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Badal Sarcar And A Few Words on Theatre Outside Proscenium

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Feb 24, 2013 (Calcutta Tube): Badal Sarcar appeared in the proscenium with his famous ‘Ebong Indrajit’ written in 1963. Now a days in many places inside our country and even in abroad Badal Sarcar`s ‘Pagla Ghora’ and ‘Sararatri’ are being staged in proscenium now and again. Recently Pagla Ghora directed by Amal Palekar has been staged in United States itself. To start with I cannot refrain myself from uttering some pungent words. Number one- Badal Sarcar may leave proscenium but it`s not expected from him to launch a crusade against the same. At the same time we in no way can support those irresponsible uttering against Badal Sarcar and his Third Theatre. In art and culture narrow minded illiberality cannot be welcomed. Mainly Utpal Dutta was the pioneer against Badal Sarcar and Third theatre. Badal Sarcar was not a man to keep himself mum. He rebuffed ruthlessly.

Androclis O Singho: Pathasena

Androclis O Singho: Pathasena

‘Theatre is also an art form. It`s not true that lots of finance is needed in theatre. For packaging and masking one needs money , but not for theatre itself. People are needed in theatre, people as audience and people as actor. There is no dearth of audience. Where there are people there are audience. They would not have come and purchase tickets, theatre itself will go to them. Once this is understood, theatre will come out of bondage and then only the process of unmasking will take its start. ….. Theatre to them is commodity. To market this commodity one needs glittering colored package. Dress- light- sound –everywhere there are shining packet to mesmerize audience. … Theatre is not conglomeration of colored bubbles of fantasy, on the contrary theatre is stark reality of naked life.’

Sambhu Mitra directed two of Badal Sarcar`s plays in proscenium. They were ‘Baki Itihas` and ‘Pagla Ghora’. I have not seen the former, but I have watched Pagla Ghora several times. Besides Bahurupi production, I have watched that of Proscenium Art Centre in Hindi directed by Shiukumar JhunJhunwala where in the solitary female role Anubha Fatepuria was simply marvelous. This role was played by ShaNoli Mitra in Bahurupi production. She too was exceptional. Once in the National Theatre Festival of Nandikar we have the opportunity to watch that of Aniket in Marathi directed by Amal Palekar. Badal Sarcar was present in the auditorium during that performance, though he was then no more with the proscenium and has taken side permanently to third theatre. Even I have the opportunity to be in the portico of Loreto House to watch and listen the vocal performance of Pagla Ghora by Badal Sarcar and his fellow members of Shatabdi. And that was the last public performance of Badal Sarcar so far as I know. But Pagla Ghora directed by Shambhu Mitra is simply unthinkable and in no way comparable to any Pagla Ghora of any kind. In Bahurupi after ‘Raja Oedipus’ of Sophocles and ‘Raja` of Rabindranath, Shambhu Mitra directed only four plays- Badal Sarcar`s ‘Baki Itihas’ (1967) &  Pagla Ghora (1971), Nitin Sen`s ‘Barbar BaNshi’ (1969) and Bijoy Tendulkar`s ‘Chop Adalat Colchchhe’(1971). Among the Bahurupi productions directed by Shambhu Mitra ‘Pagla Ghaora` is at the top scoring  with 122 shows which was  higher than  ‘Raja Oedipus’ (104 shows) and that of ‘Raktakarabi’ (62 shows).

Now let us take over to Badal Sarcar`s Third Theatre. Badal Sarcar on 23rd November 1981 wrote to internationally accepted theatre personality Richard Schechner about his journey through Third Theatre.

Calcutta, July 6, 1979. An old building in the congested College Square area occupied by the Theosophical Society of India for more than ninety years. The lecture hall on the second story, 58 feet long and 24 feet wide, with its old dusty cupboards full of books on Theosophy and faded oil paintings of potentates of Theosophy—given to Satabdi on hire every Friday after much persuasion.  First performance of Basi Khabar. Culmination of a year long process. The first experience of Satabdi of creating a play collectively. Year long but what is a year? None of the Satabdi members are paid anything. They work in banks, schools, offices, factories; they assemble in evenings exhausted by loveless work and sardine packed public transport; they have to disperse early for long journeys, many by scandalously irregulars suburban trains. On Sundays we can work for five hours, provided we are not invited to perform somewhere a village, a “bustee” (slum), a suburban town, a college lawn, an office canteen. Shows on Friday evenings; Thursday evenings spent on the rehearsal of the play to be performed the next day.

How much time can we get for working on a new project? Eight hours in a week is an optimistic average. Still, a year means that we all grow with the play for one full year, and the play gets into our bloodstream. One year back. July, 1978. First performance of Gondi—an adaptation I made of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. We felt good. We enjoyed preparing it—only fifteen performers taking care of forty roles; hut, stream, door, trees, bridge made of human bodies. We all felt that the play is Indian and contemporary and can be understood equally by the educated of the city and the illiterate of the village, and our later experience proved this belief to be correct.

