Who says that Bengali political theatre has lost its edge? It has become the fashion among some widely-read columnists – who, ironically, do not see Bengali drama – to mourn that local productions cannot compare with those in the glory days of the 1960s and 70s. Ignore these misleading pretenders who disguise their own ignorance by dissing others. Watch the plays below to discover for yourselves how our groups continue to dissect politics incisively.

A little like Gour Kishore Ghosh’s Sāginā Māhāto, Samaresh Basu’s 1984 novel Shekal Chhenrā Hāter Khonje depicted an ironware foundry-worker, Nawal Agariya, whose native savvy and idealism pushed him to join the Communist Party, and eventually to election as a Member of Parliament. But the echelons of power gradually corrupted him, and he found himself compromising his values. On top of that, Basu showed the casteism of the party intelligentsia, openly disdaining Nawal simply because of his lower-class background.

Tirthankar Chanda has dramatized it well for Rangalok, and Shyamal Chakraborty directs it with meticulous attention to acting and detail, repeating and bettering a partnership that had previously succeeded on Parash Pāthar. Sanjib Sarkar gives a superb performance as Nawal, his unsophisticated magnetism and authentic dialect transforming into opportunism and urban degeneration before his anagnorisis. But Rangalok has not staged a merely historical drama: it serves as a wake-up call to any ideology that strays from its humanistic roots.

Sanglap Kolkata specializes in original scripts written by its dramatist-director Kuntal Mukhopadhyay, and its latest, Ishwarer Khonje, features an intriguingly layered plot combining metatheatre (also acknowledging Utpal Dutt and Sisir Kumar Das), political commentary and the supernatural. It opens with two Jatra heroes, starring as Hitler and Vidyasagar respectively, crossing paths on their way to their next village gigs. The juxtaposition of their characters remains throughout, for they seem to possess a local politician by turns. His spirit turns into their battleground for supremacy, just like Virtue and Vice struggled over the human soul in medieval morality plays.

Mukhopadhyay as the leader portrays this split personality impeccably, virtually enacting two roles, and warning us of the dangers that a ruling, unhinged Frankenstein may unleash through the creation of a monster. In an almost dialectical opposite, we view the benefits to society from following the educational agenda of men such as Vidyasagar, presented with dignity by Bitanbindu Bandyopadhyay. Interesting that both plays have Khonje (“in search of”) in their titles.

(From The Telegraph, 8 October 2016)