such hooliganism is stopped by doing this, then we welcome it.”

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2 new venues for north Bengal fest

2 new venues for north Bengal fest

Kaliaganj in North Dinajpur and Mirik, the tiny sub-division in Darjeeling district, have been chosen by the Bengal government as new venues for the upcoming Uttarbanga Utsav, the week-long cultural extravaganza that is to be inaugurated by chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Atharokhai on the outskirts of Siliguri on January 20.

Sources said the chief minister, after her procession in Siliguri on January 3, had instructed tourism minister Gautam Deb to select Kaliaganj and Mirik as two fresh venues for the fest.

The move is being seen as a gesture by the Trinamul chief to recognise the support etended by residents of the two towns in recent years.

While Mirik is the sole hill civic body where Trinamul is in power, it is the support of the majority of Kaliaganj residents that helped the party win the Assembly bypoll in November last year.

Every year, the festival is held at different venues across north Bengal. From cultural events to marathon to a sit-and-draw competition, a series of programmes are conducted throughout the region.

“Though Trinamul lost the Raiganj Lok Sabha seat to the BJP, it could recover and secured the Kaliaganj Assembly seat for the first time. Also, Mirik is the only civic body in the hills where Trinamul could secure the board. That is why Mamata Banerjee seems to have instructed Gautam Deb to select these two venues for the largest cultural event of the region. Trinamul wants to retain the support of people in both these areas,” said a political analyst.

Deb, who held a meeting here on the preparations, elaborated on the fest.

“There will be a venue for the fest in each district of north Bengal and everywhere, the fest will open on the same day, that is, on January 20. In the hills, the fest would be held in Darjeeling, Mirik and Kalimpong. In Siliguri, the sit-and-draw competition and the race would be held on January 23 and January 26, respectively,” said Deb.

The sit-and-draw competition, the largest such event in north Bengal, has gained immense popularity among children. Last year, over 15,000 students had participated. It will be held at Kanchanjunga Stadium.

The tourism minister also mentioned that at the inaugural function, the chief minister would confer the “Banga Ratna” award to nine eminent personalities of the region for their contribution in different fields. “She will also distribute scholarships to 10 meritorious students from each district of north Bengal,” Deb said.

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Calendar plans out Salt Lake FE Block’s year

Calendar plans out Salt Lake FE Block’s year

Salt Lake FE Block Residents’ Association is set to forge closer ties among neighbours this year. The block association has for the first time printed wall calendars for its residents with holidays and information of cultural events specific to the block.

For instance, on January 12 there will be a seminar and an elocution contest for youths on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary. January 19 will be sports day, to be followed by celebrations for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary, Republic Day and cultural programmes and community dinner on January 30 for Saraswati puja.

The block committee has chalked out the cultural calendar for the entire year, even announcing khuti puja for Durga puja on July 5. Besides festivals, dates are specified for Science Day celebration (February 28, 29), Literature festival and book fair (May 8 and 9) and the block picnic on December 20.

In case of unforeseen circumstances, a line at the bottom clarifies that the schedule is subject to change in case of eventualities.

The calendar has been despatched to every home in the block.

“This is an effort on our part to ensure bigger gatherings on every occasion. So long we have been announcing events a week or 10 days in advance, sending printouts of the circular to every house. But this way, with the calendar out, both organisers and attendees can plan things in advance,” said block president Gautam Ray.

“I wonder if any other block in Salt Lake has printed such a calendar of events,” a resident said.

The block has a Facebook page and a Whatsapp group but plans to have an app as well to deal with both subscription and communication.

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Boat race, fish quiz, cooking contest at Nalban

Boat race, fish quiz, cooking contest at Nalban

Bengal Fish Fest, the popular three-day event organised by the department of fisheries in association with the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), will return this weekend at Nalban Food Park.

A novelty this year will be a boat race set to happen for the first time. It has been scheduled on Sunday at 2pm. “There will be 12 boats competing with fishermen from the districts at the oars,” said an ICC official.

Other than this, there will be a culinary competition from 2pm on Saturday for which participants will have to come with two fish dishes cooked at home. The quality of these dishes will decide whether the person can compete in the on-site cook-off. “Of the two dishes, one should be with a sweet water fish and the other with marine creatures like prawn, crab or pomfret,” the official said.

The main round, other than having sweet water and marine fish as categories, will have a third segment called innovation. The top three in each category will be awarded. But participants have to register in advance.

The fish quiz, a signature chapter in the event, will happen on Sunday, just after the boat race.

There will be 75 stalls at the fair, including 40 food stalls. Eateries to set up stalls include Machhlibaba, Bhuter Raja Dilo Bor, Saptapadi, Posto and Go Lebanese, other than Benfish. The State Fisheries Development Corporation (SFDC) will also be present, selling raw, cut and cooked fish. Self-help groups have also booked space.

SFDC will launch a mobile app to sell fish as also accept bookings at its properties in various parts of the state like in Digha or Henry’s Island. “We will supply orders to areas under the Calcutta and the Bidhannagar municipal corporations. Our minister will also inaugurate the refurbished All Fish restaurant on Friday,” said an official.

