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This article was first published 6 years ago  » Getahead » India is having a very French moment

India is having a very French moment

By Avantika Bhuyan
November 24, 2017 08:15 IST
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The third Bonjour India is coming to 33 cities!

Avantika Bhuyan reports on this grand remembrance of things past, and celebration of possibilities in the future.

Modi and Macron

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in June 2017.
Bonjour India is viewed as more than just a festival; both India and France consider it a way to explore new areas of co-operation and exchange.
Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters.


In 2014, the façade of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas, transformed into a gigantic canvas for video artist Xavier de Richemont.

The French painter used projection mapping and surround-sound music to create a visual narrative around the city's history. His work, Saga, created a vibrant tapestry of San Antonio's evolution, with images of its key historical figures, the influence of Native American and Mexican cultures, and scenes from the Texas Revolution being projected onto the structure.

And now, Richemont has created a similar experience in India, as part of the opening night of the Bonjour India festival.

On November 18, Jaipur's Amber Fort came alive with his digital work of art, which told a story of India and France, as perceived by the artist.

In some ways, the work set the tone for the third edition of Bonjour India: a focus on innovation, creativity and partnership between the two countries.

Alexandre Ziegler, the ambassador of France to India, calls it more than just a festival. He prefers the phrase 'Indo-French moment', which explores new areas of co-operation and exchange.

According to him, the three main pillars of the festival are 'smart citizen, high mobility and go green'.

So, unlike previous editions, where the focus was firmly on art and culture, this year the scope of the festival has been increased to include research, education, science, sports and technology as well.

Some 100 such projects and programmes have been scheduled to take place in 33 cities across the country over the course of the next four months.


The stage as lab

What happens when a dancer steps into the virtual world?

Or when metallic objects turn into storytellers?

The performing arts segment transforms the stage into a laboratory where disciplines collide to give rise to something unique.

One of the highlights of this section is the mechanised performance, Je Brasse de L'Air or I Am Stirring Air, (between February 8 and 21 in four cities), in which artist Magali Rousseau presents extracts from her childhood using poetic metallic creatures, which she has created over the past decade.

Then there is Hakanai, (between January 24 and February 9 in five cities), which is a dance in the virtual environment. For this 40-minute-long performance, Indian artist Priyabrata Panigrahi spent six months training under French dancer Virginie Barjonet, to interpret a choreographic piece about technology and art working in tandem.

Since sustainability is a common thread running through the culture calendar at Bonjour India, theatre practitioners have tried to interpret this theme in myriad ways.

An example of this is the Water Princess by Theatre Nishi and Alliance Française of Madras (between November 24 and December 8 in five cities). It is a modern fairytale of sorts, which hopes to inspire young minds to help conserve water.

The closing night of the festival -- in Delhi, on February 25, 2018 -- promises to be just as spectacular as the opening one, with the French performance company Transe Express presenting an aerial performance, titled Celestial Carillon, inspired by childhood memories of the carillon, or a music-box with an automatic set of bells.

An orchestra of 17 bell-ringers and aerialists will be lifted 55 metres high in the sky in what is likely to be a spell-binding show.

Conversations in art

Exhibitions that look at maps as capsules of space and time, or which bring together abstract painting and embroidery; and others, which look at reclaiming urban spaces with street art -- the visual arts segment features shows that have emerged out of intense and intimate conversations between artists from India and France.

One of the exhibitions to watch out for is Space-Time and Place: The Culture of Indian Maps, curated by Vivek Nanda and Alex Johnson. It traces changes in human behaviour and discovery across time through maps from the 15th to early 20th centuries, belonging to the Prashant K Lahoti Collection.

Drawn from the Kalakriti Archives, this selection will be shown in Hyderabad in January, and in Bengaluru in February.

Another one is Painting India, born out of a collaboration between painter Caroline Dantheny and Jean-Francois Lesage, who helms France's most prestigious embroidery workshop. The show, at Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai (between January 19 and 28), will present embroidered linens created out of this association.

French artists will also work alongside Indian ones to splash the streets of India with colour as part of the ST+ART Festival. The idea is not just to create a visual narrative, but also work with minority communities in urban centres such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chandigarh (between November and February) to create sustainable environments.

Bonjour India

The third edition of Bonjour India will be held between November 2017 and February 2018.
Photograph: Courtesy


An alternate reality

This is a project for those who think that creating content in virtual reality is expensive.

As part of the Virtual Reality Lab, selected directors, storytellers, sound and graphic designers will work alongside a French team to create a new style of storytelling, which is novel, affordable and accessible.

Created in association with Wonda VR, this project will then be presented in front of an audience in four cities between November 22 and December 13.

For young bibliophiles

A book on sustainable development sounds like the least exciting reading material imaginable?

Perhaps not if it has been written as a song, with simple, evocative illustrations.

The Earth Song brings together actor Nandana Dev Sen and French-American illustrator, Kris Di Giacomo, who have created a book for young and old alike about the challenges facing the environment.

And if you are a young author, as well as an eco-warrior, then the series of workshops, Rock-Paper-Scissors, is for you.

Author Deepika Arwind and writer-illustrator Alan Mets will work with young learners of French (6-10 years), to create books using paper-cutting techniques and discarded material. The resulting books will be jointly published in India and France.

Sharing history

Bonjour India's curatorial team is less interested in creating short-term impact and much more in shaping the next decade of human exchange between India and France.

One of the programmes that has emerged from this guiding principle is Know Your Indo-French Heritage. It aims to look beyond mere preservation of heritage to ways of creating employment around it.

A significant project part of this initiative is restoration of the Registry Building -- a key heritage structure in Chandannagar (a former French colony located close to Kolkata).

This collaborative project between Indian and French schools of architecture will see students restore the structure to its former glory. Through this, Bonjour India hopes to trigger many more initiatives that might lead to a complete restoration of the city, and which presents a unique confluence of French and Bengali cultures.

The third edition of Bonjour India will be held between November 2017 and February 2018.

For details and listings, visit

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Avantika Bhuyan
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