Soumitra Chatterjee has been trying for some time now to bridge the discrete worlds of commercial and “group” theatre in Calcutta by grafting the serious concerns of the latter with the professionalism of the former. A debate rages as to how far he has succeeded, but as far as Darpane Sharatshashi (Tapan Theatre, April 22) is concerned, he has certainly given the genre of authentic melodrama—a pejorative word nowadays—a new lease of life.

He realizes the importance of a good script and makes the right choice, given the nature of his theatrical circumstances: Manoj Mitra has a flair for entertaining, even marginally sensational, playwriting. Darpane Sharatshashi also uses Mitra’s pet structural device of a play within a play, relating how a Calcutta-trained actor stages Nildarpan in his home village at the turn of the century. However, the spotlight is on the ingenue (Shashi) forced into acting the pathetic role of the ryot’s daughter Kshetramani, and on the fusion of her real life and stage character. In a mixed dramaturgy sometimes reminiscent of his tragic Shobhāyātrā and sometimes of his comic Kinu Kāhārer Thetār, Mitra cynically concludes that vested interests always triumph over genuine talent.

As director, Chatterjee should have deleted the superfluous scene featuring Shashi’s fellow-actresses flirting with the zamindar’s brother. Otherwise he supervises the show very well, eliciting a particularly wonderful performance out of Laboni Sarkar (Shashi) who, apart from a few moments of false emotion, creates a highly credible part of rural innocence hiding intense passion and acting potential. Her carriage, gestures and accent in the early portions are honed to perfection.

Chatterjee himself offers an object lesson to all actors in articulation and delivery of lines as the ostracized hero, while Ashok Mitra (the zamindar)’s facial expressions illustrate typical professional technique. For some reason, Basabi Nandi holds back as the veteran actress; Nihar Chakrabartti contributes a fine comic cameo as the prompter.

Khaled Choudhury devises a well-designed set for the courtyard, but the interior could do with more colour than dull black flats. For the record, Chatterjee scores the music too in this Niva Arts production.

(From The Telegraph, 4 June 1993)