Why the latest edition of Bonjour India will be an affair to remember
Come November, art and culture enthusiasts, especially those with Francophile sensibilities, will have plenty to look forward to. The Indo-French festival, Bonjour India—in its third and most ambitious avatar—envisages a four-month-long extravaganza that goes beyond merely the artistic. Technology, education and environment will also be in focus this time around. From Kochi to Kisama, Chandigarh to Chandannagar, Pondicherry to Pune, Bonjour India has close to 70 projects and programmes in its sights and will visit a total of 36 Indian cities.
With the various projects envisaging long-term engagement, running from five to 10 years, cultural counsellor and country director of Institut Française India, who is also general curator of Bonjour India, Dr Bertrand de Hartingh, is emphatic when he says, “Calling an exchange like this a ‘festival’ limits the scope of the projects. This is an exchange of ideas that aims to touch the lives of common people in areas as diverse as technology, medical advances, particularly in the surgical field, education and, of course, the arts.”
While de Hartingh may be loath to label this collaboration a mere festival, it is perhaps the most convenient descriptor as it will be a celebration of excellence and innovation in a multiplicity of fields. Rock and jazz music fests to game jams, “It-fashion” to IT, water conservation and management to sailing, women’s football to photography, music to mime and ballet to books, the canvas is huge.
Given that the exchange aims to straddle both technology and the arts, it is only fitting that Bonjour India 3.0 kicks off, with “Bhargal”, a 20-minute video painting by French artist Xavier de Richemont that will be unveiled against the dramatic backdrop of Amber Fort in Jaipur. After the exhibit—open for viewing through the four months of the festival—attendees at the opening event will feast on an Indo-French gastronomic dinner, especially created by the three Michelin-starred Alain Passard and well-known chef Manjit Gill. Incidentally, Passard returns in February on a multi-city tour, tantalising diners with signature dishes from his Paris restaurant, L’ Arpège.
Headlining the long list of stage performances is Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. “Mystical Breath” will see the maestro ply his bansuri to the accompaniment of Gregorian chants by ensemble Diabolus in Musica in a series of concerts. Taking the Gregorian theme forward is “Heaven and Earth”, featuring eminent Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam and Dominique Vellard, an expert in Gregorian chants, who will combine the tradition of tirukkural with French maximes. Travelling to multiple cities across the country, a medley of French and Indian bands will jam together as will Indian jazz musician Louis Banks and Erik Truffaz in a series of free concerts including at the Goa Jazz Festival.
And where there’s music can dance be far behind? Top picks in what promises to be a series of high-voltage performances: the Paris Opera Ballet brings its principal dancers, including Agnès Letestu, its former prima ballerina, best known for dancing the parts of both Odette and Odile from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Mumbai and New Delhi will be given, quite literally, “The Gift”—of a ballet performance incorporating both classical and contemporary forms that pays tribute to Paris, set to music featuring Chopin, Bizet and Piaf. Maudits Sonnants (Celestial Carillon) will enthral audiences as a bell ringing orchestra and aerialists lift over 50 metres off the ground to perform in outdoor public performances against the backdrops of landmark buildings in various cities.
In continuance with the tech meets art theme, “Hakanai” will show audiences what the two can do when working hand in hand. Priyabrat Panigrahi, an Indian classical dancer and choreographer, will link digital and performing arts in a solo performance.
A host of free public exhibitions and performances will be held in various cities. For instance, the photography exhibit “Flash France” will be on display in Lodhi Gardens in the capital and at other public and open spaces elsewhere in the country. Mime, juggling and circus arts too will work the crowds and street art will work with minority and marginalised communities to rejuvenate public spaces.
Big-ticket affairs like the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLT) and the India Art Fair always generate enough excitement, but with Bonjour India running concurrently this time, a uniquely French cachet can be expected. The India Art Fair, for instance, will see a special booth created by Matali Crasset, an industrial designer who has trained and worked with legends like Philippe Starck and Denis Santachiara.
Since the big idea behind Bonjour India is to forge long-term bonds, France’s earliest colonial settlement in India, Chandannagar, will find itself receiving some attention as well. Its French-era Registry Building is all set for restoration. One of France’s most respected urban planners and academics, architect Odile Decq, will collaborate with Indian architect Aishwarya Tipnis and engage with local students to raise public awareness on conservation—that it need not be a bottomless financial drain but instead can become a sustainable source of employment and growth.
Way back in the mid-80s, as part of the long-time love affair between India and France—the first Festival of India in France was held in 1984-85, followed by a reciprocal Festival of France in India—the Resident’s Building was given a massive facelift. Post restoration, it is home to the Chandannagar Museum, with its small but formidable collection of Islamic, French and British colonial artefacts. Regular French classes are also conducted here and, even today, this grand old lady is the primary tourist attraction in this riverside Bengali moffusil town.
Moving from conservation to conversation, workshops for filmmakers and incipient writers will once again crisscross the realms of technology and creativity. Standing out is the Virtual Reality Lab, which will allow writers to create a story and then get immersed in the narrative through the creation of a complementary virtual world. Interactive sessions with French and Indian filmmakers and actors are also on the calendar. Cinema audiences will have the opportunity to watch some of the best French films of the last decade—some have never been released in India.
Just as many films may be unfamiliar, so are many of the visiting artistes—household names in France, as de Hartingh ruefully observes. All the more reason that such people-to-people engagements take place. Sanjoy Roy, of Teamwork Arts, the producers of JLT feels, “Working in collaboration with international agencies and festivals enriches our offering and allows audiences to access different genres at JLT and elsewhere.” As the man behind Bonjour India, de Hartingh caps it, “This is not for aap log or tum log, it is for hum sab log!”
For more details and updates on events in your city: http://ifindia.in/.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec ’17 issue of The Indian Quarterly. This issue marked 5th anniversary of the magazine, and is based on the theme “Love”.