Rangakarmee is another of the handful of city groups to have developed its own little theatre instead of depending solely on the very few regular auditoriums and complaining about their paucity as well as unavailability. Many more groups should explore these possibilities of establishing a pārā theatre culture in Kolkata like community theatre abroad, whereby the neighbourhood rallies round various performance activities in such venues and supplies a captive audience who prefer to walk there rather than brave traffic to go to the established halls.
Director Mukul Ahmed has designed Mrityu Ghar, Rangakarmee’s new collaboration with Mukul and Ghetto Tigers of London, for Rangakarmee’s Binodini Keya Mancha on Prince Anwar Shah Road, allowing spectators to sit on three sides of the acting area. I mention this seating plan because, however small, it approximates a Jatra-style space – appropriate for a play set during the peasant rebellions in East Bengal. The source, Olga’s Room (1992), German dramatist Dea Loher’s debut, relates the life of Olga Benario, the famous German-Jewish Communist imprisoned while pregnant in Brazil in 1936 and extradited to Germany where she gave birth in jail and was gassed in a concentration camp in 1942. Adapting it from the recent English translation, Atik Rahman interestingly keeps the same time frame, but moves the location to pre-Partition India, subsequently East Pakistan.
The Bengali contextualization makes the subject of political incarceration more immediate, though the compression from two hours into one reduces the almost unbearable torture in the original and the opportunity to give deeper and contrasting characterizations to the two other female detainees in the same cell. In order to retain Loher’s theme of state persecution in two countries, Ahmed and Rahman could have recreated the Bengali protagonist as raised in a Hindi-speaking region, for in Usha Ganguli they have a formidable actress and could have capitalized on her bilingualism. Rangakarmee can still tweak this just by adding a line or two about her upbringing.
Lopamudra Guha Niyogi and Swagata Chakraborty portray her cellmates powerfully, under the caveat given above. But the unexpectedly riveting enactment comes from Biswajit Das as the interrogating police officer, his seemingly sensitive exterior and manners masking a brutal monster inside, which stops at nothing to extract information from the political prisoners. Sabiha Ambereen Haque’s stark set of table, chairs and ropes, in dim lighting, intensifies the darkness of the theme.
(From The Times of India, 15 February 2019)