For some time now, this reviewer has wondered why most local troupes cannot make theatre out of the living drama that stares at us daily on the streets of this city. If Brecht could write about a coolie, if Beckett could write about two tramps, why can’t a Bengali playwright write about a beggar instead of the same average middle-class characters and concerns that monopolize our drama?
Almost like a self-fulfilling wish, Debasis Majumdar offers Bithān, in a tough, rigorously-rehearsed production by Natyaranga (Anamika Kala Sangam/Four Square Critics Choice, Gyan Manch, March 1). The play reminds one in many ways of Gorky’s The Lower Depths: the same uncompromising naturalism applied in a detailed set, the same attention paid to the lowest rung of urban society, the same focus on its connections with the underworld and the demimonde.
Bithān does not depict favourably either the politicians or the police of Calcutta in their dealings with slum dwellers, but then most sensible people will support this cynical view of the metropolitan jungle, or at least defend Majumdar’s right to dissent (in itself a rarity among the intelligentsia nowadays). The problem is the implausible blanket quarantine that he makes the authorities impose on the slum once a woman there has been diagnosed as suffering from (it is implied) AIDS.
Except for some melodramatic scene-ending freezes, Swapan Sengupta directs with passion, also acting the seniormost role with emotional force. He transfuses fresh blood into the 20-year-old Natyaranga from a very young cast, especially Amit Kanti Ghosh and Swapan Mitra among the bustee boys, and all the actresses—Nandita Roychowdhury, Manasi Roy, Ena Roy, Manasi Poddar— who perform exceptionally well. Pranab Basu Choudhury makes a perfect Hindustani-speaking constable. Tapan Chakraborty’s replica of a bustee on stage shows evidence of meticulous care in research and design, an uncommon feature in Indian theatre.
(From The Telegraph, 17 March 1993)