Supernatural figments who help in transcending the travails of ordinary lives reappear in an original Bengali drama and in a twist on a famous Upendrakishore tale celebrating its centenary.

Nat-ranga’s Abārita, by Sohan Bandopadhyay, finds an author suffering from writer’s block as well as professional and personal troubles. Out of nowhere, an eccentric old man enters, exhibiting uncanny omniscience and proffering unsolicited advice. The dramatic situation reminds us simultaneously of characters like the clueless Writer in Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit and the fantastic humans who populate the symbolic world of Mohit Chattopadhyaya. Loss of creative inspiration and colourful facilitators to reboot it form a regular trope among artists, revisited by Bandopadhyay. But the total freedom he posits in the title and urges is surely an illusion, for even visionary artists must live in society.

The protagonist’s colleagues, friend, the women in his life, all drag him back to reality, enacted mostly as cardboard figures. Shyamashis Pahari in the lead presents the only deliberately rounded portrayal, while Bandopadhyay plays the old man with relish and directs some interesting scenes with double images, significantly giving himself and Pahari the same set of clothes in one, and having two actresses mirror Pahari’s wife as well. However, the set looks too dark for his theme.

That is certainly not the case with Shriek of Silence’s spectacular Gugā Bābā, an updated Gupi Gāin o Bāghā Bāin by Suprovo Tagore for this century, mainly in English sprinkled with Bengali and Hindi. Of the Shriek of Silence productions I have seen, it was the most mature and organized, layering text, music, dance and scenography in a full-scale musical. Gupi is a dreamy, artistic sort whose materialistically-minded family cannot understand him, so he leaves home. Bagha, a corporate employee, cannot meet targets, so he gets sacked. The magic boon that they receive teleports them into a city where Shundi and Halla are rival theatre groups. Idealistically, “good theatre” defeats brute competitiveness.

Tagore and Apratim Chatterjee brought their acting experience to bear on Gupi-Bagha respectively, though the sound mix made their voices too loud. One must applaud the uncommon sight of a bevy of musicians in the orchestra pit, much more elevating than a recording. But the fusion score did not impress as much as the electrifying choreography, lit quite dazzlingly by the director Tagore, who showed a distinct flair for lighting design.

(From The Telegraph, 14 May 2016)