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Most of ‘Ghost Stories’ is ho-hum

Most of ‘Ghost Stories’ is ho-hum

Horror is a tough nut to crack. How do you work largely within a set of given tropes and come up with an experience that looks and feels new? How do you afford the literal with layer so as to not only evoke a greater degree of fear, but possibly something far deeper? Most importantly, how much is too much and how little too little in horror?

Ghost Stories, the four-in-one anthology on Netflix that attempts to explore different facets of horror — overt to implied, fable-inspired to urban legend, socio-visual to political — is a significant step forward for the genre in an industry that hasn’t really ventured beyond the conventional, save for a tryst or two. More importantly, it sees four mainstream directors come together — like they did with Bombay Talkies (2013) and Lust Stories (2018) — to experiment with a genre that hasn’t always been the first choice for filmmakers in our part of the world.

So, does Ghost Stories work? Well, let’s just say that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. In a genre that inherently lends itself to indulgence, Ghost Stories is far too indulgent, with style often dominating substance. While Zoya Akhtar’s segment is predictable, Karan Johar’s is downright silly. Anurag Kashyap scores with mood and (some) moments, but you may need to look away during some bits. It’s only Dibakar Banerjee who aces it, crafting a tale that seems both make-believe and horrifyingly close to reality at once. Here’s what we thought of the four segments, in the order they appear in…

Directed by: Zoya Akhtar

What can get more humdrum than an old, creaking house, a city on the verge of a deluge and two strangers locked in? Zoya, who stepped out of her comfort zone to hit it out of the park with Gully Boy, disappointingly works within the usual horror tropes in her film, which is also the shortest of the four. Janhvi Kapoor sheds some of her rawness to play a nurse caring for an infirm septuagenarian (Surekha Sikri in supreme form).

Squeaking doors, shadowy figures, doorbells that ring at random and an unnerving stench that refuses to go away… you know from the first minute where this is going to land up. Some parts are genuinely eerie, with the atmospherics contributing largely to the feeling of foreboding, but this is a case of too much building up to almost nothing. A missed opportunity, with the hugely talented Vijay Varma being given only one banal scene to play with.

Directed by: Anurag Kashyap

A voracious watcher of the genre, Anurag Kashyap is a man who knows his horror. Layering a human story with elements of both psychological and body horror, Kashyap tells a deeply disturbing tale that explores themes of motherhood, loss and loneliness, with the segment relying on the ever-dependable Sobhita Dhulipala to pull it through some of its patchy parts.

The most compelling in terms of technique — from the desaturated colour palette to the camera sneaking up for Sobhita’s close-ups — this segment is ripe with potential (even a shirt left hanging on a clothesline looks portentous). A pregnant young woman (Sobhita) precariously walking up and down a flight of stairs leading up to an attic that symbolically nestles a few birds’ eggs ready to hatch, a row of ominous dolls with beady eyes that the protagonist ‘talks’ to, a jealous young boy with voodoo-like powers and the constant cawing of crows, the build-up is very Hitchcockian.

Kashyap manages to conjure some deeply unsettling moments, like the scene in the hospital, which is poetically filmed, almost fable-like in its mounting. But he does allow his penchant for indulgence to get the better of him, especially in the last 10 minutes. How much you like or dislike this film will depend on how strong your stomach is. It will probably work with fans of David Cronenberg’s genre of psychological horror meshing with the physical, but Kashyap fails to rein it in when he should have.

Directed by: Dibakar Banerjee

Dibakar Banerjee always has a voice that cuts through the clutter. His film, embedded in the zombie genre, is easily the best in Ghost Stories. Rooted in the Jordan Peele school of horror (more Get Out than Us), the film is set in a post-apocalyptic world and opens with a man (Sukant Goel aces it from the get-go) landing up in a remote village on a work assignment in the dead of the night. Trudging through mucky fields after a scared rickshaw puller abandons him four kilometres away, he finds himself in the village a few hours later, completely deserted, without power and the biggest horror story of them all… without cell phone reception. Two kids (Aditya Shetty and Eva Amreet are top-notch), barely 10 years old, rescue him in the nick of time, to tell him an incredible story. The story of how the inhabitants of the neighbouring ‘big town’ “ate up” everyone in ‘small town’, leaving only the two of them to devise ingenious ways on a daily basis to keep themselves alive.

Bloodthirsty monsters are running amuck, with the film being painted as a survival-against-all-odds story on the surface. But scratch below it, and you will see Dibakar making many a strong statement. From the cannibalisation of lives, resources and even faith to veiled references to religious fundamentalism, lynching and politics over meat, the film serves as an extremely layered commentary on the country’s current socio-political climate.

Dibakar gets all the beats right with this inventive and courageous take on the genre. The monsters are clearly among us and Dibakar — with a shape-shifting turn from Gulshan Devaiah aiding him — says it as it is.

