The latest productions by two very young Bengali groups show that at least some among the new generation are conscious of their rich theatrical heritage. Ushnik’s Kamal Kāmini (Sisir Mancha, November 5) is the monologue of a retired commercial actress reminiscing about the halcyon days of professional Calcutta theatre. The script, by director Ishita Mukhopadhyay, evidences considerable historical research, resurrecting vivid anecdotes about legends like Sisir Bhaduri and little-known gems of information like Golap Sundari (alias Sukumari), one of the four ladies to first act on the public stage in 1873, also writing the first play by a woman a couple of years later.

The one-woman performance is a piece of cake for Ketaki Dutta, celebrated heroine of many a show at Rangmahal, Star, Kasi Biswanath Mancha and Minerva. She revels in interpreting the play, which obviously bears many nostalgic biographical nuances for herself. Her clear singing voice, one of her prime talents, remains untarnished. Her acting manages to universalize a topic that by itself may have appealed to only those interested in theatre history, and transcends the structural cliche of an aging star called upon to do a bit role in a movie, soliloquizing about old times while she waits.


Swapna Sandhani chooses for its second venture a revival of Jadubangsha (Sisir Mancha, November 8), the popular dramatization of Bimal Kar’s story. While such a decision might seem retrogressive, Koushik Sen actually succeeds in modernizing the text so that it sounds more than relevant to present times. The angst—and abusive language—of the four misled unemployed youths appears quite typical of today’s angry young men. The only problem is that the play contains avoidable sentimentalism.

Sen’s directorial effort falters in failing to control this sentimental streak (mostly in the character of the older benefactor played by Tapas Chakrabarti), and also in the two quasi-romantic scenes, which he handles immaturely, without the intense naturalism he lavishes on the rest of the production. However, the performance will not be remembered for these blemishes, but for the exceptional collective acting of the four youths (Sen himself, Prasenjit Chakrabarti, Subhasish Sengupta, Rajatabha Datta). The women, particularly Piu Majumdar as the benefactor’s friend, must try to raise their standards to match these men. There is an unusual soundtrack with lyrics by Soumitra Chatterjee, even including a rap song!


Credit should be given to Rupadaksha for reviving a long-forgotten but highly relevant play written by Ritwik Ghatak, whose active participation in post-lndependence Bengali theatre is also largely forgotten nowadays. No doubt Sānko (Sisir Mancha, November 12) has its flaws as a predictably obvious exercise in promoting Hindu-Muslim amity, but the story still has a simplicity and warmth at a human level which, in the final analysis, overwhelms the awareness of its defects and vindicates Rupadaksha’s decision to stage it.

In production, the first half set in Calcutta during a post-Partition riot turns out rather sentimentalized; the cast fails to give it a natural touch. But in a turnaround after the interval, the milieu of a village family in East Bengal shapes up excellently in both acting and design, led by director Tarit Chaudhuri’s own performance as the Muslim father, Saswati Chaudhuri (as the affectionate mother) and Sima Mukharji (the lively daughter). Saumen Mukharji, the “bridge” between cultures alluded to in the title, may sing well but lacks presence as a hero.

(From The Telegraph, 29 November 1993)