Nandikar’s 32nd National Festival saw a marked increase in local participation by Bengali groups: 13 of the 22 shows on display. Budgetary constraints forced the reduction of visiting troupes, which ultimately affects our young theatre-lovers, denied the wide exposure to Indian theatre that earlier editions used to provide the previous generation.

Among new work, two dramatizer-directors offered courageous adaptations of seminal novels, from English and Bengali respectively. To choose Ken Kesey’s frightening One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest itself proves that Koushik Kar loves a challenge, but he also naturalizes it creatively in Kolkata Rangeela’s Nātak Phātak, turning the latest entrant in a mental hospital (whom Jack Nicholson immortalized in the film) into a theatre artist. This posits theatre as a profession that only the insane can think of taking up – it brings no financial stability – as well as its potential as the most subversive of arts in a regimented society, which therefore deems its activists dangerous enough to merit the loony bin and, eventually, lobotomization.

Kar stays close to his source, yet suggests links with our own classics like Rakta-karabi: repeating Suman Mukhopadhyay’s design for that play of a wire fence separating inmates from spectators, referring to men as numbers, the rebellion at the end. While his cast acts well, in the lead he indulges in his penchant for loud melodrama and playing to the gallery for instant applause too often. Ankita Majhi is wasted as the matron, because Kar imposes a permanent scowl on her face; does such an expression automatically indicate an evil person?

An equally difficult task, Pancham Vaidic’s Kārubāsanā staged Jibanananda Das’s novel. Published posthumously, it expresses the semi-autobiographical torment of another class of artist – the poet – completely oblivious to mundane matters of daily life in his quest for truth, hence misunderstood and derided by his family. A poet’s novel is more formidable to theatricalize than linear fiction, so this interpretation may not contain what a reader considers essential, such as the intriguing references to Banalata Sen as the protagonist’s neighbour: images worthy of visualization. The conclusion, too, arrives too abruptly.

Nevertheless, Arpita Ghosh captures the antirealistic poetic imagination by splitting his role between two accomplished performers who shadow each other, the older Neel Mukherjee and the younger Anirban Bhattacharya, whereas she directs his wife, parents and uncle naturalistically. Joy Goswami flits through sometimes, reading from the verse, giving Kārubāsanā a metapoetic touch, though how effective this is as theatre lies on individual perception.

(From The Telegraph, 2 January 2016)