It was the third year of our regular weekly performances at the Theosophical Society hall. Before that we have had two years of such weekly shows in another room (1972-1974), and a spell of nearly two years of only open air shows. Performances in public parks were stopped by the police during the “Emergency” (1975) and our search for an indoor space ultimately brought us to this hall in early 1976. Admission was free; a donation of one Rupee (eleven cents, a cup of coffee in a shabby cafe costs more in Calcutta) was expected and was willingly paid by most, but that was not the condition for entrance. Leaflets containing the program for the next five or six Fridays were distributed to the spectators, otherwise we depended entirely on word of mouth publicity. (I am using the past tense because we now perform in another hall the system has remained the same.) The relation between acting and sitting areas varied according to the demand of the play. For Gondi we could provide about 125 seats, all seats were booked much in advance, and we felt good. That was the beginning of the year long process of creating Basi Khabar.’

I have seen ‘Gandi` by ‘Shatabdi’, the Third Theatre Group in two venues- one in Theosophical Society Hall, College Square and other at Sindhri Hall, Lindsay Street. Though most of the then players are no more with Shatabdi –the group founded by Badal Sarcar himself, but there are still some who are within this protracted struggle and has dedicated themselves for Third Theatre Movement. At that time watching Gandi, having 40 characters enacted by only 15, was an enormous experience.

Specially during those days Brecht`s Caucasian Chalk Circle was adopted and directed by RudraPrasad Sengupta, produced by Nandikar as ‘Kharir Gandi’, where Swatilekha made her debut in the lead role. At the same time Subrata Nandi another theatre personality of those days, adopted the same and directed as ‘Khari Matir Gandi’ under the banner of Theatre Front. Under these circumstances Gandi was a different type of challenge. But with only fifteen performers taking care of forty roles; hut, stream, door, trees, bridge made of human bodies’ Badal Sarcar`s Gandi was superb and the best among the three then productions of Calcutta. This paved the Golden Gateway of Third Theatre movement proposed by Badal Sarcar.

But never ever the track of this movement was smooth. Since it is anti establishment in nature, and since proscenium is by and large an establishment and since Third Theatre basically speaks for the oppressed and raises voice against power, so it is prone to be the many fold target of the establishment and the ruler as well. These are all theoretical problems. But it has to face two major practical problems as well. Number one is the space problem. At the moment

Kolkata has very little space for this alternative theatre. The open space inside Rabindra Sadan campus and that in front of Academy Of Fine Arts are fixed for this alternative theatre on Saturdays only and at Natya Academy there is Tripti Mitra Sabha Ghar for this purpose. These three places are abided by certain indispensible Government rules and regulations. At Ripon Street there is Proscenium Art Centre where there is a big room for the alternative theatre and at Padatik they have a build well for Third Theatre or Alternative theatre as you call it. And direct followers of Badal Sarcar are doing very recently at Niranjan Sadan Jadavpur. But once upon a time there were good numbers of spaces in Kolkata. But still like past (‘For Gondi we could provide about 125 seats, all seats were booked much in advance’) direct followers of Badal Sarcar are making their house full of audience till date.

In this context another important feature is to be mentioned where the directors perform in both the spaces – proscenium and outside proscenium as well.  There are also certain productions which are played in both the places. In Sarala Memotial Hall adjacent to Gokhel Memorial College, where the film clubs used to arrange their projections, and in the open space inside the auditorium Total Theatre once did their marvelous ‘Byas` written by Shajada Firdaus and directed by Shantanu Banerjee. Here I have seen Bibhash Chakraborty to direct Shakespeare`s As You Like It in an intimate form. Suman Mukherjee did his outstanding ‘Kangal Malshat’ (Tritio Sutra) written by Nabarun Bhattachariya at Padatik build well in an intimate form and at Academy Of Fine Arts proscenium as well. The same experiment was done by his father Arun Mukherjee with his ‘Manush Kingba Kolbalish’(Chetana) at Tripti Mitra Sabhaghar in an intimate form and at Academy Of Fine Arts proscenium. The Unity Malancha of Halishahar did their Hanua Ka Beta in open air and at the same time in proscenium both directed by Debashish Sarcar. Belghoria ETHIC under the leadership of Debashish Sengupta once had confined it in intimate form, but now they feel comfortable in proscenium. In Kolkata there are good numbers of groups who strictly perform intimate theatre and never run for proscenium. Bhibhaban is such a group who has ventured several spaces in Kolkata. Once I have watched their performances in a room of YMCA at Vivekananda Road. Later they did it at Proscenium Art Centre at Ripon Street and now they are performing at Tripti  Mitra Sabhaghar. Another strictly non proscenium performer is Anarjya who used to perform at portico of Taltala High School and now at Tripti Mitra. But Shatabdi, Pathasena and Ayna who are direct followers of Badal Sarcar never ever done their performances in an air conditioned space like Tripti Mitra Sabhaghar or Padatik build well. Ayna once performed at air conditioned Proscenium Art Centre. Once there were very active non- proscenium groups who used to perform earlier. But for various reasons the days of third theatre or intimate theatre or open air theatre are not going well now.

