The temptation to recycle tried-and-tested practices may cause two promising Bengali groups outside Kolkata to rethink these methods.
After their explosive debut with Kojāgari (read my review here), Belgharia Avimukh have not lived up to our expectations of fresh activism and vitality. Their second production, Nishiddha Nirmān, written and directed by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, seemed to have so dissatisfied the group themselves that they withdrew it fairly soon!
Returning for guidance to the director (Kaushik Chattopadhyay) and original author (Howard Fast) of Kojāgari, their current production, Bāishe August, dramatizes Fast’s previous novel, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, about the infamous execution of the two Italian-American anarchist immigrants on false charges in 1927, even after the real murderer had confessed. But it displays none of the fiery vigour of Kojāgari. Chattopadhyay draws his play out tediously to almost three hours by superfluous insertions of an extra who repeatedly brings on a ladder, climbs it, sets the hands of a nonfunctional clock centrestage, climbs down and goes off; and a pair of contemporary journalists who must lead us by the nose to detect relevance, showing no faith in audience intelligence.
The last hours of Sacco and Vanzetti receive adequate histrionic portrayal from Kalyanbrata Ghosh Mazumder and Anujoy Chattopadhyay, but I cannot find anything else to praise. Even the talented Ujan Chattopadhyay misses the chance to transcreate into Bengali songs from Woody Guthrie’s album Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti, or Joan Baez’s “The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti”. Bāishe August exemplifies how the success of one dramatization does not automatically confer success on another from the same novelist and director.
Bandel Arohee’s Kāl Nirabadhi marks a sad watershed in the group’s 35-year-old history, the first production after the untimely death of their exclusive playwright, Amitabha Chakrabarti, who gave them many an original script and attained a subtle penmanship that favoured atmosphere and conversation over action and climax (see my review of his last work). The vacuum virtually forced their director, Ranjan Roy, to sit at the dramatist’s desk.
His play presents a Kolkata novelist returning to her ancestral district mansion which her brother has decided to convert into a modern building. The theme is nothing new for Bengali theatre, nor the flashback to the Naxal movement which their younger brother had joined and died for. But Roy has learnt from Chakrabarti not to coil these up into high-voltage plots, and so, while suggesting dark family secrets, he lets the story wind down instead like real life tends to do.
The actresses share the limelight: Susmita Bhattacharya as the author, Saumi Ghosh as her sister-in-law, and Barsha Sen as the girl. In the most difficult part, of the old retainer rendered mute because he knew too much, Satyaki Bhattacharyya overshadows them in communicating despite his disability. We hope Roy forms his own style as his writing develops, rather than try to emulate Chakrabarti, and keeps alive Arohee’s distinct difference from average groups.