Disability representation has had trailblazing exponents in Kolkata theatre history, and new productions follow in their wake. The standard approach involves a regular troupe depicting the story of a differently-abled character sympathetically. On the other hand, we have a few groups comprising disabled member-performers expressing their diverse artistic impulses.
Sohan Bandopadhyay, dramatist-director of Nat-ranga, has always sought original subjects to write on, and in Prān Taranga he does this avoiding the common tendency to exploit sentimentally the plight of a physically disadvantaged protagonist. The centre of attention is a young girl suffering in the terminal stages of myotonic muscular dystrophy, but he deflects exclusive pathos for her by creating an unstable uncle, mentally unsettled by boyhood sexual abuse. Bandopadhyay also places their family in immediately identifiable distress caused by mounting financial pressure that can be relieved only through developing their old property.
By constantly rooting the denouement in the realities of our life, he blocks the temptation to luxuriate in melodrama. The deep love between the girl (Arpita Banerjee, appealingly natural) and her uncle (Bandopadhyay himself) uplifts the production, but Prasenjit Ghosh and Mousumi Sengupta (her parents) act without exaggeration, too. Just as an afterthought: councillors and promoters invariably get stereotyped as villains in Bengali theatre, which may reflect our times, but does that mean we cannot have a single exception to the rule?
Katha Kalam’s Black Holes Are Not Black dramatizes Bhaswati Das’s story “Sādā Prithibi Kālo Prithibi” and equates the atrocity on Nirbhaya with the treatment of the disabled in India. By mainstreaming differently-abled role models like Jeeja Ghosh and the incredible Den Mukherjee in lead roles alongside “able-bodied” performers, scripter-director Esha Kar incorporates laudable inclusivity. However, the high stakes in the plot encourage over-the-top emotions, which do not require communication to an audience that knows the situation already. Katha Kalam should graduate to the next level, taking the path paved by speech- and hearing-impaired The Action Players under Zarin Chaudhuri and the visually-impaired Blind Opera, both of whom staged plays and classics that do not feature characters with their supposed impairments at all. The disabled need not enact drama only about their own troubles.
(From The Telegraph, 15 April 2017)