March 26, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Bratya Basu blends Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s prose and Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s thriller in the same evening with a peek into the gradually forgotten life and culture of the nineteenth century Bengali middle class.
Bratyajan’s new production promises a novel entertainment in the form of two plays in one evening and is based on stories penned by two most celebrated writers of Bengali literature. While Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s writings won eminence by depicting not only the various shades of human emotions but also the hidden poetry of nature itself, Saradindu Bandyopadhyay was more famous for his thrilling whodunits and historical fictions. Thus, it seemed an unusual choice for Bratya Basu to stage “Canvasser” (based on Bubhutibhushan’s “Krishnalal Canvaser”) and “Byomkesh” (based on Saradindu’s “Arthamanartham”) on the same floor with a recess of only ten minutes in between. That the moods of the two narratives are bound to be poles apart can be easily comprehended even by those who have only a slight knowledge of both the authors’ works. As a matter of fact, barring the similarity in the authors’ surnames, the contrasting nature of the two stories will be better appreciated if the following short summaries are glanced upon.
Canvasser and Byomkesh – the stories
Canvasser is based on Krishnalal, a jovial man whose job is to sell Duttapukur’s “Manmoyi Massage Oil” in the railways. As a young man, he once accompanied one of his friends to a brothel and immediately fell in love with Golapi, one of the inhabitants of that place. In his ecstasy of the hitherto unfound affection, he started showering lavish gifts upon her and even took lease of an expensive house. As time went by so did his funds and he ultimately took loan from a Kabuliwalah. To clear off the debt, he delayed his daily payments in the office and soon found himself fired. To add to the misery, the landlord of his mess too drove him out and soon he was homeless as well. Frustrated, he left for his village, against Golapi’s ardent pleadings to live on her earnings. But the rustic life did not suit his spirits and he again came back to Calcutta and just for the sake of practicing, started canvassing of the same oil that he used to sell. His ever sincerity and enthusiasm on his ex-job proved worthwhile as he was soon seen directing eager passers-by to Duttapukur’s address. This caused the sale of the pharmacy house to shoot up that eventually changed Krishnalal’s life for good.
The warm ending of the Canvasser is allowed to seep in for another ten minutes and then the curtain rises with a brand new set where a murder is seen to be committed by a veiled villain. An excellently composed background score immediately veers the ambience and the audience is prepared for a gripping session of mystery and intrigue.
The rich but foul-mouthed Karalibabu was found chloroformed and murdered in a unique style that indicates the murderer to be well-acquainted with human anatomy and the only person who fits the specs is Karalibabu’s nephew Sukumar, a medical student. As Byomkesh in introduced to the case on recommendation by Calcutta’s CP, he discovers clues that hint Sukumar’s sister Satyabati’s indirect involvement in the incident. Meanwhile it is also revealed that the eccentric Karalibabu, with a habit of changing his will at a moment’s notice, had left his entire property to Sukumar in his latest testament, which left Motilal (another of his nephew and the benefactor according to his earlier will) furious. Infact, it is also made known that Moti, in his rage, had once even threatened to kill Karalibabu. These left Bidhubabu, the local police chief in charge, issue multiple warrants against Moti and Sukumar but Byomkesh seemed unsatisfied by these. So the hunt continues and ultimately Byomkesh solves the case in his characteristic composed manner that promises an unusual reward to both the client and the detective.
The diversity of the plays had been well handled by the production team and the transition between the plays has been dealt with in such a professional manner that the audience can admire both the freshness of the lively Nabarun Barik (as Krishnalal) and the acumen that Subhrajit Dutta (as Byomkesh) transpires.
But above all, no round of applause is sufficient for Bratya Basu’s direction whose approach of staging dual plays within minutes of each other proves his clear understanding in the art of drama and wins appreciation of the entire house. The able conceptualization of the entire design with the precise use of off stage accompaniments brings to fore an imaginative director whose expert guidance to a brilliant crew gives the presentation an unique look. Introduction to characters has been carried out without wasting any unnecessary act and especially in Byomkesh, familiarization to the suspects have been done in an unusual manner. Ideas of using the model of match cuts, so common in film shootings and a rarity in theatres, has been used where the entire team synchronizes the events with such an accuracy that amazes an amateur viewer like me.
Cast and accompaniments
Coming to the individual performances, Nabarun Barik’s spirited acting brings to fore the human optimism that drives the most hapless but enthusiast in his journey through life and is echoed by Papri Ghosh (Golapi) who effuses the innocent charm of the sincerest lover. Saswati Chatterjee plays the perfect mother to Golapi with her honeyed demands to Krishnalal that hides the wail for a decent shelter for her daughter.
On the other hand, Subhrajit Dutta as the gentleman detective in “Byomkesh” deftly carries out his part, identifying himself with the intellectual Bengali youth of the early nineteenth century with carefully measured blend of personality and wit. He is complemented well enough by Subrata Ball who plays the naïve Ajit with ease and perfection. But keeping aside the main characters, one cannot fail to commend on the animated Prantik Chowdhury, playing the part of Bidhubabu, who at once relieves the tension but hints at the clues in the smartest of ways. But one disappointment in store is Poulami Basu as Satyabati who, no doubt poses well as the daring lady of the house, but can’t bridge the distance between her and Byomkesh that the story earnestly demanded. Another character whose introduction has been intelligently carried out was that of the victim Karalibabu, played by Pradip Ray, who though appears in short burst of flashbacks but conveys the personality faultlessly.
Shekhar Samaddar (Canvasser) and Ujjal Chattopadhyay (Byomkesh) had done a wonderful dramatization of the two stories intensifying the main plot and keeping the essential elements unaltered. Matching the ambience were the set (designed by Pritwhish Rana and constructed by Bilu Dutta) and stills (by Pashupati Rudra Paul and Sanchari Mitra) and accompanied by the exact mix of light (by Badal Das and Anirban Bandyopadhyay) and music (Bilwatosh Chattopadhyay). The make-up (Alok Debnath) and costume (Pritwhish Rana and Bilu Dutta) department had done their part in style reflecting the early Bengal in the realistic way possible.
– Anirban De