The quality of entries in British Council’s 15th School Drama Competition of original one-act plays (Gyan Manch, July 31-August 1) shot up this year, making it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Non-awardees should console themselves with the knowledge that, in many cases, it seemed simply a matter of individual taste which demarcated good from better and better from best.

Take the prize for best production to St James’, which surprised this critic as Abhijit Sircar’s Aladdin? merely rehashed last year’s Bull Run: a genie in an emergency light compared to the Onida devil last time. What brought the house down, though, was their brilliantly-conceived “Bollywood Rap” by “Baba Khan” and the genie. The runner-up, Assembly of God’s Kaboom!, evinced far greater complexity and ambiguity, justly winning for David Atkins the Best Playwright award, besides sterling performances from a crazed Andrash Khan (Best Actor) and a saner Prithvijit Banerji in a juvenile bombers’ gang. However, both schools displayed exemplary teamwork.

A few common, albeit creditable, themes proved disadvantageous to certain schools. For instance, both St Joseph’s (Chandannagar) and La Martiniere (Boys) staged Hindu-Muslim romances against a backdrop of communal riots, but the former won third prize overall for Sukanya Mohan’s The Wrong Number, no doubt riding the crest of Paramita Ghoshal’s representation of the lively heroine. La Mart’s probably lost out as a result of their hero (Ankush Raisinghani)’s maudlin twitching; still, he and the comic constable (Anubhav Pal) appeared more assured to me than their mate, Samir Gandothra, who took the second prize for actors.

Again, both St Thomas (Girls) and Calcutta International placed the plight of our school education in a courtroom scenario, the latter suffering due to a comparatively stilted script and poor direction. In contrast, St Thomas’ very touching play deservedly won for Kanika Khandelwal (in the part of a small girl entering school) the Best Actress award. The runner-up in this category was Sumona Roy Chowdhury (her mother), but at least two other “mothers” must have been strong contenders: the comic Shweta Agarwal (G. D. Birla—Tollygunge) and the tragic Paramita Saha (Julien Day—Ganganagar).

Indeed, Julien Day’s romantic fairy tale attained some moments of elevated theatre with a most unlikely prayer scene, a very professional musical approach and the unusual device of a text fully composed in verse, proving that even the commonest story can be made interesting through imagination and hard work. On the other hand, clever ideas may fail through inexperience and immaturity, as in the case of Frank Anthony’s takeoff on The Merchant of Venice or Loreto Convent’s game of role-playing. Hindi High offered the flimsiest script, a farcical skit on life in Calcutta.

Finally: I thought I had laid Daphne Du Maurier’s ghost to rest, but it promises to haunt us still. Pratt Memorial’s play was the third variation on Du Maurier’s story “The Blue Lenses” that Calcutta has seen in two years; obviously the judges too were not happy with the repetition, otherwise Sohini Roy Chowdhury’s role as the blind woman about to regain her sight might have fared better. Could we ask for no more Maurier, please?

(From The Telegraph, 6 September 1993)