Exhibition of Bengali film posters opens in Prague

A rather unusual exhibition opened in Prague's Adria Palace on Friday - a collection of film posters representing decades of Bengali cinema. Unlike the commercial song and dance extravaganzas of Bollywood, Bengali cinema is known for its bold experimentation, and the Bengali film industry is one of the oldest in India. Its most famous proponent is the director Satyajit Ray, whose 1955 classic The Song of the Road was the first Indian film to enter the international arena of art cinema. At the official launch Radio Prague spoke to the exhibition's curator, Martin Hribek.

"I'm a postgraduate student and a teacher at the department of South and Central Asia at Charles University in Prague, and I spent around three years in Calcutta altogether and I got interested and involved with Bengali cinema."

Tell me a bit about the exhibition.

"Here we have a private collection, courtesy of Ashoke Roy. We have on display about 60 posters, starting from the early 50s, and continuing to this very year."

It's a fairly big exhibition hall and there are a lot of people here - what explains the Czech interest, fascination almost, with Indian film?

"I think it's more a fascination with Indian culture in general, and perhaps in Bengali culture in particular. Interestingly enough, the Czech Indiologist Vincenc Lesny was the first European person to translate Rabindranath Tagore from the original into a European language, the first European or westerner ever. So it's a fairly long tradition of interest in literature mainly, later in the language and other aspects of culture as well."

Because very few Czechs will ever have visited India.

"That's true, but it's been changing fast since the breakup of Communism and since the floodgates opened and in recent years as the economy's been improved, I can see it very intensely, that for our students now, the floodgates are way more open now than they were for myself say six years ago. Only that five or six years' time difference is really very significant in terms of opportunities to explore Indian culture."

This exhibition comes just a few months after the Bollywood film festival, also in the centre of Prague, which is becoming more and more successful each year. You could say that Czechs have developed a love for Indian popular culture.

"I think it's the whole of Europe which has become interested in Indian popular culture and Indian popular films. Also the Bollywood films themselves are changing, and are getting closer to what is digestible for a European viewer, and at the same time this fascination with exotic and big budget movies is spreading in Europe itself. So I think the interest in Bollywood in the Czech Republic is part of that."

It might come as something of a surprise to an Indian tourist walking through Prague to stumble upon an exhibition of Bengali film posters.

"I hope there will be many surprised Indian tourists who will bump into the poster in front of the gate."