Most liberal secular intellectuals have felt the urgent need to stand up and be counted at one time or another in the course of the past twelve months. We may safely deduce that this desire motivated Sisir Kumar Das to write Akbar Birbal and Kumar Roy to produce it as Bohurupee’s newest offering, certainly bettering Shyāmā, the previous effort by the same partnership.
The signposts are unmistakable: the play takes place outside Bengal in a town where an ancient ruin has become a contentious site. The adopted hero, rescued by an educated family, has lost all memories of his real name, birthplace and religion (shades of Tagore’s Gorā), symbolic of amnesic India. His closest friend is a small foreign girl (the objective outsider) who loves everyone and cannot comprehend sectarianism. The drama develops as a search for a missing identity—or memory—in our national history that may unite the now divided.
While Das’s intention is honourable, his implementation falters. He never explains why the hero was renamed, unusually, Birbal. When Birbal begins to remember, his revelation that he was reincarnated in the same village where a fraudulent clairvoyant says she was reincarnated becomes too incredible a coincidence. The denouement presents some rather stale devices: the police hunt for a terrorist (and confuse Birbal as one); men from three different faiths in turn claim Birbal as their relative. And Das should not have stooped to find humour in outlandish names like “Kentucky Sen” or objectionable stereotypes of an NRI professor (accent, jeans, goatee).
It is left to Bohurupee’s best actors to raise the level by their individual characterizations—notably Soumitra Basu as the cynical rationalist whose promising role Das surprisingly cuts from the second half, and the veteran Tarapada Mukhopadhyay as the born-again Hindu. In terms of production, the finest effects lie in the decor of the silhouetted ruins by Shakti Sen and Atul Saha. In the final analysis, this may not be a great play, but it is a timely one.
The evening of three short plays arranged by Chena Achena at Academy of Fine Arts on July 19 may testify to the spread of Bengali group theatre in towns outside Calcutta, but their quality still leaves considerable scope for improvement.
Khelnā, by Sarathi from Chunchura, provokes a basic question for the writer, Sankar Basu Thakur: why on earth should anyone desire to prepare a one-hour condensation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House? If one must adapt, better to adapt this modern classic in its full-length form so as to retain its total effect.
Unity Malancha’s Dano (from Malancha in North 24-Parganas) is an original script by Gopal Das on the unbridgeable divide between a slightly retarded father from a fallen Brahman family and his more refined son. However, the early possibilities of this situation are negated by a typically sentimental conclusion.
Melodrama rules the roost in both shows, despite relatively natural acting from director Samir Sengupta (Helmer’s equivalent in Khelnā) and specially Debasish Sarkar as Dano, but Chena Achena’s Dinosaur leaves one nonplussed. It is not a play, but a series of immature sketches proposing that history from primitive man down is an unending chain of oppression. This may be true, but Samar Datta needs to present it dramatically, not through eight men undergoing what amounts to little more than workshop improvisations.
(From The Telegraph, 6 September 1993)