Nandikar’s National Theatre Festival became a major cultural victim of the sad events in the second week of December—a pity and a great irony, for it has prided itself in creating an artistes’ platform of integration and harmony among the divisive forces wreaking national havoc in recent years. The cancellation of most shows prevented at least one talented group, Act One (Delhi), from gaining the wider exposure it deserves.

The festival closed with Theatron’s postponed Khelāghar (Academy, December 17), adapted from J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways by Salil Bandyopadhyay. Priestley’s serious dramas unfortunately have fallen on hard times, so Theatron’s choice in reviving him is in itself praiseworthy. Particularly this play, one of his best, demonstrates his experimentation with a fourth dimension, time, a concept that fascinated him. Relativity too plays a part, as Acts 1 and 3 present a young family full of hopes for the future at a party in 1919, while Act 2 depicts the actuality of the present in 1937, neatly exposing how things change with time.

Hailed as innovative then, this device is now devalued as a structural gimmick with little metaphysical cogitation. The truth lies somewhere in between: Bandyopadhyay directs sensitively, bringing out the play’s inner concern with human frailty and disillusionment. Yet his adaptation makes one misjudgment; Priestley’s stage directions for Act 2 specify that “we guess at once that this is present day.” But apart from nominally indicating contemporaneity, the production does not go out of its way to suggest that stark reality is in fact Act 2 while the rest is mere history. And the set abdicates its responsibility in this matter.

Whether Bandyopadhyay (who transposes the locale to a north Bengal tea planter’s home) has equal success as Priestley in delineating regional manners is debatable, but he perceptively lets J. B.’s mastery over characterization take care of itself. Given such dialogue and situations, virtually everyone acts distinctively, specially Bijaylakshmi Barman as the matriarch, Babu Dattaray as the son-in-law and Sumanta Mukharji as the younger son. Arundhati Bandyopadhyay ably handles the key character of the eldest daughter whose memories of her prescient vision into the present change her attitude in Act 3. Her sisters (Pritha Goswami, Monika De and Zinnia Guha) also perform well.

(From The Telegraph, 15 January 1993)