The month of Bhadra seems appropriate to review Bhādrajā, SpectActors’ new play written and directed by Sudipto Chatterjee. Particularly drawn to the folk and rural ethos of Bengal, which has provided him with material for several earlier productions, Chatterjee now attempts an investigation into the roots of Bhadu worship, popular in large swathes of our westernmost districts and contiguous Jharkhand.
What he suggests in Bhādrajā subverts the generally positive colouring given to the festival as a possibly ancient fertility rite. Employing the objective device of a researcher conducting interviews, he implies that, far from a pre-feminist exclusively female Puja, it had its origins in fairly recent times when an exploitative Raja founded it to cover up his abuse of a local young maiden. This theme will not win Chatterjee any brownie points among traditionalists.
Bhādrajā slides back and forth from that Raja to his descendants now, and does not portray the latter in favourable light either. This results in an almost unidimensional class depiction, which tends to erase any complex human subtleties. It makes little sense, for instance, to show the present male scion in tiger makeup, for it merely gives our poor threatened tigers a bad name by association. Another dangerous anachronism occurs when actors smoke freely on stage: an artist criticizing oppression should realize his own oppression of forcing a health hazard on others.
The cast does an excellent job of speaking the regional accent, singing, and the difficult ask of differentiating the multiple roles entrusted to them: Barun Ganguly as the probing scholar and Bhadu’s father, Sraman Chatterjee as Bhadu’s helpless lover and a curious old peasant, Angela Mondal as two generations of Bhadu and a maid today, Saumya Sengupta as the unscrupulous patriarchs of the royal family separated by centuries, and Arijita Mukherjee as the powerful matriarchs as well as Bhadu’s mother.
Annesha Chakraborty and Sreejan Mukhopadhyay have designed innovative visuals. They display the scene locations by back projection of slides on a portable canvas frame (therefore the projector and its operator must move too), their images combining quasi-natural photographs with tribal iconographs using geometrical lines and patterns as in the triangulated figures in Warli art and similar paintings in Chhota Nagpur.
(From The Times of India, 13 September 2019)