To conclude we will deal with a theoretical aspect and a practical aspect as well. For proscenium there in Kolkata we have 15 auditoriums altogether of which some belong to private ownership and excepting one all are air conditioned. But for theatres outside proscenium there are very few little rooms left out. If we try to brand Kolkata as the cultural capital of West Bengal, then this small arrangement for other theatres makes this nomenclature derogative. In United States, as we all know, there is Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. Moreover very recently in the Lincoln Complex a very good space has been allotted for alternative theatres. The third theatre workers do not desire so much. But it is the responsibility of the authority to arrange some respectable space for these theatre workers.

The theoretical aspect demands unity between the proscenium and the alternative theatre workers. Nowadays it appears that as per production cost is concerned sky has become the limit for proscenium productions. The expenditure for the same for Raja Lear was one million rupees.  Cost per show is not less than sixty thousand rupees. This huge expenditure reminds us of Badal Sarcar- Theatre to them is commodity. To market this commodity one needs glittering colored package. Dress- light- sound –everywhere there are shining packets to mesmerize audience. This huge magnitude of production cost does in no way keep pace with the statistics stating that, 77% of our population is in a way to afford rupees 20 or less per day for their livelihood. To keep pace with this situation we have only one way to combat. The theatre lovers who really love theatre and at the same time love poor people of our country and strongly believe that their theatre should be seen by the people of India by and large, then they will have to unite together whether they are with proscenium or outside. And with this thought process we conclude by quoting Badal Sarcar once again.

“This process, of course, can become widespread only when the socio economic movement for the emancipation of the working class has also spread widely. When that happens, the third theatre (in the context I have used) will no longer have a separate function, but will merge with a transformed first theatre.”

 

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- Pachu Ray

Shakespeare in Contemporary Calcutta Theatre

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Feb 5, 2013 (Calcutta Tube): In Calcutta Theatre there had a time when Utpal Dutta and Shakespeare were synonyms.  In 1953 Little Theatre Group started their journey with Shakespeare staging selected portions from Merchant Of Venice. That was the beginning. This journey concluded in 1975 with Macbeth under the banner of PLT. In between Utpal Dutta directed  Julius Ceaser (1956), selected parts of Twelfth Night (1956), Othello (1958), Mid Summer Night`s Dream as Chaitali Rater Swapna (1964) etc. Utpal all together directed seven Shakespearean dramas, but he never tried Hamlet.

Calcutta in the recent past (2010) has experienced Mid Summer Night`s Dream’s Bengali version “Dream Dream” (adopted by Partho Chatterjee and directed by Debesh Chatterjee under the banner of “Sansriti”) and little before that we watched Chhattisgadi version of the same of Shakespeare, directed by Habib Tanbir and produced by Naya Theatre in pure folk form.

But the same translation of Mid Summer Night`s Dream done by Utpal Dutta, when taken up by a young woman director Abanti Chakraborty under the banner of Anya Theatre in Dec 2012, the production simply startled the Kolkata audience. I had the opportunity to watch in my early days the LTG production by Utpal Dutta almost more than 40 years ago which is little difficult to remember on my part. But I clearly can compare Chaitali Rater Swapna produced by the then Govt. Of West Bengal in the nineties and directed by Utpal Dutta himself, with that produced by Anya Theatre and directed by Abanti the great. I can thus emphatically conclude, Abanti`s “Midsummer…” is far more enchanting, smart, thought provoking, contemporary, and fantastically tuned than that of Utpal Dutta himself. We are ought to hats off for Arna Mukherjee (Pac), Nandini Bhowmik (Hippolita), Nibedita Mukherjee (Taitania), Turna Das (Helena), Susmita Hati (Harnia), Kamal Chatterjee (Bottom), Chandan Sen (Peter Queens) and other actors, Soumik-Piyali for unique stage craft, Dipak Mukherji for light, Arna Mukherjee and Abanti Chakraborty for music and last but not the least Abanti Chakraborty, the Director. We must congratulate Anya Theatre the producer, who offered an young director to work with MidSummer Night`s Dream. The two other earlier productions we were talking about, Dream Dream is a product of confused thought process and that of Habib Tanbir has nothing to do with Shakespeare. By and large Habib`s one was a marvelous folk production.

