Mohit Chattopadhyaya’s forte is comic drama with a serious purport, and he has found the right director with the light touch in Dwijen Bandyopadhyay of Samstab. Probably encouraged by its experience with Sundar last year, Samstab returns to Chattopadhyaya for Mushtijog (not Mushthijog, as misspelt in Bengali in the publicity material), its new production.
The play revolves round a timid henpecked clerk ultimately able to give vent to the latent fighter within, metamorphosing into a local hero who battles antisocial elements and brims with confidence. The author’s point is that we all have it inside us to be strong, that weakness is all in the mind (one hopes, of course, that he is not advocating vigilantism!).
Chattopadhyaya makes his point with his characteristic dramatic charm and humour, except for some conspicuous structural flaws. There is little need for the bar scene, since it is not liquor that awakes the real man, but a quack sweetmeat (the image in the title) administered to him by a mysterious woman in the next scene, which acts as the powerful autosuggestive agent. The doctor’s episode is dispensable too. And the end has certain disagreeable chauvinist undertones: the clerk’s wife becomes so enamoured of his macho prowess that she now almost wants to be browbeaten into submission.
A master of facial mobility, Bandyopadhyay outshines everybody with his comic cross between Patol Babu and Walter Mitty. Swapan Ray provides a good counterweight as the pārā mastān, his arrest at a constable’s hands being truly hilarious (he exits vowing to take up the matter with the Officer-in-Charge at the thana). But poor portrayals of the office boss and the police sergeant mar the impact. Bibhash Chakraborty designs an interesting white set marked off like a boxing ring, raising a pugilistic allusion in the title; the wholly percussive sound effects by Arun Mukhopadhyay are also unusual.
Theatre Workshop’s annual award for the best Bengali dramatist has gone this year to Chandan Sen. It is in the light of this achievement, perhaps, that we should assess Sen’s latest work, Aniket Sandhyā, produced by Ha Ja Ba Ra La, his group from Chakdaha.
Admittedly, it has greater complexity than Dāybaddha, as it depicts interrelations among four generations of males in a joint family, and can be read as Sen’s comment on the contemporary state of familial ties. But, notwithstanding several fine isolated passages of interpersonal communication, Sen loads the emotional dice in favour of the older generations and specifically against that traditional target, the daughter-in-law. He thus avoids the opportunity to reject these stereotypes, and also contrives a very artificial ending.
In such plays the tone often becomes the deciding factor in one’s reception and evaluation. Aniket Sandhyā reminds this critic of Barry Levinson’s superb Avalon, exploring the life of a Polish-American immigrant family through four generations. Yet I prefer Levinson’s film because he shows equal sympathy for the concerns of every individual, whereas Sen (despite claims of objectivity) cannot disguise his distaste for the bank officer couple’s careerist motives in the third generation.
Nevertheless, the cast under Sen’s direction is uniformly competent, if we disregard the hysterical excesses of the grandfather’s friend and the mother’s sister, both unnecessary to the plot. Without speaking a word, Subhas Maitra delivers an exceptional performance as the semi-paralysed octogenarian acharya. And the songs form a running metaphor through the production—although again, perhaps too obviously, the bank officers are the only ones who cannot sing.
(From The Telegraph, 21 August 1993)