Documentary channel

How did the piano become a Bengali instrument? A documentary has some answers

Subha Das Mollick’s ‘Calcutta Sonata’ looks at how the piano became an integral part of the cultural fabric of Calcutta.

“Nobody remembers when the first piano was disembarked from the ships that docked by the shores of the river [in Calcutta],” declares the narrator early on in Subha Das Mollick’s documentary Calcutta Sonata. What the city does remember is how another majestic creature, the elephant, arrived in the city. Mollick shows an old pencil sketch of the pachyderm about to be dropped off from a ship at the docks in Calcutta. She tweaks the image and draws a piano in the place of the elephant to ask, could this be how the piano entered the city too?

A filmmaker and professor at ilead – Institute of Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Development, Mollick attempts to trace the piano’s physical and sonic sojourn in Kolkata through her 58-minute documentary. She begins by recording anecdotes about the first sightings of the instrument and slowly uncovers the story of how the piano came to be such an integral part of the cultural fabric of Bengalis in Calcutta.

The idea for Calcutta Sonata came to Mollick at a discussion in 2014 at her college with a few professors from Cambridge University. “The occasion was 400 years of the India-Britain relationship,” Mollick recalled. “There were discussions on the coming of the Railways, on setting up of corporate houses like Shaw Wallace and Imperial Tobacco Company, on tea and opium trade. Somebody mentioned cultural influences and music. In my mind I began to hear the sound of the piano – particularly, Rabindra Sangeet being played on the piano. I asked myself, when did the first piano come to Calcutta?”

Play
Calcutta Sonata (2017).

The harmonium is another instrument with western origins. But nothing comes close to the piano, especially in terms of “the spectrum of sound produced and the grandeur of look”, according to Mollick.

“I realised that the piano was in many ways instrumental in introducing western musical concepts to the Indians,” Mollick explained. “My well-to-do relatives had pianos in their homes and their children took piano lessons. The piano became a status symbol for the westernised Bengali. I instinctively realised that there was a story here – the story of gradual assimilation of the piano into the cultural fabric of the city. I started meeting pianists, piano teachers, piano tuners, went to workshops that repair old pianos and I started reading up about the piano.”

The result, three years later, was Calcutta Sonata, which frames the story of the majestic 88-keyed instrument against the still-existing Victorian structures of Kolkata, which, like the piano, remind the city of its colonial past.

The West meets the East

“A bridge between the aural experience of the Orient and the Occident” is how Mollick describes the piano in her documentary and substantiates it using detailed interviews with music scholars, teachers and artists, apart from excerpts from Rabindranath Tagore’s Reminiscences.

She even briefly toys with the possibility that the piano could have originally been an Indian instrument as she hears music scholar Sarbhananda Chowdhury mention the ancient Katyayan veena, a hundred-stringed instrument that perhaps travelled from the East to West over 2,000 years. Did this veena eventually return as the piano? The charm of Calcutta Sonata lies in the fact that it lays out all these stories and theories and lets the viewer judge for themselves.

Calcutta Sonata is also expectedly as much a music lover’s delight as it is a cinema connoisseur’s. The grand old pianos – and Mollick treats us to some rare, old ones – in all their vintage glory make for compelling visuals of course. But Mollick ensures the piano’s story, especially the change it effected and underwent when it came in contact with Indian classical music, is narrated and demonstrated musically as well as it is done through interviews. What marks some of these portions is the simplicity with which most of her interviewees explain key musical aspects such as the difference between the Indian melody and the Western harmony or what an Italian way of playing a raag could mean.

“The main challenge with this film was in moulding the rushes into a structure,” she said. “It took a long, long time. Also the complexities in the information had to be simplified. I had to take tough decisions on which pieces to throw away and which ones to include.”

A still from Calcutta Sonata. Image credit: Subha Das Mollick.
A still from Calcutta Sonata. Image credit: Subha Das Mollick.

Calcutta Sonata is also a film about the city that made the piano its own. “Whenever European innovations travelled to the Orient, Calcutta was the first Indian city to receive them,” says Dr Devajit Bandopadhyay, a music scholar, in Mollick’s film. “That is why Calcutta rose to the status of the ‘second city of the world’”.

Was there a rival to the piano when it first came to Calcutta?

“The only instrument that can rival the piano is the pipe organ,” Mollick said. “And, Calcutta has only one pipe organ which has now fallen silent because the organist died a few months back.”

The Calcutta that Mollick’s documentary covers includes scenes inside the homes of wealthy Bengalis who have inherited the piano from their forefathers to the sounds of Burrabazar and how they influenced music to finally, Park Street and its restaurants which were excellent hosts of jazz music. The piano found a place in all these contexts. (The film also features what is perhaps the last interview that veteran jazz guitarist Carlton Kitto gave before his death in 2016.)

Yet, Mollick feels there are more facets to the piano’s story in Calcutta, some of which she hasn’t included. “I could not include how the piano has influenced Bengali cinema even though it was one of the first things I thought about before making the film,” she said. “Not only were tunes composed on the piano by Satyajit Ray, Raichand Boral and the others, but the piano was also a mandatory mise-en-scene in so many Bengali movies. The Bengali hero was always seen playing the piano. If I get a chance to make Calcutta Sonata part two, I’ll include these things.”

Subha Das Mollick.
Subha Das Mollick.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.