Based on the translation of Shakti Biswas, Anya Theatre has very recently produced William Shakespeare`s Hamlet. In this context we may place the note of Bibhash Chakraborty, the Director of the play .   ‘…. Once I had started work on my friend Ali Jaker`s play Darpan, inspired by Hamlet. It was subsequently dropped. Sometimes later I was drawn towards Bangladeshi poet Samsur Rahaman`s translation of Hamlet. After editing and rewriting a portion of it I read out the text to my Anya Theatre`s friends. They liked it, but that too was abandoned. After a lapse of about five years I started toying the idea of producing Hamlet again. But at that time Samsur Rahaman`s translation was nowhere to be found. So I started working on a translation of Shakti Biswas, an ex-PLT friend. Just before completion of the play script Samsur Rahaman`s translation resurfaced. But by that time the poet has left us, and my other script was almost complete. Even at that stage the poet`s inputs were incorporated in the final text. …… Hamlet has remained a great contemporary play through the ages. Yet a few questions stormed my brain during the entire process of the creative exercise. Why Hamlet now? Is any interpretation or viewpoint expected? Does Shakespeare use his stories only as vehicle to communicate his keen observations and deep feelings about life and human beings at all levels? The language is also very important factor, and more so, when it is translated into another language. Should there be a distinct style of acting and speech? For me honest effort is the thing. `

A scene from the play Hamlet

A scene from the play Hamlet by Anya Theatre

As we all know the ending in Shakespeare`s Hamlet where Hamlet himself arranging the hanging of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern foiling the conspiracy hatched by Claudius to kill Hamlet. Ophelia, distraught over her father’s death and Hamlet’s behavior, drowns herself. Her brother, Laertes falls next. The lethal poison in the sword of Laertes kills himself. Before he dies, Laertes tells Hamlet that because Hamlet has already been cut with the same sword, he too will shortly die. And finally Hamlet kills Claudius. But in Anya Theatre`s play as soon as the arranged fencing starts, there happens enormous firing all around and eventually after the hustle and bustle are over Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet are  found dead. This improvisation is a round up. Anya Theatre`s play starts with a prologue narrating a contemporary event of fake encounter where four persons were killed in a Park Street pub. Among them one was a friend of the pub owner. Before dying in the pub he asked his friend to tell this story of unjust killing to “the yet unknowing world”. Surprisingly in the original play, before dying, Hamlet makes the same request to his bosom friend Horatio. This prologue is rounded up in the ‘epilogue` where the auditorium is startled with the sound of rampant firing.  And it`s a brilliant coincidence that the off voice of the person killed in the Park Street pub is the same voice of the actor who played the role of Hamlet in Anya Theatre`s production. Thus we found an interpretation which we may like or may not.

In recent times Calcutta Theatre experienced Hamlet from Bibhash Chakraborty (Anya Theatre) and Raja Lear (King Lear translated) from Suman Mukherjee (Minarva Natya Charcha Kendra). These two productions thread bear excavate tragic power crisis inside monarchy where at the end, we watch monarchial corpses in a row. It is a life time achievement on the part of a spectator to experience Soumitra Chatterjee as Raja (King) Lear. After legendary Soumitra, we ought to mention the name of an young talent  Ankita Majhi as Cordelia. Other names to be mentioned are Biswanath Chakraborty as Gloster, Bimal Chakraborty as Kent and Anirban Mukherji as Edmund. Stage craft of both Hamlet and Raja Lear are in a word outstanding. But to talk about Raja Lear it is unique in Calcutta Theatre so far. We have earlier witnessed two-tier stage, but in Raja Lear it is not only multi-tier, but even the fly parch has been brilliantly used which we have never ever witnessed in Calcutta. Moreover this utilization can only be made possible in Minarva Theatre only and in no other auditorium in Calcutta.

A scene from the play Macbeth

A scene from the play Macbeth by Krishnanagar Theus

But this crisis and conflict within monarchy is much more exposed by Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar and in his shortest play Macbeth. So far the brightest Macbeth in Calcutta theatre has been produced by Utpal Dutta. In my early days and in my middle age too I have had the opportunity to watch Utpal Dutta as Macbeth and Shova Sen as Lady Macbeth. I have also watched Shekhar Chatterjee as Macduff in LTG`s Macbeth at old Minarva Theatre. Anyway by gone is by gone.

