Quite uncommonly, Bengali theatre offers a range of classics on display at the moment, acquainting and educating new audiences with great dramatic literature of the past, both Western and Indian. The latest to join this august gallery is Mohan Rakesh, the first major post-Independence Hindi playwright (after Dharamvir Bharati’s one-off Andha Yug). All three of Rakesh’s chief plays have Bengali productions running currently.
Shohan’s Ādhā Ādhure presents a studied, devotedly faithful performance of Adhe-adhure (1969) in the excellent translation by Pratibha Agrawal and Samik Bandyopadhyay. Just the complexity of the premise and the rapier cut-and-thrust dialogue, reminiscent of Long Day’s Journey into Night and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, prove the superlative touch of a master compared to the ordinary journeyman-like lines that we normally hear on stage. But none of these can exist without direction and acting of the highest calibre that make them come alive – which Anish Ghosh and his cast of non-stars deliver brilliantly.
Adhe-adhure epitomized the dissection of marriage under a laboratory microscope that the mid-20th century brought before us. The utter incompatibility of Mahendra and Savitri (in photo), leading her to seek male companionship elsewhere, also affects their three children, all of them environmentally inheriting parental frustration and enacted most naturally by Madhumita Dham, Utsav Bhattacharjee and Poulomi Chakraborty. Rakesh gives the ironically-named Savitri a feminist interpretation too, for we see how she (strongly characterized by Sumana Mukhopadhyay) holds a job and labours incessantly to nurture her family without any gratitude, while the men in her life all seem alike to her in their incompleteness: “Different masks but the face? Exactly the same!” Credit Anirban Chakraborty with wondrously differentiating this quadruple role.
Nevertheless, I find Rakesh’s start and finish retrograde today. The Man’s long prologue sounds indulgent; Ghosh should cut it unceremoniously. And once we learn of Mahendra’s violent nature, his best friend’s vouching for his love of Savitri and apportioning the blame on her for not letting him be himself are unacceptable. We cannot condone domestic abuse, whatever the provocation. After portraying Savitri sympathetically right through, following Rakesh, Ghosh should not end by appearing to validate Rakesh’s masculinist suggestion that she wronged and dominated “poor” Mahendra. She must not smile victoriously at the close, for Rakesh’s stage direction merely says “staring outside”.
(From The Times of India, 17 August 2019)