As a relatively new and small group, Baghajatin Alaap have gone from strength to strength on successive productions. Their latest, Āgun, commemorates the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971—a subject on which West Bengali theatre has had surprisingly few plays, but Rakesh Ghosh has a penchant for unusual dramatic material. He foregrounds a young man from Kolkata who crosses the border to join the Mukti Bahini’s struggle against the Pakistani Army. Staying undercover with a local family, he and their daughter grow close, despite their mutual awareness of the dangers of such a relationship. The cell he works with undertakes an assignment that does not go as planned. The story returns to Kolkata for its conclusion.
Ghosh imparts to this otherwise simple romance a strong dose of revolutionary idealism and interfaith bonding, its tragic ending sublimating the human message into poignant catharsis. To maximize the impact, director Parthapratim Deb must delete the opening scene because it gives away what happens eventually. His handling of the subsequent episodes is restrained and mature, except for the army torture which seems unnecessarily graphic. All the dramatis personae perform in character, Poulomi Chatterjee standing out as the aunt with sex on her one-track mind.
Alaap’s production before the pandemic, Samparka, calls out for revival since it shows Deb at his doubly delicate best as dramatist and director. Here, too, he did an unusual thing for Bengali theatre by presenting the interactions of three generations of men in a family with sensitivity and no trace of machismo. Grandfather (Dulal Lahiri), father (Shantilal Mukherjee) and son (Sagardweep Deb) come together to celebrate a twin birthday, revealing their relations subtly and conversationally. It has become fairly commonplace for actresses on the Bengali stage to command domestic spaces so quietly yet powerfully that to see stars like Lahiri and Mukherjee express similar prowess makes for a rare treat that a wider range of spectators should experience.