The contemporaries are ‘Caesar` produced by  Natya Anan, directed by Chandan Sen and Macbeth produced by Swapnosandhani, directed by Koushik Sen. This Caesar is star studded. Famous actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty has played the role of Caesar himself, Shantilal Mukherjee played as Mark Antony, Sagnik as Brutus, Bindia Ghosh as Julia,  Miska Halim as Calphurnia and Soma Naha as Portia. Joy Sen has made the lights, Debojyoti Mishra scored the music and Madan-Tinku made the stage. Translation and direction is by Chandan Sen, who played a small role too. The first show of Chandan Sen`s Caesar took place on 21st May, 2012 and incidentally or eventually Mamata Banerjee took her oath as Chief Minister of West Bengal in 20th May 2011. It might be a mere coincidence or might be out of specific deliberation. Since Caesar and Macbeth are the fascist protagonist drawn by Shakespeare and since Macbeth too was also first staged by Kaushik Sen on 29th May 2012, the point of organized deliberation can in no way be ruled out. During CPIM`s rule of 34 years at least 34 mass killings occurred and as per statistics 55 thousand people has been killed during this period starting from Marichjhapi to Nandigram. At that moment, neither groups along with their leaders Chandan or Kaushik could manage time to launch either Caesar or Macbeth, but now when during the one year rule of Mamata there is no mass killing no such autocracy, Chandan and Kaushik even distorting the original Shakespeare came up to serve CPIM in a very nasty way. Otherwise this can be explained taking help of the crisis created by their male domination chauvinism. Thus there are attempts to mar Shakespeare in the contemporary Calcutta Theatre with Caesar and Macbeth. But that is not all about Macbeth experienced in Kolkata. In a festival organized by Shohan we had the opportunity to watch Ek Tukro Macbeth (A small spell of Macbeth) produced by Krishnanagar Theaas. In this play the inner conflict of Macbeth has been dealt with very nicely. So it is Macbeth versus Macbeth. The roles enacted by the director Suman Goswami and Rajib Dutta the discourse of which is memorable.

A scene from Bengali play Ceaser by Chandan Sen

Bengali play Ceaser by Chandan Sen

On the other hand Prachya production Romi And Juli adopted brilliantly from Romeo And Juliet and intermingling smartly and intellectually the contemporary Calcutta is enriched with an outstanding directorial work of Biplab Banerjee. The reader may please have a look on what Biplab says about their play.

‘It is love and only love that transcends and rises above venomous hatred and jealousy. But love does not always win. Romeo and Juliet lie dead; a death of innocence and passion. The richness of eternal truth in the plays of Shakespeare transcends centuries and touches our heart in present times. In our own way we are inspired and energized to create a new text. Let us imagine that William Shakespeare’s immortal text Romeo and Juliet is being taught at a premier educational institution in the city. The lesson is being imparted by two professors. Love blossoms between them. Traditional rigid and puritanical Brahmin blood courses through the veins of the woman. Her lover belongs to a schedule caste and that makes her fear his love. And in the class that they teach belong Romi and Juli. They live near each other but  like the enmity that was present between the Montagues and the Capulets in the original play, the families of Romi and Juli are engaged in a longstanding feud. Unreal and real merge while the play is being taught in class. Romi and Romeo become one, Juli becomes Juliet. Friar Lawrence is the local marriage registrar. We travel in and out of the play, Romi and Juli’s story takes a different turn but retains the structure and essence of the Bard himself. Death inevitably immortalizes romance. The two professors choose to end their lives rather than accept the fact that being together is not an option for them. But as usual, time does not stand still. And the language of life starts speaking from among the debris of dead bodies. They live and act out the death scenes to prove that love is the answer to  hatred. Romi O Juli is a testament of our present times which follows the original text and its journey. At the same time our voices reverberate along with the original play and creates an unique experience.’

In this production Ranadip Basu, the grandson of Soumitra Chatterjee nicely played the role of Romi and that too of Juli played by Shnaoli Mukherjee. The stage craft done by Partho Mazumder, light design by Dipak Mukherjee, other crafts by Hiran Mitra and the outstanding music by Dishari Chakraborty.

Though not produced by Calcutta groups, two more Shakespeare dramas we had the privilege to watch at Kolkata in Nandikar`s 29th National Theatre Festival. Of the two, Romeo Juliet and Seven Clowns was a fantastic production made by CEVA Drama Rep. Co. Chandigarh, directed by a young lady Sukhmoni Kohll.

‘Romeo Juliet and Seven Clowns’- devised in a workshop – is an attempt to go beyond the traditional idea of the clown (the white painted face and red nose that make people laugh) and to introduce the idea of the clown as an essential part of our human soul, the soul which is ‘ready for anything’. Clowning is not only being funny, the clown`s red nose, the smallest mask in the world, is the mask that unmasks. Clowning is like being in love. A clown like a lover requires acceptance so that it can become vulnerable and attempt the impossible. And that is what Romeo and Juliet did culturally; they connect to the clown as they connect to the Sufi tradition. The play ‘Romeo Juliet And Seven Clowns’ hopes to remind the audiences of the clown that is within each of us, waiting to put on its small red nose.

And in the same arena we had the opportunity to watch the Bengali version (made by Rubayet Ahmed) of The Tempest produced by Dhaka Theatre, Bangladesh and directed by Nasiruddin Yusuf.

