August 19, 2010 (CalcuttaTube): Ajnatobaas is a Bengali drama directed by Sumanto Gangopadhyay with Swatilekha Sengupta, Sohini Sengupta, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Sukanto Gangopadhyay, Swajan Srijan Mukherjee, Sumana Mukherjee in the cast. Read the review of the Nandikar production at CalcuttaTube.
NANDIKAR’S AJNATOBAAS – A HOME WITHOUT AN ADDRESS
Direction: Sumanto Gangopadhyay
Directorial Advisor: Rudraprasad Sengupta
Story: Sukanta Gangopadhyay
Music Composition: Mayukh-Mainak
Music Concept: Swatilekha Sengupta
Décor: Saumik and Piyali
Lights: Susanta Mandal
Cast: Sohini Sengupta, Sumanta Ganguly, Swajan Srijan Mukherjee, Sumana Mukherjee, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Swatilekha Sengupta
Ajnatobaas (Exile) explores the pathetic loneliness of people. It also reflects the impact of globalization and an upwardly mobile materialistic culture on values of modern lives, lifestyles and ideology. “Space is more important than people” suggests the old lady, deceptively naïve but really very well-informed and knowledgeable, once soon after the play begins. She has come to an affluent bungalow in one end of the city, asking Payel, a young woman, for a glass of water. Both find common ground in their loneliness shut out from a world once filled with people, relationships, a large family and love. But Payel is constantly warned about the why’s and where fore’s of the mysterious stranger. Where has she come from? How long will she stay? Will she be an impingement on the newly married young couple’s privacy? Is she some kind of spy, or, an informer perhaps? The lady suffers from phases of forgetfulness but she is not an Alzheimer’s patient. She surprises the family physician with her deep knowledge about memory ailments senior citizens are generally prone to. The police inspector, failing to find out her residential address discovers in her the tenderness of motherly love. Payel’s husband is bowled over by her culinary prowess. Payel loves to hear her sing and sometimes, joins in. “I remember everything,” she suddenly says the next morning and is ready to leave. Payel’s husband drops her off at a point because she insists he go back without reaching her till the door of her home. Does she really have a home? Do Payel and her husband have a real home? Or are we biding our time at some remote railway station not knowing why, which train to catch, where to, for how long?
Ajnatobaas is a play one cannot wish away long after it is over. The music sets the mood and draws the attention of the audience before the scene opens. The story is narrated in flashback by Payel, now an ageing widow who lives alone in the spacious home. “I depend on the lock on my gate more than on any person for my safety,” she tells her daily maid as she twists the key in the lock firmly. The lock on the grilled gate is the only remnant of a family that once was but is not there anymore. It is a spacious, well-decorated home with a lovely garden in front. But only Payel lives here. The story of the elderly lady is unfolded by her in flashback and the scene moves backwards and forwards in time though the place setting remains the same. Characters move in and out of the frame, revolving around the mystery of the woman’s identity, unfolding layer by slow layer, their own suspicious mindsets as much as they are intrigued by the woman they have come not to understand, but to investigate.
Ajnaotbaas stands out for putting together other elements of the media such as movie clips to reveal the twist in the tale in the sad climax in monochrome, still photographs in Black-and-White of sad, old and lonely faces held in close-up, and the enriching, mood-based music. The large screen also uses lighting strategically to show how Payel’s home, like most homes today, resembles a large cage in which a bird is held captive. The captivity is literal and metaphorical – you do not like to stay in. But you have no way of getting out even if you want to. There are flashes of the beauty and the tenderness of Nature in the garden Mrs. Banjerjee repairs to, to touch the flowers and the plants or to hear the chirping of birds. The lighting is beautiful, shifting focus from character to character, from a joyful mood to a pensive one, sometimes playing on their faces held in light-and-shade. Refrains of the Tagore song Hridayer ekul okul dukul bheshey jai blends into the philosophy of the play and the performance. Swatilekha gives the performance of her career as Mrs. Banerjee whose true identity we never learn as much as where she lives and with whom. It is a multi-layered performance that demands volatile changes in facial expression she lives up to. Sohini Sengupta as Payel is very fitting but her performance could have been a little bit less sweet and syrupy. Her performance seems somewhat similar to her portrayal in Madhabi though the two plays are poles apart. Sumanto Ganguly as her husband is very good too except in the last scene where he breaks down and begins to cry.
In a world where space is more important than human beings, we do not know where we live, how we live, or, whether we are leading a living death. Are we all headed to an exile? Ajnatobaas is a disturbing play you carry with you as emotional baggage long after the play is over.
Shoma A. Chatterji
Shrabanti Basu / CalcuttaTube