Jacob Samuel leaned over the piano, eyes shut in concentration as his fingers worked the keys. Jacob, 10,
was one of three piano students from
India to attend the three-week Summit
Music Festival, held at Manhattanville
College in Purchase, New York, that
ended August 10.
In the festival’s 24-year history, this
was the first time that students have
been brought in from India, says Jerry,
Along with Jacob were Puneet Sharma
and Mari Sakthi, both 21. All three are
students of Chennai’s K M College of Music
and Technology, founded in 2008 by the A
R Rahman Foundation.
There was also Jerry George, Jacob’s
father, accompanying them.
There was a person missing there, one
whose overshadowing presence is noticeable in everything the students say: Their
teacher Surojeet Chatterji, who believes an
enthusiast can start playing the piano anytime and play with a remarkable degree of
efficiency in a year or two.
Chatterji studied in Russia for 11 years
under pianists Irina Smorodinova (a stu-
dent of the world-famous Emil Gilels) and
Rudolf Kerer, and earned his doctorate in
He taught in the US for 27 years,
It is perhaps a tribute to Chatterji that his
students were playing at the festival along
with very accomplished players from
around the world.
The method the three students have
learned is a highly choreographed one.
“You should play the piano like a violin,”
Jerry quoted Chatterji as saying.
“Every note should be connected to each
other,” said Sharma. “When the audience
listens to us, they should not feel the piano
and the pianist are different.”
Sakthi remembers Chatterji asking, ‘Do
you love your mother?’ When the student
answered in the positive, the teacher said:
‘You have to love the piano to that extent.’
Jerry speaks of how, seeing the talent of a
two-year-old Jacob, he went through 40
teachers before finding Chatterji.
The three students come from different
Jacob is an elementary school student
who started playing piano at the school
when he was eight. Sharma started at 19.
“I was not good in studies at all,” Sharma
said. “In India, you have to get 85, 90 per-
cent to get admission in good colleges if you
want to do engineering.”
Sharma told his father he wanted to study
music, though he had no training.
Sashwant Singh, the son of his father’s
friend who was studying at K M, told
them of the institute where he was
Sharma moved to Chennai, began
helping Chatterji train students, and
three years on, was playing at the
Summit Music Festival.
Sakthi is an example of the diversity of
the school. His father was a shepherd
who became an artist. His mother is a
schoolteacher. He had never seen a
piano before he joined the school.
Despite their talent, the students have
to thank Ila Paliwal, a Hindustani
classical music singer, for getting them
Paliwal had seen them play first at their
school and later when she was participating
in a Yesudas concert in Dubai. She was
impressed enough to recommend they
apply to the Summit Music Festival.
They did, and then learned they were
being invited over on the Ila Paliwal scholarship.
“These guys are just supreme,” Paliwal
said. “I didn’t want to break them up. I said
I’ll support all of them. These kids are so
hungry, so happy to learn.”
Watching them do finger exercises in the
middle of their conversation, an observer
cannot but agree.
Over 5,000 movie buffs are xpected to attend the third annual Washington, DC
South Asian Film Festival put
together by Cesar Productions at
the AMC Loews Rio Cinemas in
Gaithersburg, Maryland, September 12 through 14.
The festival will feature directors
like Prakash Jha (Satyagraha,
Rajneeti), actors like
Nandita Das (Fire) and
Manoj Bajpayee (Gangs of
Wasseypur), and other
acclaimed artists from
India and Pakistan.
Besides screening more
than 22 films, the festival
will feature discussions,
workshops and seminars
led by the likes of Jha and
Das at the Marriott
Center in Gaithersburg.
Manoj Singh, who
founded Cesar Productions
along with his wife Geeta,
recalled to India Abroad
the labor of love that went
into launching the festival
in 2012 and having director Shyam Benegal headline it.
“We were also the first to screen
Ketan Mehta’s film Rang Rasiya
and Deepti Naval’s film Do Paise
Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Barish,
and both of them also participated
in Q&A sessions after the film,”
“Manisha Koirala, Rajit Kapur,
Omi Vaidya, Samrat Chakrabarti,
Suneil Anand, and many other
artists attended our debut film festival.
“Last year,” Singh said, “the film
festival was a huge success and
independent films made by local
talent and artists from India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal
Farooque Sheikh, Goutam
Ghose, Sarita Joshi, Sanjay Suri,
Pooja Batra, Avinash Singh,
Jaideep Verma and Meher Jaffri
and many others artists came to
represent their movies. More than
3,000 people attended the
This year, he said, movies
from India, Pakistan (Josh,
Chambaili), and Afghani-
stan (Wajma – An Afghan
Love Story), will be
The highlights this year,
Singh added, “include a ret-
rospective of Prakash Jha’s
films. In memory of
Farooque Sheikh we are
screening his last film Club
60, and we will be the first
in the US to screen Nandita
Das’s Between the Lines.”
Singh reiterated that for
him and Geeta, the ration-
ale for the festival was to
bring to erudite and dis-
cerning capital area audi-
ences a cross-section of
films from the subcontinent that
went beyond the music, song and
dance of Bollywood.
“The independent films we
screen provide a reflection of what
is going in our society — the honest, hard truth — and they invoke
emotions for a dialogue so we can
find a solution for a better tomorrow,” Singh said.
Echoing her husband, Geeta
Singh said, “DCSAFF provides an
opportunity for local and first-time
filmmakers to show their work.”
Besides Jha, Das and Bajpayee,
Singh said others directors and
actors at the festival will include
Nagesh Kukunoor (Hyderabad
Blues), Pakistani directors Ismail
Jilani (Chambaili) and Iram
Parveen Bilal (Josh), Indian-
American actor Sendhil
Ramamurthy, and Vega Tamotia
(Chittagong, House Full), and oth-
“Our own famous standup comedian Dan Nainan,” Singh said, “will
provide a fun evening and ending
to our festival.”
In Chennai, a hothouse of piano-playing talent
Jacob Samuel Mari Sakthi Puneet Sharma
Capital gears up to go beyond Bollywood with South Asian Film Festival
Nandita Das Manoj Bajpayee