King Alonso and King Fardinand`s ship is wrecked. Watching the shipwreck from a nearby island Prospero reveals to his daughter Miranda that he has caused the storm and that he was once the King, but was usurped by his brother Antonio who is also in board. With the help of his spirit Ariel and his own magic powers Prospero brings the men to safety. Fardinand and Miranda fall in love and get married, ensuring that the royal line is returned to the family of the rightful King. Prospero`s slave Caliban joins with the ship`s jester and butler to overthrow Prospero`s island rule. His plot is intercepted by Prospero`s spirits but at the end he is given the freedom he has sought. Alonso and Antonio are made to realize their wrongs and finally forgiven by Prospero.

But this story has been told by Dhaka Theatre in a very clumsy way. This reminds us of Ramaprasad Banik`s marvelous directorial work on The Tempest in the early nineties under the banner of Theatre Passion. The Tempest of Ramaprasad was far better than that of Nasiruddin.

We are on the verge of conclusion. And it will be concluded with an unthinkable production of Nandikar- ‘Hridmajhare’ adopted from Shakespeare`s As You Like It. As You Like It was once intimately produced by Anya Theatre and was Directed by Bibhash Chakraborty at Sarala Memorial Hall auditorium (not in the proscenium). Inspired by As You Like It Kanchan Amin wrote “Hridmajhare`. And eventually the play was group-directed by Supriya Chakraborty, Kamal Chatterjee and Sohini Sengupta.

Having deprived Virendra Mohan of their paternal fortunes, the scheming younger brother, Girindra Mohan turns him out of their house. Virendra Mohan seeks shelter in the forest. The trees, the river, the birds and animals become his kith and kin. Virendra Mohan`s only daughter Hritusha (Bindia Ghosh) grows up in her uncle`s house in extreme negligence and falls in love with Anindya (Anirban Ghosh), son of her father’s friend. Girindra Mohan turns Hritusha out of his house and Anindya`s elder brother (Anirban Raychowdhury) conspires to murder him. Hritusha along with Simanti (Ipsita Debnath), her very dear cousin – turns up in the same forest where Hritusha`s father had found shelter several years ago. Anindya, too, hounded by his elder brother had fled to the same forest. Then follow a series of misunderstandings.

It is about the heartlessness of urban life pitted against the generosity of nature. Jealousies of human nature, its malice and treachery are pitted against love, enchantment, tenderness and compassion.

I know not how to praise the combination of Bindia Ghosh and Anirban Ghosh for their superb acting. The combination of Ipsita and another Anirban is excellent. Another combination comprised with Kamal Chatterjee and Tanima Biswas is also very much entertaining. Shyamal Chakraborty is another actor who played a very sensitive character so nicely. Another talent found in this play is music-director cum the main singer of rare quality Shubhadip Guha. We have to mention startling design of the stage craft done by Bikash Biswas. And last but not the least the directors of the play – Supriya-Kamal-Sohini`s unique combination.

To conclude I would have been very happy if I could have placed Hridmajhare and Chaitali Rater Swapno as the best contemporary Kolkata`s Shakespeare productions. But the question of grammatical paradigm refrains me to do so. But I`m sure that team Chaitali Rater Swapno, team Hridmajhare and team Romi and Juli  have a long way to go and has their own worlds to conquer.

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A Scene from Bengali play Romi O Juli

A Scene from Bengali play Romi O Juli Directed by Biplab Bandyopadhyay

Pachu Ray

Shunya Anka (2013)-Bengali Film by Gautam Ghosh (Review)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Shunyo Awnko PosterConfused Gautam Ghosh’s  ‘Act Zero’  With Outstanding Cinematography and Smart Direction

We are watching Gautam Ghosh since his “Ma Bhumi”. From “Ma Bhumi” to “Act Zero” (Shunya Anka) a circle seems to be completed. As in every circle inevitably there must be some notches and some break ups, so were in “Ma Bhumi” and also there in Act Zero as well. Incidentally those notches are a little bit more in Act Zero than those were in  “Ma Bhumi”. The fact resides in the text. Ma Bhumi was based on a past and closed political chapter. But in Act Zero it is very much contemporary dealing with the state and with its people.

And thus the film depicts a social structure where a corporate life is in the axis. The life where, the wife Jhilik (Priyanka Basu) not having her rat racing husband Agni Bose alias AB (Priyanshu Chaterjii) for any emotional moment, behaves sometimes in a ridiculous manner. Along with enormous single molt whisky, she watches Fellini. Following that old man of the film  shouting “I want a woman” from a tree top, she being intoxicated climbs on the top of their water reservoir and  mimicries that  old man shouting dangerously “I want a man”. Jhilik is being rescued by the fire brigade people and at bed for publicly begging for “man”, she is punished by her husband AB who virtually raped her at night. Though later we experienced their musical and lyrical intercourse time and again.

