Padma Nadir Majhi-Bengali Drama Review

Padma Nadir Majhi-Bengali Drama
Padma Nadir Majhi-Bengali Drama

August 12, 2010 (CalcuttaTube): Padma Nadir Majhi is Bengali play based on Manik Bandopadhyay‘s novel of the same titled staged by Pratikriti under Alok Deb’s direction. Read the Bengali drama review at CalcuttaTube.


Cast and Credits:

Banner: Pratikriti

Author: Manik Bandopadhyay

Music, Lyrics, Background score and direction: Alok Deb

Stage design: Manu Dutta

Lighting: Joy Sen

Choreography: Nirmal Burman

Sound design: Swapan Bandopadhyay

Art work: Chandi Lahiri

Storytelling and narration: Parthopratim Deb

Cast: Shyamal Sirkar, Pinku Saha, Shyamal Mitra, Neelanjan Kanjilal, Tapan Dasgupta, Sandip De, Shipra Pal, Seema Patro, Chhanda Chatterjee, Maya Roy, Aditi Banerjee and others


Manik Bandopadhyay’s Padma Nadir Majhi (Boatman of the river Padma) is currently being staged in Kolkata. Manik Bandopadhay (1908-1956) is a pillar of post-Tagorean Bengali literature. Over his brief life of 48 years spent largely in penury, he authored 34 novels and around 108 short stories. Among his powerful and incisive work, the ones that are known to all are Padma Nadir Majhi and Putul Nacher Itikatha.  His work stands in stark contrast to the writings of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadyay whose pen was gentle and lyrical even when he presented realities like poverty and vulnerability. Manik brought out the brutal truth about life and relationships both in a rural ambience as well as in the urban milieu. He shed light on the dark alleys of the human psyche that influences lifestyle and relationships significantly. In this sense, his writing was more of the unmasking of the ugly face of man than trying to cushion the ugliness with surface beauty.

It is a story set in a fisherman’s village standing on the banks of the river Padma. A small bunch of fisher folk live with their families eking out a survival-level existence depending on the whims, fancies and moods of their lifeline – the river Padma. A storm snatches destroys their catch and most of them are forced into penury. The landlord and his assistant offer further exploitation in the guise of help when Hosen Miya appears like an angel in disguise. Moynadeep is an island, a metaphor and a myth discovered, developed and owned by Hosen Miya (Sandip De) who offers succour to the fisher folk when they are in trouble. He makes no distinction between men and women by virtue of their religious identity. But the fishermen and women are not very confident because of his Muslim identity reinforced by the misadventures of Rashu (Neelanjan Kanjilal) and Aminuddin (Shyamal Das) who return from Moynadeep shattered and in tatters, narrating a horror story of their experience on Hosen Miya’s dreaded island. Is Hosen Miya the angel he appears to be? Or is he really a devil in disguise?

Kuber (Shyaman Sarkar) resists all attempts of Hosen Miya to take him to Moynadeep that might give him some form of stability for himself, his lame wife Mala (Chhanda Chatterjee) and daughter Gopi (Shipra Pal) who cannot find a groom because her mother is handicapped. Circumstances however, force Kuber’s hand and chased by the police in a false case concocted by a rehabilitated Rashu who wanted to marry his daughter but Kuber chooses someone else as her groom. Kuber responds to Hosen Miya’s call to escape to Moynadeep and begin life all over again. Kuber does go, but while leaving, he takes his wife’s sister Ulupi (Seema Patro) who, though married to someone else, is deeply in love with Kuber.

Directed by Alok Deb, the play is presented on a single set dominated by a large boat with a sail, some fishnets in one corner, and a hut in the other corner. Strategic light effects demarcates the spaces to represent a large fishing boat when the fisher folk go for their catch in the middle of the night; Kuber’s hut where her lame and pregnant wife lives with their only daughter, the village square where they gather to discuss their woes, and so on, offering a microscopic view of the world itself.

The play is strung together with the narration, story-telling, commentary and songs by the brilliantly mutli-talented actor singer Parthapratim Deb. The narrator introduces the audience to the story and its characters. It runs like a thread weaving a multi-coloured garland of characters and incidents that structure the play. The director, the stage design and the lighting have effectively and aesthetically been able to capture within the limited space of the proscenium, the infinite flow of the river Padma that runs through the story like a theme song, a metaphor for life, and as the real, tangible river that is both the life and soul of the fisher folk whose lives are determined by and dependent on the river’s ebbs and tides, rises and falls, storms and quietude.

The music, the songs and the choreography are orchestrated to fit into the ethnic ambience of the fishing village in a remote part of Bangladesh, lending both richness and relief to a tragic story of human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The acting by the entire cast is an illustration of what good team work can achieve, and the costumes add to the authenticity of the time and the location within which the story stands. The actors use the proscenium space very well, moving across the horizontal space to make the events unfold dynamically, not allowing it to drag. The only problem is the dialect used in the dialogue to lend local credibility but the urban-bred audience, even with a narrator at hand, will find it difficult to understand the lines. Parthapratim Deb invests the play with the power of his multi-layered performance as the narrator.

Moynadeep is an Utopia all of us keep looking for at some point or another but usually cannot find because we do not have a Hosen Miya in our midst to take us there. Padma Nadir Majhi is a metaphor for Life. The play does justice to its original literary source and is a fitting tribute to its creator Manik Bandopadhyay.

Shoma A. Chatterji

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