Madhabi-Bengail Drama Review

Sohini Sengupta in Bengali Drama Madhabi
Sohini Sengupta in Bengali Drama Madhabi

August 26, 2010 (CalcuttaTube): Madhabi is a Bengali play presented by Nandikar under the direction of Swatilekha Sengupta. The drama has Sohini Sengupta, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Debshankar Halder, Sumanta Gangopadhyay, Partha Pratim Deb, Swajan Srijan Mukhopadhyay and others in the cast. Read the drama review at CalcuttaTube.

Bhisham Sahni picked up a little known story from the Mahabharat and gave it his own interpretation. Swatilekha Sengupta translated and adapted this story for the Bengali stage. Madhabi shows how Madhabi is consciously used by different men as a substitute for money to serve their individual but abstract ends – arrogance, vanity and self-aggrandizement. The play opens with a beautifully orchestrated chorus, dressed in saffron, functioning as ‘the collective voice’ that sings, recites and dances while narrating Madhabi’s story The chorus is the thread that carries the story forward, as a musical diversion and as a scathing and satiric comment on the goings on. The Kathak tatkar shifting from one segment to another has been used imaginatively.

The stage is set minimally, yet, so designed that the lighting often invests the backdrop with the impression of a thick-treed forest. The music, by Swatilekha, explores semi-classical modes, some forms of religious music to fit the shifting moods of the play. The chorus and chorus leaders are wonderful in their synchronized performance, their timing and their rendering. The curtain opens to show Galab asking Rishi Vishwamitra for his Guru Dakshina. Vishwamitra initially says that Galab need not pay any guru dakshina. But Galab insists. In order to humble Galab, Vishwamitra asks for 800 ashwamedha horses – white horses with a black ear – as his guru dakshina. Galab’s pride is hurt because there is no way he can gather the 800 white horses. He tries to kill himself. Divine intervention stops him. He then approaches King Yayati, who has given up his throne to lead the life of a hermit in his hermitage. But his changed lifestyle has not stripped him of his obsession to compete with Karna and become the most charitable man in history. He does not have a single white horse. So, he offers his daughter Madhabi instead. Madhabi is endowed with two boons – one is of eternal virginity and the other is of begetting sons destined to be King of kings.

Sohini Haldar as the beautiful Madhabi tries to undercut the lack of beauty with her performance. She is too sweet and syrupy in the beginning. As events snowball over the acquiring of the white horses, she raises questions on love, on her identity, and on being used, abused and misused again and again. Debshankar Haldar is more a lover than the selfish and arrogant disciple he is expected to be. Our slow hate escalates when he rejects Madhabi as life partner because she is no longer beautiful, and because she has given herself to his guru which is unacceptable. Ironically she has done this only to help him. The performance, despite the interval, is electrifying, heightened by the holistic ambience of the stage presentation, complete with the beautiful fragrance of the dhuno spreading across to the audience. Anirban Roychowdhury as Marich, Parthapratim Deb as the lead in the chorus and Sumanta Gangopadhyay as Vishwamitra are very good. Madhabi is an unforgettable learning experience. Through this play, we discover how women, represented by Madhabi have functioned as a substitute for money whenever there was a clash of male egos.

Shoma A. Chatterji

Picture/ Videos : Shrabanti Basu

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