Group: Kolkata Praxis

Director: Gautam Sarkar

Dramatist: Yasmina Reza


Seldom does theatre risk dialogue-driven drama nowadays, so bitten has it become by a misperceived need for onstage action. Therefore, Kolkata Praxis’s Bengali adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Art stands out immediately from run-of-the-mill fare, and justifiably earned plaudits and popularity. A large part of the credit should go to Ipsita Debnath and Gautam Sarkar, who have translated it quite faithfully (albeit from Christopher Hampton’s English translation rather than the original French), preserving the urbane conversations and razor-sharp exchanges that have made it an international contemporary classic in its 25th year.


While according a warm welcome, we must record sadly that Kolkata – city of art – lagged behind in recognizing Art’s cosmopolitan millennial vibe. Mumbai and Delhi groups performed it much before, as far back as Hosi Vasunia in 1998. Nevertheless, the Praxis interpretation satisfies me the most, surpassing Scene Stealers from Delhi. Perhaps the reason lies partly in our innate cultural sensibility, so close to that of Paris: the same deeply-embedded love for fine arts, the same impassioned āddā tradition over the value of art, and the same class of artistic arrivistes like the French les bobos (bohemian bourgeois) whom Reza targets.


It is consequently imperative for director Gautam Sarkar to reinsert the quotation marks in the play’s title – “Art” – which many overlook, but which underline Reza’s main theme: what constitutes art? The plain white painting that the three best friends bicker over? The banana sellotaped to a blank canvas that recently made the headlines? Should an art Nazi’s dogmatic opinion demolish his relationships? In this context one has to criticize Sarkar’s alteration of Reza’s ending, which left the friendship’s future hanging. He offers a feel-good reconciliation instead; more typically Bengali?


Each actor gives a consummate characterization, of the affluent hence empowered buyer (Sarkar himself), the cynic threatened by the former’s independence from his orbit (Satrajit Sarkar) and the hapless fence-sitter caught in their crossfire (Anirban Chakraborty). Most designers of Art choose a black and white scheme, as does Hiran Mitra, who wisely adds more grey to reflect the greater space for moderation between extremes, but repeats his predilection of late for suspended vertical drops. Designers also often splash a bit of colour to offset the monochrome, achieved vividly here by a goldfish in a bowl, symbolizing human insularities. Recommended viewing for those who think.


(From The Times of India, 31 January 2020)