Almost as if timed for election season, two plays sourced from Malayalam and Bengali stories respectively focus on the creation of political figures. Both follow similar upswings in the fortunes of two less-than-ordinary men catapulted to power ludicrously by things over which they had no control. Both recall Brecht’s depiction of such Hitlerian apotheosis in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

In Rangakarmee’s Darde Nāk, for the first time Usha Ganguli dramatizes a text from southern India into Hindi: “The World-Renowned Nose” by the famous Vaikom Basheer of Kerala. One hopes this discovery of neglected regional literatures continues, and inspires others likewise. Basheer’s brief tale gives Pinocchio a seriously satirical tweak, with an unassuming cook whose growing nose receives media attention, which then snowballs as he becomes a celebrity, a tycoon, and political parties vie over him, his large shadows looking very Arturo Ui-an.

Basheer’s writing sounds gently caustic about Indian follies, whereas Ganguli targets mob psychology in a darker vein, retaining his playfulness by using outsize props for kitchen utensils and food items. Yet, though he specifies that his hero’s nose dangles down eventually to his navel, she surprisingly does not capitalize on this grotesquerie. Her interpretation in the director’s note, of the protagonist (enacted by Nandalal Majumdar with panache) as a rebel, seems too heavy a reading of the original, the slimness of which perhaps cannot sustain a full-length production anyway. But she puts a new generation of fresh Rangakarmee recruits through their paces to acquire the stamp of her dynamic acting style and choreography, for which this script suffices.

The small Bengali group Natyadarpan has faced threats and other difficulties with Gadāi Rājār Pālā, dramatized by Angshuman Sen from Tanima Upadhyay’s story. In a village where nobody wants to become the panchayat head, the villagers pick on the local simpleton to fill the position. Gradually, Gadai undergoes a monstrous metamorphosis, from goon to leader to MLA to Chief Minister, even Prime Minister, as an example of absolute power corrupting absolutely. This does appear slightly incredible, but analogically acceptable because of so many unscrupulous rags-to-riches histories that we hear of. The same populace that elevated Gadai brings him down ultimately.

Portrayed with depth by Surajit Das, Gadai has other activities – self-taught paintings bought by wealthy patrons, dealings with universities – which do not leave much to the imagination. However, political critique is the lifeblood of democracy and must never be stifled. Natyadarpan’s young ensemble who work as a well-knit team under Trina Mitra’s direction must have the artistic liberty to express their views.

(From The Telegraph, 9 April 2016)