Dramatist: Sudipta Bhawmik


Āmi Jagadish

Director: Soumendu Bhattacharya

Recommended: ★★★★
















Director: Suman Mukhopadhyay


ECTA (New Jersey)’s winter tour of Bengal this year brought two new plays by Sudipta Bhawmik. Āmi Jagadish has a premise very unusual for Bengali theatre: inspired by J. C. Bose’s discovery of plant sentience, a scientist at an Indian research institute studies how plants communicate with one another, “understanding plants to save our planet” from climate change, and hires a post-doctoral fellow from electrical engineering to assist him on this project with her knowledge of electrical impulses. The institute’s director, however, has much more utilitarian ends in mind to secure government funding, towards which she tries to divert him, but he refuses such pedestrian work. Unfortunately for him, he begins to see Bose in his head and talks to him in the lab (photo), which obviously alarms his colleagues. A potentially positive ecological result comes a cropper as our hero implodes mentally.

Bhawmik addresses an important issue of scientific research: must it target practical applications to justify financial grants? Soumendu Bhattacharya directs and acts the lead with sensitivity akin to the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) in his experiments, while Arpana Bhattacharya portrays his boss not as the villain of the piece, but compelled to seek funds to run the institution. The weak character is Antara Mukherjee, too naïve a science scholar. Although an individual could well be so, in these circumstances she would not have landed such a competitive assignment because Indian post-docs are generally much more aware than her.


Bhawmik’s second play, Shikhandi, is a joint ECTA-Chetana production in English, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay. Premiered in the US in 2017 by another organization, it was selected from among Bhawmik’s works by Mukhopadhyay in the US last year, and staged there. A monologue, it offers a straightforward narrative of Shikhandi’s story as told in the Mahābhārata. But Shikhandi’s androgyny has received considerable dramatic attention in India, where we have already seen two full recent plays devoted to them, in Bengali and in English. Bohurupee’s Biryashulkā (2012) by Amit Maitra received a radical feminist interpretation from director Tulika Das, Shikhandi and her princess newlywed happily setting up a rare same-sex pairing in Bengali theatre. Faezeh Jalali’s Shikhandi in English couplets (2016) for FAT The Arts (Mumbai) won national awards, treating the story tongue-in-cheek and explicitly presenting the transgender theme (read my review) that Mukhopadhyay now explores.

The novel dimension of this Shikhandi lies in the solo concept. Mukhopadhyay and Bhawmik have reduced the script to about an hour, but interpolated poetic excerpts from Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and young South African Lee Mokobe. Faced with this formidable challenge to her acting skills, Sudipta Majumdar deserves praise for expressing dual female and male sensibilities as well as physicalizing her performance with traces of martial arts and choreography. However, the ambient sound of gunfire and bombs, and her redundant prop of a toy assault rifle, have become cliches from overuse by Bengali directors contemporizing premodern narratives.


7 February 2023