Dr. Kaberi Chatterjee (Leading Traditional Manipuri Dancer)

19.02.2011 - Interview conducted by Moushumi Bhadra

Q1:  Rabindranath Tagore is remembered as one of the greatest Bengali writers and poets, but he was also a pronounced humanist and anti-nationalist.  As an expert on Tagore’s dance dramas, how do you think his message could be translated upon the global state of affairs today?

A:  Well, Rabindranath Tagore was one of the greatest humanists, and through all his life, he protested things such as social prejudice, wrote about feminism and femininity, and was critical of repressive regimes.  He wrote three dance-dramas with different topics.  We already filmed three dance dramas, one of which we already showed at a film festival, in 8 European languages, so the message is really spreading already.

Q2:  As a Bengali speaker, how important is it to promote Bengali-language poets and writers like Rabindranath Tagore through your dance style, as well as the accompanying music, to the Western world?

A:  Yes, of course, because I grew up in his hometown, Shantiniketan, and I was raised with his ideas of teaching children to express themselves through painting, music, dance, or whatever you can do.

Q3:  Do you find your style of dance and performance is more popular and better-received in countries like the UK, where there is a substantial Indian community, or is there also a significant interest among Europeans with an appreciation for Indian music and dance?

A:  I prefer to go to more global audiences, not just to the well-integrated Indian community in the UK, because my aim is to reach out to more people all over the world, to show them Tagore’s work…

Q4:  Do you believe that there are forms of art which are more effective and more significant in improving cultural exchange, such as cinema and dance over music?

A:  Well cinema is one of the best forms for that, as is dance.  As I’m doing both of those, I think both are important.  When I’m dancing, I’m expressing myself through my body, and with the help of cinema, we can add subtitles. 

Q5:  So every type of art has a different way of communicating a message?

A:  Of course. 

Q6:  Is there a danger, as India becomes more westernized, of regional culture being neglected in favour of American and European art?

A:  No, Indian culture is so rich that in fact I think the opposite is true.  Maybe one day you will find that everybody has been influenced by Indian culture.

Q7:  So you think the spread of Indian culture is becoming more extensive as India becomes more westernized?

A:  Of course we are also becoming more westernized, but the culture, the music, the painting, the dance - everything is so rich, I doubt anything will destroy it.