With International Women’s Day still within short-term recall, it seems relevant to spotlight two current all-female Bengali plays, each featuring nine actresses, making them rare productions in Bengali theatre. Both originate in familiar texts, but innovate to varying degrees.

The big surprise in Baghajatin Alap’s Gaynār Bāksa lies in the fact that one can reach its end without realizing that it does not include a single male character. Of course Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay wrote several men into his novel, but Parthapratim Deb’s dramatization – done way back in 1996 but unstaged till now – cleverly banishes them into the wings, putting patriarchy in its rightful place. Instead, the actresses romp their way through this domestic comedy about a presumed inheritance, which entertains even in its ghostly elements.

Sohini Sengupta enjoys herself to the hilt as the aunt possessing the fabled jewellery chest coveted by all except the family’s younger daughter-in-law, performed with panache by Rupa Deb. The compatibility between them exemplifies the perfect results obtained when equally-matched thespians do not attempt to upstage each other. As director, Parthapratim reveals an as-yet unrecognized comic flair on top of his established musical capabilities, the latter boosted by Rupa’s singing. He may wish to consider adding an appropriately spectral halo for the aunt.

Just the opposite generically, Ensemble presents Garcia Lorca’s tragedy The House of Bernarda Alba as Khandahār, adapted into Bengal by Biplab Bandyopadhyay. Lorca’s 1936 classic is not the first all-women drama by a major world playwright – that distinction belongs to Tagore’s Natir Pujā in its first edition of 1926 – but it offers the ten-member cast plentiful opportunities and, strikingly, shows a mother as the oppressor of her daughters. Sohag Sen portrays this lady of East Bengali origins icily, but Khandahār is truly an ensemble effort, despite the script editing the ten women to nine. To heighten the effect, director Abanti Chakraborty uses a stark white costume scheme (Lorca’s characters wear black as the colour of mourning) and stylized acting, which occasionally slides into hysteria that, unfortunately, may look and sound like a feminine stereotype.

(From The Telegraph, 17 March 2018)