This corporate AB for his survival or emancipation encroaches as a top executive of Juganta (Vedanta Resources PLC) in Bauxite rich Bidhangiri (Niyamgiri) mountains, which is very much within Red corridor or Mao corridor or MOU corridor at Orissa. Virtually  it is Gandoanaland. This survival of the fittest circle is drawn then with Raka (Kankana SenSharma), the young journalist of a national house “Indian Times”, then comes the tribal community, supporting them enter the Maoists and finally the circle is being completed with the state mercenaries killing the Maoists and giving open room for the bauxite diggers.

Again amidst this circle there is a notch or you may call it a break. The corporate AB, suffering from a dilemma, seeks a fortnight leave from his CEO and to pass time with his Jhilik, comes to a Muslim family consisting of a retired scientist Dr. Kabir Chowdhury (Soumitra Chatterji) and her spouse Layla (Lolita Chatterji) who is a regimented rigid Muslim. Dr. Chowdhury on the other hand believing in composite culture is a secular being. He is a strong follower of Dara Shuko, Lalan Fakir and Rabindranath. Here also comes the question of state terror by which their only son Dara, a string journalist, was shot dead by the security forces at Kashmir. Layla believes that this happened as because her son was a Muslim. To stop war Kabir is in search of an Utopian planning to hack all the web sites of the war mongers and so he want to start from zero which took its start from this sub continent with Aryabhatta.

This film of Gutam Ghosh (story along with Samaresh Majumder, screenplay, music, cinematography and direction) time and again reminds me of Arundhati Roy for her ‘’Walking With The Comrades’’ published in Outlook 29 March,2010. There are lots of sequences which seems to be sprouted from Arundhuti’s memorable article where she really spent time in the terrain of Janatana Sarcar of Maoists at Chattishgarh. Even in the phonic conversation Raka once uttered that she is ‘walking with the comrades’. The dialogue, where Raka is saying that, SP of Dantewara once told her that with police or military these Maoist movement could never be suppressed, instead, if television set is given to each and every family in Dantewara, then only this movement could have been managed, is a dialogue between Arundhati and that SP as mentioned in “Walking With The Comrades”. Even standing at Bidhangiri (alias Niyamgiri at Orissa) Raka virtually translates Arundhati’s line- “Across the Indravati River, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call ‘Pakistan’.

Raka has been shown to be killed by real encounter. No journalist of any big house so far has been killed by Indian forces in any encounter with the Maoists, be it real or fake. In Adilabad in 2009 Maoist PB member Azad was killed in a fake encounter along with a journalist of a small magazine. I’m not going to say that the murder of a small magazine’s journalist is to be ignored. But so far it is learnt that a journalist of a corporate house moves with his/her assignment from the respective corporate house. And if assigned to a Maoists’ terrain like area, the house arranges for its journalist’s protection. On the other hand if the “revolutionaries” consider the respective journalist as their friend then, at any cost they offer protection to that journalist . Thus John Reed  moved around Bolshevik Terrain and Edgar Snow moved around the

terrain area of the then fighting CPC under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung in the forties. Not really comparable, but Arundhati Roy too walked with the Maoists ‘comrades’ in their terrain area of Janatana Sarcar for a couple of days.

But we understand that Gautam Ghosh had no other way but to kill Raka.  At the same time I do not understand why Arundhati’s name has never been mentioned in anywhere in the film.

Besides Raka, who accompanied by Arjun Munda (Arijit Mitra) first encountered with AB at ‘Bidhangiri” and later became a fiancé of AB, the character Jhilik is also very difficult to accept. Have you ever seen such an accomplished air hostess who seldom sings difficult songs of Rabindranath, sings classical songs  in full throttled voice, watches Fellini, recites and adores  modern verses and never utters a single line of Hindi film? Have you ever seen any corporate boss who has been assigned to execute in excavating bauxite worth 4 trillion US dollar (Samarendra Das & Felix Padel; Out Of This Earth: East Indian Adibasis And Aluminium Cartel), being moved from his vow by a couple of interactions with a mere journalist? So the axis of the film consisting of mainly AB, his surroundings – wife Jhilik and fiancé Raka is plainly illogical.

But still the film deserves to be popular for its outstanding world class cinematography, extremely smart editing (though his philander with snow ridden Manali, does go along within this film comfortably, but  this could be a plus point for the audience too), powerful acting of specially Soumitra Chatterji, Kankana SenSharma, Priyanka Basu and in a short spell of Barun Chanda and Arijit Mitra, and  startling voice of Ajoy Chakraborty, Rashid Khan, Kaushiki Chakraborty Deshican, Rupankar Bagchi and  Anupam Ray.

All those with lots of intellectual discourse will definitely attract audience to make Act Zero produced by Gautam Kundu and directed by Gautam Ghosh a grand success.

Producer: Gautam Kundu

Cinematography, Music, Direction: Goutam Ghose

Story: Goutam Ghose, Samaresh Majumder

Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Konkona Sen Sharma Priyanshu Chatterjee Priyanka Bose, Lalita Chatterjee, Barun Chanda, Arijit Mitra

Playback: Ustad Rashid Khan, Rupankar Bagchi, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, Kaushiki Chakrabarty Deshican, Anupam Ray.

