Seventy years ago, a small band of dedicated young theatre enthusiasts left the Indian People’s Theatre Association and formed a new group, Bohurupee. Little did they imagine that they would become known as the pioneers of the “group theatre” movement in Bengal (it did not exist as such in 1948, though Modhu Bose’s Calcutta Art Players had set the ball rolling in the mid-1930s), and also one of its leaders, or that Bohurupee would survive so long, while many other groups that followed them gradually disintegrated all around. In contrast, Bohurupee’s longevity can only be explained by the stable organization that founder-members Sombhu Mitra, Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Tripti Mitra bequeathed to their inheritors. On this auspicious anniversary, we raise a toast to them.
At its peak during the Tagore centenary in 1961, Bohurupee issued a brochure in English containing virtually a manifesto of their aims, among them, interestingly, to build “an honest Indian theatre” (the commercial stage, and film today, being seen as dishonest), “grapple with the fundamental realities of life” (not escapist entertainment), “keeping in view … new developments in other countries”, and “conscious of its social responsibilities” in this country.
I thought of measuring its latest offering on this occasion, Ratan Sir, against this agenda. Based on a story by Aniruddha Bhattacharya, Tirthankar Chanda wrote this drama to expose the malaise in our educational system. A father concerned for his daughter’s schooling meets a hawker on a suburban train advertising the must-read books that he sells. Assuming that the vendor’s knowledgeability about his wares indicates a solid grounding in their subjects, he requests him to tutor the girl. The youth tries to disabuse him, but the promise of extra income proves irresistible.
Ratan Sir ticks three of the four boxes: honesty, reality, responsibility. Ratan even unwittingly helps his ward out of the stifling pressures of conventional studies by cultivating a surprise talent that she did not realize could liberate her. It makes for a hopeful ending, yet the play does not satisfy fully. Far too many characters—over 20—appear than necessary, weakening the development of the core dramatis personae. Names like Swadesh and Biswajiban suggest easy symbols that jostle uncomfortably with the others. I would like to see Bikash Mandal and Ipsita Ghosh in the lead get greater elbowroom to show their abilities.
But director Debesh Raychaudhuri’s neglect of design disrespects Sombhu Mitra’s advice to pay attention to international theatre. The scenography is visually so tacky that it resembles a production by a financially-handicapped group. Bohurupee should not lower its standards to those of others; it should set standards, like Mitra did. It should actively solicit adventurous, even revolutionary scripts, or revive challenging classics like he did. It should keep abreast of foreign trends, though not necessarily borrow them blindly. It should become more transformative, like the quick-change rural impersonators from whom the founders took their name.
(From The Times of India, 4 August 2018)