Group: Sansriti

Director: Subhashis Gangopadhyay

Source: Ketakadas Kshemananda


Since my code of conduct during the run-up to elections forbade comment – good or bad – on the artistic work of parliamentary candidates, I refrained from reviewing Sansriti’s Chānd Manasār Kissā, which I had seen some time back. Today’s dawn making things clear, frees me to write on its political interpretation.


Originating in a joint venture of Sansriti and Pancham Vaidik under Debesh Chattopadhyay and Arpita Ghosh respectively, with direction credited to Subhashis Gangopadhyay, Chānd Manasār Kissā comes across as an allegory on the politics of hatred. Commendably using for its script the verse of Ketakadas Kshemananda’s Manasā-mangal rather than a new text, it foregrounds the conflict between the mercantile Chand and marginalized Manasa – the devotee of the established god Shiva and the regional upstart desirous of human worship.


Anyone can tell that problems arise in the application of this legend to our current national geopolitics. First, Manasa causes all the violence in the story: if she conventionally represents Bengal, then her calculated killing of all of Chand’s sons is itself bloodthirsty. Second, if Chand represents the dominant Hindutva ideology that should practise greater tolerance, what do we make of his son and daughter-in-law, glorified at the end? Or have I got it all wrong, and Gangopadhyay intends the obvious symbolism reversed, to Chand’s family as Bengali, Behula our saviour, and Manasa the poisonous threat? Unlikely, but either way the allegorization breaks down; at most, we can agree that the powerful centre neglects at its peril the demands of the periphery.


If we assess the production aesthetically, it certainly impresses in every department. Chattopadhyay’s scenography and Ghosh’s costumes complement each other in their beautiful traditional design. Tarun Pradhan choreographs a largely untrained 24-member ensemble in folksy patterns. The live singing and music composed by Shibapada Karmakar and Abhijit Basu, played by seven instrumentalists, makes a big difference.


Monalisa Chatterjee, as a one-eyed Manasa, earns the possibly unique distinction of acting opposed lead roles in running productions based on the same source: she plays a feministic Behula in Nandipat’s Manasā-mangal. Her high-octane performance here (see photo) is of an insulted fury who stops at nothing to achieve her goal. Chand’s ruined straits receive mature treatment from Abhra Mukhopadhyay. Behula grows in strength appropriately in Keya Chakraborty’s characterization. But why do theatre Shivas look so emaciated and befuddled nowadays? The last one in this mould appeared in Atul Satya Koushik’s Rāvan ki Rāmāyan. Someone should start a Rescue Stage Shivas campaign.


(From The Times of India, 24 May 2019)