Rangapat has risen to a position of visibility among Bengali groups based upon its recent track record of mounting spectacular interpretations of original historical drama, though it also stages more contemporary tales. Its popularity has grown under the direction of Tapanjyoti Das, because viewers have realized that he guarantees a feast for their eyes. Its latest, Chatushpāp, is no exception, replete with songs, dances, martial arts, fight sequences, and of course period costumes.
Chandan Sen writes virtually a sequel to Bohurupee’s still-running Kathā Nālanda from 2016, which depicts the sacking of Nalanda by Bakhtiyar Khilji at the end of the 12th century. In 1203, Khilji had stormed Nabadwip with just 18 cavalrymen and dethroned the 80-year-old monarch Lakshman Sena, commencing Muslim rule in Bengal – the story of Chatushpāp. Sen and Das give us a vivid canvas of this turning point, going back to Lakshman’s younger glory days and then showing the four sins (pāp) that destabilized the Sena kingdom: degeneracy, corruption, hatred and oppression. Sen warns us that history repeats itself, internal weaknesses invariably facilitating the ulterior aims of foreigners capitalizing on the situation. One wonders whether he implies the state of West Bengal or the nation of India, or both.
As in most of Sen’s plays, too many things happen, from romance to revenge. The political treachery involves royal family members to priests. Historical figures like the minister Umapati Dhar and the court poet Halayudh Misra make significant appearances. Halayudh documented the case of the exploited villager Madhabi who became a wrathful courtesan, which Sen uses. On the other side, Khilji’s men lick their lips in anticipation. Sen even introduces a Vaishnava setting with Jayadeva (author of the Gita Govinda) and his wife – which will not gain any friends for Rangapat in Odisha, who hotly dispute Jayadeva’s Bengali connection. And we see bands of fishermen and Doms providing demotic colour.
The combination of Saumik-Piyali (sets) and Dinesh Poddar (lights) creates a striking art design. Srijan Chattopadhyay’s classical music, Soumya Bhowmik’s Gaudiya choreography and Tapan Das’s indigenous martial contests highlight local Bengali forms. The acting emphasizes the broad brush strokes of epic grandeur, not suggestive subtlety: the feeble old Lakshman Sena (Biplanu Maitra) against the rapacious Khilji (Sanjib Sarkar), the wronged Madhabi (Senjuti Mukhopadhyay) and the saintly Jayadeva (Rajib Bardhan). Tapanjyoti Das himself, as a thoughtful Halayudh, offers the most rounded characterization in contrast.
(From The Times of India, 11 August 2018)