AMIRAH | MAUNA BANSHARI

Āmirāh

Group: Shohan

Director: Anish Ghosh

Dramatist: Anirban Sen

Source: Sophocles’ Antigone

 

Mauna Bānshari

Group: Angan Belgharia

Director: Avi Sengupta

Dramatist: Sanjoy Chattopadhyay

Review:

A couple of current Bengali plays hark back to classical Greek antecedents without doing justice to them. Shohan’s Āmirāh, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, gets it wrong by simplifying the tragic conflict. Angan Belgharia’s Mauna Bānshari dramatizes the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but gets it wrong by distorting the basic details.

Anirban Sen, the writer of Āmirāh, falls into the trap of treating Antigone as a fight of good versus evil. Time and again, I have criticized my students as well as Indian adapters or directors for their full emotional backing of Antigone’s crusade and depiction of Creon as a total villain, unaware of Hegel’s most incisive analysis of the tragedy as “the collision of equally justified ethical claims”: the family principle and the state principle. Because of the absolutist hubris in both characters, refusing to see the other’s viewpoint, both get crushed.

Sen does not appreciate that a great tragedy by definition must be complex, rather than the easy interpretation in this case of resistance against tyranny. Indianizing Antigone into a Muslim business mafia, thereby losing the essential aspect of the nation at stake, he even has Kauri Khan (his Creon) order the murder of Osman Khan (his Oedipus). With Kauri becoming the devil incarnate, the only saving grace comes from Sreelata Sen’s strong acting in the lead. While director Anish Ghosh can do little to improve the text, he should certainly make the chorus of two vultures behave less like clownish crows.

 

In Mauna Bānshari, playwright Sanjoy Chattopadhyay’s misreading (deliberate or not) starts with irresponsible errors, such as portraying Orpheus with a flute instead of a lyre, Eurydice as a shepherdess rather than a wood nymph, and Calliope constantly referred to as “Muse Calliope”, as if Muse is her first name. He proceeds into a grievous thematic flaw, attributing jealous Aristaeus’ hatred of Orpheus to class difference, though many versions of the myth say that Apollo fathered both men. The Britannica, in fact, calls Aristaeus a divinity, which places him on Orpheus’ level, not below. If we accept that Orpheus’ father ruled Thrace, then Orpheus had humbler mortal blood. Either way, Aristaeus and Eurydice cannot belong to the sheep-rearing community as Chattopadhyay posits: even if he was just a shepherd, she was a nymph—by no means the same race.

When ordinary Bengalis have no knowledge of the story, and one is not adapting it, one has no right to misrepresent it and thus perpetuate a false idea. As for direction, Avi Sengupta must coach the cast in correct pronunciation of Greek names, like I helped Debesh Chattopadhyay with for his book on classical theatre, dropping outdated Anglicizations. He should give Orpheus–Eurydice’s love time to grow, since her falling for him at first sight does not ring true to Sengupta’s aim to “make the young generation of our country … understand the importance of true love.” Mousumi Paul’s romantic mannerisms as Eurydice copy screen cliches, but Sambit Das (Orpheus) fares better. The supposedly fearful reptile in hell looked so cute I felt like bringing it back home.