Hamlet-Bengali Play Review

Hamlet-Bengali play by Bibhash ChakrabortySept 5, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Hamlet (2011) is a Bengali play directed by ace theatre persona Bibhash Chakrabarty with Surajit Bandyopadhyay, Dyuti Ghosh Haldar, Nandini Bhowmik, Shyamal Chakrabarty, Gautam Dey, Debashish Roychowdhury and other in the cast. Read the drama review of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Calcutta Tube.

Bibhash Chakraborty Directs ‘Hamlet’


Based on the translation of Shakti Biswas, Anya Theatre has very recently produced William Shakespeare`s Hamlet. In this context to start with let us quote in part the note of Bibhash Chakraborty, the Director of the play and the first person of the group as well.

“To be or not to be- that is the question/ Whether `tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them? Often I select a play, work on it, prepare the script, read it out to my friends and comrades, sometimes even go into rehearsal, but then suddenly drop or shelve it. Why, I can`t explain. Sometimes it so happens that the same play is taken again and finally staged. There is quite a long list of such works: White Scourge (Karel Capek), Balidan (Girish Ghosh), Accidental Death of An Anarchist (Dario fo), The Fire and The Rain (Girish Karnad), Blue Horses On Red Grass (Mikhail Shatrov), Trumpets and Raspberries (Dario Fo), Madhab Malanchi Kainya (from Maymensingh ballads ). Shakespeare`s Hamlet is one such 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 Banladeshi 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.

[ReviewAZON asin=”B00019072G” display=”inlinepost”]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. Now it is for the spectators to judge whether the text and the production has passed the test. …… 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. “

Play Summary

Prince Hamlet is depressed. He is shocked to find his mother Gertrude already remarried to his Uncle Claudius. To Hamlet, the marriage is foul incest which after his father’s ghost visit Hamlet gets confirmed. The Ghost complains that Claudius poured poison in King Hamlet’s ear while the old king was napping in the garden. He entreats Hamlet to avenge his death, but to spare Gertrude. Hamlet vows to affect madness but finds himself more confused than ever. In his persistent confusion, he questions the Ghost’s trustworthiness. In order to test the same Hamlet enlists the help of a troupe of players who perform a play called The Murder of Gonzago to which Hamlet has added scenes that recreate the murder the Ghost described. Hamlet calls the revised play The Mousetrap and the ploy proves a success. As Hamlet had hoped, Claudius’ reaction to the staged murder reveals the King to be conscience stricken.

Convinced now that Claudius is a villain, Hamlet resolves to kill him. In his continued reluctance to dispatch Claudius, Hamlet actually causes six ancillary deaths. The first death belongs to Polonius, whom Hamlet stabs through a wall hanging as the old man spies on Hamlet and Gertrude in the Queen’s private chamber. Hamlet arranges a plot for 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.

[ReviewAZON asin=”0780021312″ display=”inlinepost”]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.


[ReviewAZON asin=”1149120193″ display=”inlinepost”]With 4042 lines, 29551 words, 5 acts and 20 scenes Hamlet is the longest and much talked about play of Shakespeare. In Broadway itself at least 64 different versions of Hamlet have so far been produced and innumerable produced in off Broadway as well. In England Hamlet is the most produced play by Royal Shakespeare Company. In India Hamlet in folk form has been produced in Percy theatre. Utpal Dutta is considered as Shakespeare specialist. He produced 7 Shakespeare plays (Romeo Juliet, Mid Summer Night`s Dream, Macbeth, Othello, Julius Cesar, Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice), but he did not produced Hamlet. Bangladeshi theatre personality Ali Jaker worked with very few Shakespeare, but he did Hamlet. On the other hand for Bibhash Chakraborty, Hamlet is the first Shakespeare play. To stage the unedited play it takes more than 4 hours. So editing is indispensible and very important at the same time. Bibhash Chakraborty has done the job with expected smartness. An unedited version of Hamlet, which took little more than 4 hours, was filmed by Kenneth Branagh in 1996. In the context of Hamlet done in a pub, we may mention ‘12 Ophelias` written by Caridad Svich. The play was produced in 2008 inside McCarren Park Pool in Green Point, Brooklyn, NY by Teddy Bergman who opined that, “Basically the play is an image of Ophelia coming back out of the water to imagine how things could have gone differently for her. … The pool was the only place we could have done the show…what was a symbol of womanhood has been drained.”

The Play

[ReviewAZON asin=”0764585681″ display=”inlinepost”]How things went differently for Ophelia? Ophelia is suppressed by her father Polonius who knows nothing but to please the authority in order to achieve anything. For this attitude he becomes the major hurdle in fulfilling her overwhelmed love for Hamlet. The death of Polonius is thus in one hand the removal of that hurdle which she would dream of all the time, on the other, this murder is the cause of death of her beloved father as well. And the cause of this death is her beloved lover. At the same time she is being deprived of her overwhelming love by the lover himself. One of the reasons of this deprived love may be the Oedipus complex of Hamlet about which Ophelia may be or may not be aware of. Hamlet is disgusted by his mother`s incestuous relationship with Claudius and he time and again tried to refrain his mother from her sharing bed with Claudius. After knowing the hidden story of his father`s murder Hamlet takes time as he is fearful of killing Claudius as this may clear his way to his mother`s bed. But his mother Gertrude is a very simple lady devoid of any complications whatsoever.

Surajit Bandopadhyay as Hamlet has nicely and smartly depicted these complications with a pinch of show-of attitude. First watching Dyuti Ghosh Halder as Ophelia is really charming. But finally she is not at all attentive to achieve the complications of Ophelia. So the characterization becomes flat and one dimensional. Shyamal Chakraborty`s Polonius is marvelous. Accomplished actress Nandini Bhowmik has well read Gertrude- the Hamlet`s mother and the queen as well. Cruel, crooked power crazy Claudius is well translated by Gautam Dey with little lack of personality. Laertes is staunch and stubborn but lacks cerebral. Powerful actor Debashish Roychowdhury has brilliantly characterized Laertes. The mime actors` actions are so synchronized and dramatic that we are ought to congratulate the group consisting of Soma Majumder, Pabitra Basu, Subrata Ghosh, Chiranjit Nath, Asim Kundu and Tushar Chakraborty with the trainer Debkumar Pal and above all the Director Bibhash Chakraborty who has shown how the geometric compositions and scientific making and breaking of blocks make a production perfect. The ghost scene of Hamlet and witch scene of Macbeth are much talked about everywhere. But here, I beg to say Bibhash Da, the ghost scene is very poor and at the same time Sujit Mukhopadhayay is not up to the mark as ghost and so is Surajit Ghosh as Horatio.

Anya Theatre`s Hamlet is enriched with spectacular and expensive stage design – art direction of Soumik-Piyali combination. It is lyrically enlightened by powerful Joy Sen. And it`s music is brilliantly scored by Arindam Mukhopadhyay and Abhimanyu Deb. Shree Das (make-up) and Abanti Chakraborty (costumes) are to be congratulated as well.


And finally I unconditionally congratulate Bibhash Chakraborty-the director of Hamlet (in a pub) whose journey from Mohit Chattopadhyay`s ‘Rajrakta` in early seventies to Shakespeare`s Hamlet in 2011 has not only startled us, but enriched our cerebral now and again for more than four decades. Long live Bibhash Da!

– Pachu Ray

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