Concept: Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee

Dramatist: Rakiba Sultana


Site-specific performances have not caught on in the conservative domain of Bengali theatre, though unconventional English groups in the city like The Creative Arts have experimented with this postmodern form imported from abroad, and cosmopolitan audiences here have also benefited from witnessing major international companies like that of Sasha Waltz originally devising dance-theatre in such heritage mansions as the Jorasanko Rajbati (titled Dialoge 2013) with the prerequisite cooperation of its residents. However, simply staging readymade productions in, say, Jorasanko Thakurbari or Victoria Memorial does not constitute site-specific theatre.


A definition of site-specificity seems in order. It applies to performances generating organically from a particular venue not meant for theatre, and with which the actors dialogue, not imposing intrusively on the space from outside. Thus intimate theatre, as in small rooms or art galleries, and environmental theatre, where the group creates a physical setting, do not fit the bill strictly speaking. By its nomenclature, a site-specific performance occurs only in one place; a transfer elsewhere compromises its specificity. Typically, it uses lived-in buildings where spectators move from room to room seeing the different scenes. For example, when I directed one of the earliest American site-specific plays, Fefu and Her Friends, we took viewers through four locations in a residence on Elgin Road.


Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee does something similar in 32 Aswini Dutta Road, pioneering the form in Bengali. His group guides us into the house at the eponymous address with a welcome song on the ground floor, then into three rooms on the first floor, and finally to a dolls’ wedding on the terrace. Rakiba Sultana’s script reveals the fictitious family secrets: a closet transvestite, a marital rift, a conversation between sisters-in-law. Perhaps she overdoes the snapshot outline of domestic conflicts in such a short span of time, whereas the semblance of a story could leave deeper impact. But as a work in progress, it can only grow and become better. All the mostly young newcomers show an immersion in their characters without distraction or self-consciousness at such close quarters to the audience.


Kolkata has no dearth of suitable old premises where Bengali groups can develop site-specific drama, taking the lead from Chatterjee. This can rejuvenate pārā culture, too.


(From The Times of India, 1 March 2019)