With seven productions in its current repertoire, Chakdah Natyajan has become a veritable conveyor belt of Bengali theatre, an enviable organizational phenomenon for a group located in the suburbs. The brain behind this enterprise, Suman Paul, has managed to curate the widest variety of drama in the shortest span, from folk to comic to feminist to the political protest of one of its new plays, Left Right Left, its most thought-provoking so far. Into that diversity enters Bilwamangal Kābya, inspired by Girish Ghosh’s devotional masterpiece Bilwamangal Thākur.
Ghosh dramatized the legendary enlightenment of the eponymous south Indian Bhakti poet from Nabha Das’ collection of hagiographies titled Bhaktamal, after his smash hit Chaitanya-lilā, which marked his own conversion. These two stand together among his finest achievements. Natyajan’s text, however, comes from the pen of dramatist-director Ujjwal Chattopadhyay, who follows Ghosh’s storyline but at the end deviates from sacred sublimation to stay within the profane realm, as his Bilwa marries Chintamani; he writes, “human love over divine love is restored”.
He compares their love to that of Romeo and Juliet – unacceptably, because Shakespeare’s couple are teenage innocents, whereas Bilwa is a dissolute man about town and Chinta a prostitute. We could even argue that Chattopadhyay’s change from the spiritual to the erotic traduces the entire objective of Bilwamangal lore down the centuries, equal to marrying Romeo and Juliet off, transforming Shakespeare’s tragedy into a comedy. It ignores the age-old metaphysical symbolism of Bilwa mistaking a corpse for driftwood and a serpent for a rope.
We could have still assented if Chattopadhyay stayed true to the Kābya part of his title, but he emphasizes incidents rather than lyricism. He does not provide a single scene that convinces us of the pair’s deep romantic feelings. On the other hand, Ghosh’s classic is suffused with delicate rasa, the evocation of which made the 2002 Kalapi revival under Anil Mukhopadhyay so memorable. Here everything moves more like an action film.
Debshankar Halder’s mannerism of rapid, disjointed speech does not suit the lead role, while Saily Dutta fails to make an opening impression as Chinta. Time and again, Aditi Lahiri as her companion, an expressive Thakomani, upstages her. Sanjita’s unaccompanied singing elevates her performance as Pagalini, leaving the songs on the soundtrack a very poor substitute.
(From The Times of India, 25 October 2019)