Nandikar’s extramural programme rolls on at full pace. They have joined a select few in Bengali and English theatre to work in correctional institutions and present public productions of these therapeutic activities. Sessions at the Dum Dum Central Correctional Home led to Bhālomānush, derived from Brecht’s Good Person of Setzuan. In fact, Rudraprasad Sengupta had adapted the original as Shankhapurer Sukanyā for Nandikar in 1991, a more faithful version than Ajitesh Bandopadhyay’s extremely popular Bhālomanush from 1974.

Director Sohini Sengupta chose her father’s script, and truncated it in order not to test her untrained wards overmuch, but reverted to Ajitesh’s title – obviously closer to the source. Inevitably, her compression sacrificed a lot of Brecht’s complexity and subtlety; in principle, I do not approve of excessively condensing classics, and do think that any group of dedicated people can and should attempt them, given enough time. Most of all, I could not understand why Shen Te, the sex worker in Setzuan, should become a seller of country liquor here, though Sohini explained that the Home’s inmates did not want to enact the roles of lawbreakers.

On the other hand, Brecht’s ironic premise of basic goodness within the criminalized and corruption among those who supposedly uphold virtue made the play a perfect fit for this cast: we must congratulate Sohini for perceptively selecting it, as well as the West Bengal Correctional Services for magnanimously permitting unfavourable portrayals of characters in positions of authority. As Janaki (Shen Te’s equivalent), Bulurani Grahacharya demonstrated impeccable acting, particularly in her male alter ego, improving markedly on her supporting part in Stagecraft’s Begum Sumroo in English. The team included several naturally talented musicians as well.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Ensemble of Nandikar pursues its trademark style of regimenting its large and amorphous enrolment into vibrantly kinetic, meticulously choreographed collectives. The older age group interpreted Tāser Desh in contemporary dance idiom, but under Susanta Mandal’s direction, technique took precedence over substance, emphasizing physical agility yet losing sight of Tagore’s fundamental call for rebellion against conservatism. The middle-schoolers performed Dipanwita Roy’s Astronauter Thikānā, in which an imaginative girl bridged her flights of fancy with the hard facts of study, a balance sensitively directed by Debabrata Maity. And the smallest kids regaled all with Tagore’s Jutā Ābishkār, supervised colourfully and comically by Samrat Bose.

(From The Telegraph, 19 March 2016)