Group: ECTA (New Jersey)

Dramatist-director: Sudipta Bhawmik



Group: Smarannik (Bengaluru)

Director: Sayandeb Bhattacharya

Dramatist: Somerset Maugham

Adaptation: Meghnad Bhattacharya

Non-resident Bengali theatre has come of age over the last few years, some progressive troupes having departed from the amateur staple of frivolous entertainment to examine grave themes and older plays worth reviving. Two teams that visit the city regularly exhibited this trend at recent festivals, both coincidentally presenting a wife’s alienation and resolve.


In the American diaspora, ECTA (New Jersey) has made a name for original drama written by its director, Sudipta Bhawmik, probing topical sociopolitical issues. Their latest, Nāgarik?, is a deep, thought-provoking exploration of illegal immigration and naturalization, subjects that concern not only Trumpland but also other nations including ourselves. While a Green Card holder awaits her citizenship interview, a Bangladeshi blogger seeks asylum on grounds of persecution, having arrived in the US through underground channels. Complex arguments arise among family and friends about giving him shelter, and culminate in a shock decision on her part.


As in previous productions, Bhawmik’s cast acts with believability, their onstage realism worthy of emulation by local Bengali groups that hyperventilate. Because of this premium on credibility, the heroine’s sudden revelation of her past to her beloved husband makes us slightly incredulous, but nothing that minor revision can’t rectify. She (Rituparna Das Dutta) and the escapee (Surath Sinha) deserve praise for their natural performances. One should note that Kolkata director Amitava Dutta contributed the flashback scenes from the 1970s (since ECTA could not fly here in full strength), with Subhashis Gangopadhyay in character as an East Pakistani refugee.


From Bengaluru, Smarannik brought Simāntini, Indianized by Meghnad Bhattacharya from Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. Most theatre people today have forgotten Maugham’s brilliance as a dramatist in the 1920s, his acerbic comedies preceding those of Noel Coward, who donned his mantle. In Constant Wife, a philandering surgeon – funnily, Maugham himself had qualified as a surgeon – gets his comeuppance from his wife, who does not divorce him but first establishes her economic freedom and then announces a long romantic journey with her pre-marriage boyfriend. Some critics have called it feminist.


Maugham’s Wildean wit scintillates throughout, which Utpal Jha just cannot do justice to in his translation. As a result, the characters’ sophisticated repartee becomes pedestrian in Bengali and the adaptation seems to champion cynical promiscuity instead. Given the textual circumstances, Sayandeb Bhattacharya directs as best he can, and Swati De enacts the lead with straight-faced panache. But one senses Bhattacharya’s discomfort with Maugham’s radical closure; somehow it doesn’t click the way it should.


(From The Times of India, 11 January 2019)