This week’s column looks at new biodramas on two neglected figures in Bengal’s history, but at the outset we pay respect to a man who preferred to remain unlit in the wings, labouring indefatigably behind the scenes for the cause of Bengali theatre. Suvasish Mukherjee, the backbone of Rangroop, which has risen to the frontline among Kolkata groups through his efficient organization, departed from the great stage of life last week. We shall remember him.

He was justifiably proud of Rangroop’s latest achievement, Abyakta (significantly meaning “the unexpressed”). It captures one of so many unspoken but inspiring stories of this city’s past, all forgotten yet essential to revisit now, when collective amnesia and administrative apathy assist the systematic demolition of our cultural heritage. First-time full-length dramatist Sounava Basu exhibits great promise in the relatively sparse field of original Bengali playwrights with this compelling work on the life and times (the last two decades of the 19th century) of Dr Mahendra Lal Sircar, the second MD from the University of Calcutta, who became a famed homeopath and also founded the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science. Basu chose his title aptly, too, borrowing it from the book by J. C. Bose, whose wife, Abala, Dr Sircar initially mentored.

Alongside Sircar’s genius and frustration unfolding on stage, we see a galaxy of personalities whom he befriended or treated: Vidyasagar, resentful of the callousness with which orthodox society (including women, whom he championed) calumniated him; Ramakrishna, dying from cancer but effecting a change in the rationalist Sircar; Vivekananda (still known as Naren) singing Tagore’s Brahmasangit “Tomārei kariyāchhi jibanera dhrubatārā” at his guru’s feet; Girish Ghosh, another convert; Jagadish Bose, whose demonstration of radiowaves at the Town Hall makes Sircar ecstatic; and Abala Das, who left medical studies to marry Bose, infuriating Sircar but later pioneering women’s education. Basu depicts all of them through uncommon facets.

In the lead, Bimal Chakraborty delivers a bravura performance, warts and all, portraying Sircar’s irascibility and stubbornness as well as his humanitarian virtues, mellowing as he ages. A couple of subplots bolster Sircar’s family life; although Basu does not show his wife, his son occupies substantial space as a mollifying agent, acted with subtlety by Kinjal Nanda. And Sircar’s favourite student, Gurudas, disowned by him for falling in love with a patient’s daughter, Sukhalata, whose trials Basu tracks from her subsequent arranged marriage to young widowhood, then bought by a benevolent zamindar, earning as a theatre actress and serendipitous reunion with Gurudas.

If one had to suggest improvements on Sima Mukhopadhyay’s otherwise impeccable direction, they would involve curbing a slight penchant for sentimentality set to atmospheric music, and greater artistry in scene design without having to necessarily spend more. An intriguing point is when Freud’s name became known to Sircar, who mentions him here seemingly during the 1890s. But all Kolkatans should view this slice of their history; all scientific institutions should support it; and Basu must write more historical plays.

Anudarshi’s … Iti Tomāder Rathi takes up as subject the last ten years of Tagore’s son, Rathindranath, when he left Santiniketan forever to live in Dehra Dun. Ashramites have always had a lot to say about the reasons for his departure. Dramatist-director Sumana Chakraborty courageously bypasses all the snide gossip to recount this episode with as much sympathy as possible for the three main players, based on the published letters of Rathindranath to his friends Nirmalchandra and Mira Chattopadhyay. He had entreated Nirmal to let Mira accompany him taking along her infant son, leaving her daughter with Nirmal. Chakraborty’s Mira asks what right Nirmal has to decide in this matter, but goes to Dehra Dun anyway, because their respected Rathindranath requested it. Others in the play include Rathindranath’s wife Protima and sister Mira.

Ever dominated by his father’s immense shadow, Rathindranath undoubtedly had a tough life with enormous expectations of him. Satyapriya Sarkar gives us a sense of his inner turmoil, distaste at the backbiting in Visva-Bharati, and ultimate wish for happiness and self-fulfilment far away from home. Biplab Naha Biswas enacts Nirmal as a devoted younger associate, while Chakraborty performs Mira as a willing acolyte – albeit still not fully convincing as to why she left her own family behind, requiring a more rounded and complete characterization.

(From The Telegraph, 26 March 2016)