BIRANGANA KABYA | KITTANKHOLA

Group: Ichheymoto

 

Birānganā Kābya

Author: Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Director: Turna Das

Recommended: ★★★★

 

 

Kittankholā

Dramatist: Selim Al Deen

Director: Saurav Palodhi

Review:

Ichheymoto’s two productions from 2023 present established texts of Bengali literature, Turna Das’s visualization of Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Birānganā Kābya making a striking contribution to all-women Bengali theatre, reminding us in his bicentenary of his historic efforts to introduce actresses on the Bengali stage. Besides the Manipuri Theatre in Sylhet, Bangladesh (which came here in 2018), I do not know of any attempt to dramatize this pathbreaking proto-feminist series of imaginary verse epistles by eleven ladies in our epics to men they love. Das also delights students of comparative literature by ending each letter with a parallel from Dutt’s inspiration, Ovid’s Heroides, though she must get her actors to pronounce the English excerpts correctly.

She selects only five women, those she considers the least familiar among Dutt’s eleven: Surpanakha, Tara, Kekayi, Duhshala and Jana (Kashiram Das’ name for Jwala from Jaimini’s Ashvamedha Parva). This shortens the script, despite a prefatory collective dance and song (in Monami Nandy’s attractive contemporary choreography and catchily composed by Debdeep Mukherjee) that continues a bit too long just to reach the magic total duration of 90 minutes. A sixth heroine from Dutt, perhaps Rukmini, Jahnavi or Urvashi, would round it off better.

Each actor (Ritwika Nath, Suparna Das, Turna Das, Sulagna Nath, Ankita Majhi respectively) brings out her character’s individual sense of betrayal and protest with passion, Sulagna as Duhshala standing out in her variety of moods from spoilt daughter to apprehensive dread (photo). Together they evoke the same kind of female bonding found in Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide. I compliment the earth-paletted uncommon Greco-Roman costumes designed by Turna, Saurav Palodhi and Aditya Nandy, as well as Soumen Chakraborty’s upturned lighting from mostly low-level or floor-based sources.

 

Romantic tragedy born of divisive society forms the core of Selim Al Deen’s Kittankholā, subverting the ostensibly merry occasion of its annual mela that draws all sorts of people. Saurav Palodhi directs this contrast through the interplay of music and darkness, the former a joyous celebration where a chorus sings Debdeep Mukherjee’s original pan-Indian melodies live, whereas the latter clouds the entire experience under a pall of shadow. Soumen Chakraborty’s dim lights tilt this balance into gloom much more than desirable, possibly necessitated to prevent the rural scenic projections on a split backdrop from losing clarity. Moreover, these still images repeat themselves almost on a loop, creating monotony instead. He should vary the design, to begin with the bright colours of a happy fair, at least in the first half.

The memory of Baghajatin Alaap’s production seven years ago remains fresh, equally vibrant in its music, so I can’t regard this interpretation as particularly new, even though Palodhi commendably sent a seven-member team to research four living traditions in different districts. However, the acting holds true, headed by Sankar Debnath as the oppressive Idu who controls the village and calls the shots, and Sucharita Manna as Banasribala, the actress who resists his advances. An unused megaphone erected on stage sticks out like a sore thumb, most untypical of Ichheymoto’s normally purpose-built sets.