Nandikar’s 35th National Festival included three new plays from outside Kolkata. Of them, Māyā Megh (National School of Drama, Sikkim Centre) evinced most interest, translating into Nepali the director Tripurari Sharma’s dramatization of a Gond folktale. Yama’s couriers deliver the message of imminent death to a wife whose husband doesn’t appreciate her. This news alters the couple’s approaches to life completely, and the man even hits on a humorous way to avert Yama’s oracle. The colourful Sikkimese flavour with songs and dances proves the greatest attraction, so that Sharma hardly has to do anything more than frame their innate skills presentably.
Indeed, the NSD Repertory Company (Delhi) could take a leaf out of the books of Māyā Megh or, even better, the old production of Bidesiyā by Nirman Kala Manch (Patna) which also participated. A golden rule for musicals: nothing beats live singing onstage. Khāmoshi Sili Sili, Indianized by Asif Ali from the classic Fiddler on the Roof, tanked because the cast lip-synced and danced to a soundtrack. It suggested shockingly that the Rep is grooming its members for a Bollywood career. Suresh Sharma’s brainwave of adapting Fiddler into the Kashmiri Pandit community, forced to leave their homes in the Valley, held a mountain of promise that crumbled under this strange directorial decision and loud overacting, except for Shanawaz Khan’s empathetic portrayal of the father.
Seagull (Guwahati) essayed a much-needed biodrama, Kamalādevi: Yādon ki Kuchh Panne, on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the doyenne of post-1947 Indian crafts and culture, who spearheaded many artistic initiatives from Delhi. Bhagirathi Bai’s script, based on Vaidehi’s Kannada book about her, gives equal attention to her contribution to the freedom struggle, women’s causes and social work, while not glossing over her failed marriage to Harindranath Chattopadhyay. However, such a saga demands more than the hour that Bhagirathi allots it. She performs it herself as a memoir excellently, but slips up on research, using the “Col. Bogey March” for nationalist music; achronologically placing in the 1920s Tagore’s 1933 Shāpmochan tour of Bombay. As director, she surprisingly puts some instruments upstage centre that serve no purpose whatsoever.
Nandikar felicitated Bengali thespians Asit Basu and Anjan Dutt, whose latest plays they also featured. The latter’s leading role of Vincent Van Gogh in Swapna-sandhani’s Tārāy Tārāy merits a comment, as the rare match, in his deep turmoil and melancholia, of an actor’s persona with his character’s personality. Koushik Sen’s drama, taking off from Srijato’s novel Tārābharā Akāsher Niche, directs Bengali theatre to another mindscape of Van Gogh after what Hindi theatre had introduced in last year’s festival (Tumhārā Vincent), but adds the contemporary dimension of a man (Riddhi Sen) hallucinating about the painter, in order to probe the ideas of sanity and freedom. More adventurously, Neel Dutt could have sung a Bengali translation of Don McLean’s “Vincent” instead of the original.
(From The Times of India, 4 January 2019)