Early August occasions the revisiting of Tagore. Productions of two of his most popular works raise interesting correspondences with and divergences from the originals.

Jahnavi and Dakghar, founded by Manoj Murali Nair and Madhuboni Chatterjee, have made cutting-edge experiments with Tagorean drama, and continue on the dance-drama Chitrāngadā, where Santiniketan tradition routinely casts two performers as the heroine’s Kurupa and Surupa aspects. Her characterization actually poses a greater challenge if one person enacts both. Helped choreographically by Milan Adhikary, Bharatanatyam exponent Souraja Tagore fulfils this at last. Manoj and Madhuboni also employ live music, uncommon nowadays, since most Tagore dance-dramas and music-dramas rely on recorded soundtracks for their operative ease and lower costs.

Souraja consciously bypasses the Rabindrik dance “style”, itself rigidly conventional now and ironically so, for Tagore never aimed to invent a different form. He applied various idioms eclectically and elastically to express emotions as appropriate. She follows suit: sticking to pure Bharatanatyam for Kurupa, but using the 108 karanas defined in the Nātyasāstra for Surupa. Naysayers may argue that this creates precisely the technical virtuosity that Tagore disliked. But Souraja cultivates fleeting bhāvas instead, conjuring a subtle and aesthetic range of abhinaya spanning the manly hunter to the anguished lover. In her self-confessed “nuanced feminist reading”, “Chitrangada celebrates women who are not dependent on a man’s shoulder for support. It exposes the societal hypocrisy wherein men admire strong women but prefer to marry coy, shy and dependent females, easily domesticated.” Well worth further shows.

A new Bengali group, Centre Stage, revives Dākghar. Unusually here, an adult (Nabanita Mukherjee Das) plays Amal, which has happened before, most famously in H. Sabitri’s Manipuri interpretation. Tagore preferred a child for obvious reasons: no grownup can replicate their natural innocence, and an adult understands death, whereas a child may not even know about it, thus leaving a more powerful impact. Director Swapan Das negotiates this by adding a boy as a mental-projection Amal who roams free. Among others, Swajan Srijan Mukherjee (the Dai-wala) moves us with his awe at Amal’s questions and instinct to suppress his own feelings.

(From The Telegraph, 12 August 2017)