Directed by: Karan Johar

The weakest film of the four, this one is painfully predictable to the point of being juvenile. Karan works within the framework of what he’s best known for. So there are rich, well-heeled families, a big fat wedding, aesthetically done-up mansions and protagonists sipping rose wine even while conversing about dead grandmothers who supposedly ‘talk’.

Mrunal Thakur has little to do except walk around looking scared in silk negligees in the dead of the night. The unintentionally funny film literally goes nowhere. The biggest eye-roll-inducing moments are courtesy social media star Kusha Kapila who pops up every now and then to crack a distasteful joke or two. One involves comparing billowing curtains to a blow job. Yes, you read that right.

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Award for grit and talent

Award for grit and talent

  • Alfia Khatoon’s mother wants her to return to their village in Birbhum but the Class IX student wants to stay on at a relative’s home because she wants to study in an English-medium school
  • Muddasir Imam travels for more than five hours every day from South 24-Parganas to reach his school in Bowbazar’s Phears Lane

Alfia received a prize for extra-curricular activities and Muddasir was declared the best student at their school’s annual programme recently.

Most students of St Stephen’s School, Bowbazar, are first-generation learners who fight financial difficulties every day and the prizes that they received acknowledge not just their academic scores but their grit and determination as well.

“It’s not easy to stay away from your parents but if I was to go and live with them it would mean giving up on my career. I am not ready to bargain that for a little more comfort,” said Alfia, 14, who is both a dancer and a painter.

Muddasir starts from his home in Mullickpur, South 24-Parganas, at 7.30am and takes a local train to Sealdah, from where he walks to school. “School starts at 11am and I have to be on time. There might not be many students my age who have to do this every day. But my focus is on studies and to make my parents proud,” said the boy whose father works at a hotel in Chandni Chowk.

St Stephen’s School started in the year 2001 and now has over 700 students on its rolls.

“Many of the children come from economically deprived families and do not have the means to buy more than one uniform. By the time it is Thursday, their uniforms are dirty and they come to school shabbily dressed. But many among them are keen to study. When they do that teachers also go an extra step and take remedial classes so that they get the academic support which is not available in their homes,” said Sadaf Hashmi, the school coordinator.

The students had put up an annual concert on the theme United We Stand. Some of them walked the ramp for a fashion show on the theme of national integration.

“We are trying to send a message to the children and their parents that we have always been together and we are one and that’s the way it is,” said Imran Zaki, honorary secretary of the school.

Author Lal Bhatia was the chief guest and actress Richa Sharma was the guest of honour.

 Alfia Khatoon receives her award
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Folk songs for TMC campaign

Folk songs for TMC campaign

Several district units of the Trinamul Congress in south Bengal have decided to field folk singers to further the party’s campaign against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens.

Sources in Trinamul said other than spreading awareness of the harmfulness of the Centre’s moves on citizenship, the party was employing music to assuage the rural populations’ worries about the CAA and the NRC.

Senior Trinamul leaders said folk singers, accompanied by party workers, would visit different villages and perform anti-CAA and anti-NRC songs and programmes.

According to the leaders, several Baul, Fakiri and Bhadu singers in districts like Birbhum, Bankura and Burdwan have been asked to start composing tunes carrying the message. They said Jhumur and Tusu troupes of singers — who are popular in the Jungle Mahal — had also been enlisted.

“Central Bengal districts of Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura and Burdwan have a large number of folk singers who are also afraid of the CAA and the NRC. Hence, they welcome our effort,” said Abhijit Sinha, the Birbhum district vice-president of Trinamul.

The Trinamul leaders said they had learned recently about the singers’ attempts to craft new songs based on the NRC and the CAA. “We contacted and asked them to keep writing the songs while joining our effort,” said a party source.

“They agreed because they want to caution villagers against the fallout of the CAA and the NRC,” the Trinamul source said.

The Birbhum unit of Trinamul has organised a 10-day long cultural programme — Basapara Milan Mela O Lok Sanskriti Utsav — in Nanoor’s Basapara, where around 50 folk singers have been invited to perform. The musical pieces also deal with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other Trinamul leaders who are into the campaign against the CAA and the NRC.

“We have invited at least 50 folk singers of the district to perform at the cultural fest. We have organised the 10-day programme mainly to campaign against the CAA and the NRC. Residents of at least 100 villages were invited to the event,” said Kerim Khan, Trinamul leader and a functionary of the Birbhum zilla parishad.

On December 30, Trinamul leaders in Purulia invited around 100 Tusu and Jhumur folk singers to an anti-CAA march led by Mamata.

“Tusu and Jhumur are popular in our district and we can connect people with those songs easily to explain the conspiracy of the BJP government. So, we have already asked folk singers who have written songs on the issue to take part in our coming campaign programmes,” said Nabendu Mahali, Trinamul general secretary in Purulia.

Gorachand Banerjee, a Bhadu folk singer, wrote: “Ei matitey jonmo modeyr, amra Bongobashi/Debo na go hotey Banglay amra NRC (We were born on this soil, we are the people of Bengal/We will not allow the NRC in Bengal).”

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