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Memoirs of a student

Thursday, November 01, 2018
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Dr Sangeeta Datta sowed the seeds of curiosity in countless students, introducing them to the world of great film-makers, recalls  Dr Monica Khanna

She exudes the same elegance and charm she did 25 years ago. Unruffled and unperturbed by endless questions, she claims she has now mastered the art of deep breathing in the face of the hysteria she sees around her. She was, as far as I remember, always calm and composed, never raising her voice even in a noisy classroom full of cackling hens!

She sowed the seeds of curiosity and interest in countless students during her years at St. Xavier’s College, by introducing them to the world of Satyajit Ray and other great film makers. She invited the likes of Shyam Benegal, Kalpana Lajmi and Shabana Azmi for guest lectures as part of the Film Appreciation Course that was tailored for the college. Recognising the diversity of regional languages at a time when Indian writing in English was the trending flavour, she introduced regional writing in her literature classes. She recalls her days in Xavier’s as “rewarding and satisfying, especially when students get in touch with you after all these years”.

The short stint at London extended beyond her expectations, and gave her an opportunity to explore culture in all its forms. From producing documentaries, short films and a feature film, she has also written several books and academic essays. Her love for music which she attributes to the “fertile ground on which we grew up in Kolkata” has resulted in a collaborative venture with Javed Akhtar entitled Anant, a music album. While Akhtar has translated Tagore’s songs in Hindi, Datta has lent her melodious voice to bring life to the songs. Since music runs in the genes, her son Soumik, a well-known music composer, has composed the music for the album. 

Virtually a cultural ambassador of India in London, she has founded Baithak, an arts company that allows the youth to recognise and appreciate the wealth of art and culture. It is a platform for debate and discussion, for Datta strongly believes that there is an urgent need to define identity in a changing world, and to provide the younger minds of this generation with fresh role models that they can emulate. She recently introduced students of London School of Economics to Nandita Das and her film Manto, and was surprised by the overwhelming response the interaction received.

The endless list of achievements can go on and on, and there are numerous projects in the pipeline, including a book on 100 essential Indian films. For now, Sangeeta Datta is enjoying the adulation she is receiving for her documentary Bird of Dusk, based on the life of her former friend and associate, the unconventional Rituparno Ghosh. She has been dreaming of starting her novel, and looking at the rapid pace at which she is moving in divergent directions, the novel will certainly see light of day very soon.

Meanwhile, the indelible impression she has left on her students, her warmth and the stimulating discussions both inside and outside the classroom will be cherished for years to come.

Dr. Monica Khanna is an author, trainer and academician, and is associated with prestigious management colleges in Mumbai.

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