The Kolkata International Film Festival offers occasion to muse on the fraught relationship between theatre and cinema, artists of the former perennially blaming the latter for cornering all the publicity. Two current Bengali plays feature stage actresses with humble beginnings crossing over to the film industry, where they find success. Both dramatists examine the repercussions this relatively common trajectory has on the ladies’ personal lives as well as the world of theatre.
Sanglap Kolkata’s Abhinetri, written and directed by Kuntal Mukhopadhyay, starts with rich metatheatricality as a Bengali heroine who has made it big in Mumbai returns after 25 years for a stage comeback in Kolkata. Scenes in her greenroom intermix with brief episodes from Macbeth – which presage the arrival of a stranger alleging her involvement in a killing before she had departed from the city, when the Naxal movement had engulfed Bengal. More than this I cannot reveal.
Mukhopadhyay travels between not only two time frames, but also the two genres of play-within-play and murder mystery, all of which demand in-depth treatment that necessarily remains underdeveloped. Specifically, he raises our hopes of criticizing the violent means adopted by the Naxals (usually romanticized by Bengalis today who did not live through that reign of terror), but these evaporate because the solution to the murder and blackmail gets priority.
Still, we see significant glimpses of the political anarchy and betrayals of those years. The actors who appear in both past and present – the star and her assistant (Sarmila Basu, Sipra Pal) and the former police inspector (Bitanbindu Bandyopadhyay) – commendably age back and forth in their characterizations separated by three decades. An authentic portrait emerges in snatches of youth uncertainty in the 1960s.
Angan Belgharia’s Bipanna Bishwās presents the implosion of a small theatre group whose self-centred director has an extramarital affair with his new actress, leading to a baby. But he accuses her of infidelity with a friend. Upset by his chauvinism, and ambitiously procuring screen assignments, which he hates, she leaves. He falls into alcoholism and dissipation, rescued from sure doom by his virtuous wife and brother. Although intended to show female empowerment, Baby Sengupta’s play unfortunately follows the artificial crisis-propelled plots of TV serials, the very form that she pits drama against. Abhi Sengupta acts and directs manfully, but cannot break out of the script’s soap-opera mode.
(From The Times of India, 16 November 2018)