It’s one thing to praise a weak but idealistic play by a lesser dramatist so as to encourage him, but the same play written by a frontline author is bound to get panned because we expect much greater things from the highest literary echelons. That is the trouble with Mohit Chattopadhyaya’s Nonājal (Academy of Fine Arts, June 5), in which Samakalin Shilpidal discovers “positive values” no doubt, but at what dramatic cost? The degree of improbability makes us wonder how much premium time Chattopadhyaya spent on it.

The problems start as soon as the middle brother of this average, hard-pressed Bengali family takes his first step into wrongdoing. It is impossible to believe that this pillar of honesty suddenly turns so naive as to let his friend sweet-talk him into corruption. It is even more incredible that he selects his girlfriend’s tutee to kidnap for ransom. Her muted reaction when he tells her what he has done is utterly implausible, as is the manner in which he quivers in fear when the policeman pays a visit. (Of course, knowing how Calcutta Police works, it may not be that surprising.) And the end, with everything neatly resolved, is simply a fairy tale.

In such a scenario, the finest acting comes from characters on the periphery: a madman with a method (Ambar Ray) and a hip local boy (Ananda Mitra). But the fact that director Ray has no clue as to how ruthless Calcutta’s underworld has become, is proved by his genteel depiction of the two criminals. Within the family, Sabyasachi Mukhopadhyay creates an unbelievably weepy eldest brother, whereas Partha Sarathi Deb (the father) performs the most convincing part. Bidyut Das’s inexplicably monotonous scheme of vocal sargam as soundtrack further weakens the impact. It takes stronger theatre than this “to combat the crisis in life”, as Samakalin wants.


A younger, rawer group, Piyasi Chhandodoy, addresses the same crisis differently in Nilāmbājār (Sisir Mancha, June 9). More symbolically oriented, with stylized movements, song and dance—rare elements in amateur theatre—it presents degeneration in basic social values. Thus, a young executive has no qualms about prostituting his wife to his boss to improve his career, a dance guru panders to popular tastes while his disciple uses her body in even less worthy ways, a scientist unpatriotically sells his secrets to the highest bidder. The thesis is that everyone is being bought off nowadays, but Supriya Mitra and Partha Gangopadhyay will have to think of less sensational means to dramatize their idea.

(From The Telegraph, 25 June 1993)