As part of Banga Mela 1400, organized by the Information and Culture Department of the Government of West Bengal, Theatre Commune presented Sadhabār Ekādashi at Rabindra Sadan on April 17. No doubt germane to the occasion—a play from the 13th century Bangābda for the final year of the 14th century Bangābda—Dinabandhu Mitra’s comedy definitely holds a preeminent socio-historical position in Bengali professional theatre, but it has also lost its sting over the decades.
Thus, much of his humour seems forced to the sophisticated viewer today, and Theatre Commune’s production seems equally forced in trying to squeeze fun out of it. One can still luxuriate in the dramatic language of Mitra’s dialogue and in his habit of quoting appropriate lines at will from English dramatists, but the satire on wining and womanizing sounds and looks passe, the only lasting target of relevance being the waywardness of educated male youth. Some jibes at social types, specially the rustic Bangal loudmouth, appear distastefully parochial now.
The star turn, that of the drunk and anglicized Nimchand, has reputedly had such illustrious interpreters in the past (like Girish Chandra Ghosh) that Nilkantha Sengupta may seem to have handicapped himself from the start. In any case, he looks too old for the role. However, his resonant voice and innate acting skills salvage the play to some extent. Other good representations come from the spoilt son (Atal) and his favourite courtesan (Kanchan)—the performers’ names unfortunately not made known to the audience.
Tagore’s plays are more challenging than most others’ because they demand acting as well as singing skills. Performers with equal ﬂuency in both arts are a rarity, and the amateur status of Bengali cultural groups is such that they specialize in either one or the other. Consequently, the normal Tagore production by a theatre unit tends to be weak in its songs, while one by a Rabindrasangit outfit tends to be deficient in the theatrical department.
Kalapi’s Rabindra Jayanti presentation of Chirakumār Sabhā (Academy of Fine Arts, May 8) falls into the latter category. There is some excellent, flawless singing by obviously accomplished vocalists, Anindita Basu as Nirabala (the part immortalized by Niharbala) and Saumya De Sarkar as Akshay, but the rough edges in stagecraft point to theatrical inexpertise. One can understand the choice of Tagore’s most popular play—it provides both comedy and romance—but Kalapi’s lengthy scene changes and slack pickup of cues slow down the pace, making the humour flag. A related problem is the protracted five-act duration, which must be cut nowadays to retain audience attention. Although Banamali the matchmaker and Gurudas the ustad are omitted, more editing of the first half is needed to prevent rambling.
The romantic attachments also do not receive adequate treatment from the inexperienced younger crew. In fact, the finest acting comes from the senior generation: the most famous of many Chandra-babus, Ahindra Choudhury, would have been proud of Anil Mukhopadhyay’s absent-minded president of the club, and Prabhat Chaudhuri (Rasik-babu) is full of zest. However, Abhijit Ghatak, Sanjay Banik, Ratna Bhattacharya, Bipasa Mitra, Mahuya De Sarkar and Anindita Basu are all too green to do justice to their lively young roles. The best among these couples is Sibaji Basu’s lost-for-words Purna and Sukanya Sen’s emancipated Nirmala.
Aneek’s latest drama, Amalesh Chakraborty’s Ekjan Pratārak (Rabindra Sadan, May 3) has won an award for original playwriting and one can see why—it brings to mind the comic-fantasy style of Mohit Chattopadhyaya. The present paucity of good Bengali dramatists makes us welcome Chakraborty’s talent unreservedly, but he nevertheless needs to practise economy and sharpen his craftsmanship before he can enter the big league.
The play is about an altruistic man who, with the aim of benefiting society, fraudulently joins a big organization none of whose employees can see through the hoax. The effortlessness of his deception and his ready acceptance arouse our disbelief, but then anything is possible in India where—as here—VIPs at the top seem to suffer from chronic amnesia. The hustler succeeds so well that he becomes the Chairman’s most trusted aide, and therein lies the continuation of the tale.
In the hands of Malay Biswas (who also does an uncommonly poor job of music selection) the play gets unexceptional direction, with the result that performances depend entirely on individual acting merit. Thus, the pratārak (Manik Pal) loses much of his appeal due to his affectations whenever he undergoes soul-searching, and Tapati Bhattacharya is just average as his love interest. Sunil Chatterjee (the Chairman) and Atanu Mukherjee (the hero’s schoolmate who gets superseded by him in the office) are much better actors in their supporting roles.
(From The Telegraph, 11 June 1993)