Harmonious Tones

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A chat with the founders of Kalasetu, who are promoting Indo-French artists, and about their show in Pune on Thursday evening.

This Thursday evening you will be treated to an unusual jugalbandi. A sitarist, a tabla player and a French puppeteer will complement each other and create a ‘musical comedy puppet show’. The programme titled Inchorus Puppet Swing: An Indo-French Musical Puppet Show, will be presented by The Alliance Française de Pune, in association with Poona Music Society. 

The show has been conceptualised by Kalasetu, an Indo-French organisation, which was established by two French scholars — Ingrid Le Gargasson, who is studying Social Anthropology,  and Jeanne Miramon-Bonhoure, who is researching in Musicology. Kalasetu aims to bring together artists, scholars and the audience to appreciate and encourage the transmission and the performance of artistic expressions from South Asia, in India and in France. 

We talk to Gargasson, as well as the two performing artists for this week’s show in Pune — Dhruv Bedi, sitarist and Sabrina Arusam, puppeteer. First, Gargasson tells us about Kalasetu and the work they are doing.

To promote Indo-French culture
“Kalasetu or Le pont des arts in French, is an Indo-French organisation established by Jeanne and I. We are doing research on the history and present practices of Hindustani music. We began organising concerts and workshops of Hindustani music in France in 2014 with the idea to share our love for this tradition and for the music of Indian artists we met during our fieldwork. We want to support talented musicians who are not yet famous, besides working with renowned performers like Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande. We are co-organising her tour in France next December,” says Gargasson. 

Since September 2016, the duo have started to collaborate with the Alliance Française Delhi’s director, Jean-François Ramon and his team. They have set up a cycle of musical meetings for the promotion of Indian classical music and dance and exchanges between Indian and French artists, called InChorus. 

“InChorus offers a dedicated platform to young promising musicians, of all genres, settled in India and France, through residencies, concerts and workshops. We encourage talented Indian musicians to take part in the development of a musical project or to strengthen an already existing collaboration with a French (or European) artist. Kalasetu is also collaborating with Spic Macay in organising lec-dem of Western classical music or traditional music, mostly with French artists,” she adds.     

Since December 2016, 21 artists (Indian as well as French) have participated in the programme. “Most of them are musicians but we had one dancer and one puppeteer (Sabrina) as well. The selection of the artists for InChorus depends on the quality of the project and their level of mastery. They should be below the ages of  35-40 years,” informs Gargasson. 

Artists-speak
We are familiar with vocalist/s and instrumentalist collaborating together, but a puppeteer and a Hindustani instrumentalist, telling a story, is certainly new. Upcoming sitarist Dhruv Bedi acknowledges it and says, “Performing live with Sabrina Arusam is like a question and answer series. Sometimes I am following her, sometimes she is complementing my skills. It’s a give and take relationship. The challenge was that I had to look at her all the time and she has to hear me all the time. We have enjoyed this task immensely.” Bedi, Arusam and tabla player, Saptak Sharma, will be performing in Pune.

When Bedi and Arusam performed together for the first time in December 2016 in Delhi, they had short time to put together their act. “Ingrid contacted me for this Indo-French collaboration. I was given a 30 minute slot for my solo, after which I had to collaborate with Sabrina. She came to my house in Delhi with all her puppets and we talked about her act. I got the script, and accordingly I prepared the background score. We rehearsed for a day or two and performed in Delhi at Alliance Francaise and it was a big hit. People liked it very much,” he adds.
Arusam, who has made Hyderabad her home, says, “The show doesn’t have too many dialogues, but focuses on the emotions and expressions of the puppet called, Raymond. The connection with the music is very important; it all depends on how the music can complement the expressions. I call it a musical comedy puppet show.”

Talking about the script, Arusam said she read a story on the internet about an old, ailing man, who was living in an old people’s home. “He didn’t have any family, but was attached to a nurse. Before dying, he kept a letter under the pillow for her. I connected with this story of the old man, and I developed a script around an old man who comes to India and is later impressed by the Kathputhli,” she adds.

When she and Bedi performed together, the sitarist said that Arusam’s accent and dynamics played a big role in it. “If Sabrina was singing, then I would have had to pitch my sitar’s tone at a certain scale. But since she was speaking, it was a little easier. However, I had to keep in mind, if she was loud, or speaking softly, or if the tone was questioning. I was more focused on her story and her expressions,” says Bedi, who has performed before French President and PM Narendra Modi and presented a few French songs. 

On her part, Arusam enjoys Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, besides the French music instrument cello. “I like all styles of music. I like to discover and explore something new.  I have a good bond with the first Indian musician I worked, a bansuri player, Rishabh Prasanna. I am also constantly in touch with Dhruv on phone, learning and collaborating,” she adds.

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