The controversial play by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Duhsamay, long a work (or should one say production) in progress, has finally reached its approved incarnation. Now clocking in at one and a quarter hours, it took the stage on November 25 at Natyotsav 93, the festival presented by Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre and Theatre Workshop at Academy of Fine Arts.

For those who have been away from Earth during the last few months, Duhsamay is produced by the Information and Culture Department, Government of West Bengal, and advocates Hindu-Muslim solidarity. Bhattacharjee’s intention is honourable; indeed, it is quite conceivable that the play might inculcate the politically correct message if shown in the right pockets where ignorance and parochialism reign supreme. The problem is that it is highly unlikely that it will ever travel there. With an all-star cast from Calcutta, it will rarely appear outside halls like Academy, Rabindra Sadan, Sisir Mancha and Girish Mancha, whose audiences already support its message anyway.

Leaving aside this fundamental incongruity between its social purpose and its social practice, one can turn to its literary dimensions. Bhattacharjee may be the best playwright-minister in a long while, but that does not say much. Duhsamay is very weak drama: more accurately, it is a series of sketchy scenes yoked together causally, which just do not add up to a play. Many premises—a riot, violence on stage, a liberal professor, a family sheltering a refugee from the other faith, Hindu girl and Muslim boy—have become theatrically hackneyed. And the lovers walking into the sunset holding hands, with a clammy curfew all around, makes for an incredibly unreal ending.

Almost in Gorbachevian style, Bhattacharjee declares open season on the lazy bureaucracy that compounds any crisis in India—a subject on which he must have firsthand Writers’ knowledge. Even here, though, he appears to take special delight in making a scapegoat of the police. Defending the police is not my brief, but surely they do not deserve blame for virtually every untoward incident in the city? (The party, however, is not at fault.) The star cast culled from various Calcutta groups has not enough stage time to develop roles adequately. One cannot blame either them or director Ashok Mukhopadhyay, because the play’s the thing in which we hoped to catch the conscience of the left wing.

(From The Telegraph, 17 December 1993)