-         Pachu Ray

Anton Chekov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ as Ali Jaker’s ‘KaNthal Bagan’ (Bengali Drama Review)

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

KanthalBagan-Bengali Play by Ali JakerDec 19, 2012 (Calcutta Tube): Anton Chekov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’, directed by Constantin Stanislavski, was first produced by Moscow Art Theatre in 1904. In Calcutta we got ‘Manjari Amer  Manjari’ the Bengali adaptation of The Cherry Orchard. That marvelous work was done by Nandikar in mid sixties, after their much talked about production ‘Natyokarer Sandhane Chhati Charitro` adapted from Luigi Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters In Search Of An Author’. Ajitesh Bandyopadhay was the director and at the same time he played the role of Lalmohan, the adaptation of  the protagonist Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin. We watched the play in the year 1965. This year in Calcutta at the ICCR auditorium we watched ‘KaNthal Bagan’ (Jackfruit Orchard), another Bengali adaptation of The Cherry Orchard by Ali Jaker, the famous director and the father figure of Nagarik, the renowned theatrical group of Bangladesh. Here also besides directing, Ali Jaker played the role of the protagonist Adu, the Bangladashi adaptation of Alexeievitch Lopakhin.

The play concerns an aristocratic family consisting of a widow Johara (Sara Jaker), her  brother Jonab Ali (Mostafij Shahin) and her daughter Tamanna (Tahanina Islam) who return to the family’s zamindari consisting of a large palace and a vast jackfruit orchard which Adu used to call jackfruit forest. They come just before the whole asset is being auctioned to pay the mortgage. While presented with options to save the estate the family essentially does nothing and the play ends with the estate being sold to one of their servants Adu (Ali Jaker). He wins the auction against 42 lacs rupees while Jonab Ali, who is solely responsible for the property being mortgaged and auctioned, appeared in the auction with only 2 lacs in his purse. Anyway Adu becoming the owner of this vast property declared that all the jackfruit trees will be cut into pieces and along with the orchard and the palace, the whole property will be divided into number of plots, where there will be urbanization and industrialization in future.  And for the time being the family will be leaving to the sound of the jackfruit orchard being cut down to pieces, said Adu. On request from Johar, Adu, their old servant, temporarily stopped the cutting process. The story presents themes of cultural futility —the futility of the aristocracy to maintain its status and the futility of the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its new found materialism. In reflecting the socio-economic forces at work in Bangladesh at the turn of the 21st century, the play reflects forces at work around Bangladesh and in this part of globe as well.

KanthalBagan-Bengali PlayAs a director of the play Ali Jaker says, during the period of transition from feudal economy to market economy, not only the land and the old values, but also the nature, the women and the downtrodden are by and large victimized by the onslaught of market economy. It happens as because there is no difference between the values of the moribund feudalism and the values of the rising forces of market economy, Jaker says.

In the beginning, while there are only two persons on stage and on the palace as well, Adu says to his daughter that his huge accumulated wealth is due to thousands of green and ripe jackfruits of the orchard which according to Adu is nothing but a forest of jackfruit trees. This particular Adu after a couple of days while having the ownership of the property along with the jackfruit orchard by dint of auction, declared that the trees of this orchard will be cut into pieces in no time. This proves the truth of Ali Jaker`s statement on values.

Now let us come to the production pattern. Along with antique furniture, multimedia has been explored very nicely and with extreme caution in making stage craft by Pijush Dastidar. The help of multimedia has been taken to give an idea about the jackfruit orchard in the hinterland. And in front we see the use of antique furniture arranged very efficiently. Light by Nasirul Haq is very good. Make up by Shuvashish Datta – Tanmay and dress planning by Sara Jaker herself are praise worthy. Since Folk songs have been used in this production under the very able guidance of Tahanina Islam we are to appreciate those. But there is very little relevance of those songs and choreography in this particular play. Since this play  is full of melancholy with pinch of ecstasy with the new owner Adu, there is very little scope of dance and music of this kind.

Anyway to talk about acting Ali Jaker as Adu is outstanding. Adu has been made in a different manner to that of Lalmohan of Ajitesh. So we are not going to compare Adu with Lalmohan. But while narrating the auction what Ajitesh did is unforgettable lifetime achievement of a spectator. In this production there is none to be placed just after Ali Jaker. But as per the acting is concerned Sara Jaker as Johara, Jhumu Majumder as Miju the daughter of Adu, Mostafij Shahin as Jonab Ali, Tahanina Islam as Tamanna, the daughter of Johra, Pantha Shahariar as the care taker and Fakrujjaman Chowdhuri as Sundarlal have done well.

- Pachu Ray