Group: Anya Theatre

Dramatist-director: Debasish Ray

Dhulomākhā Ruti


Pratham Rājnaitik Hatyā

Highly recommended: ★★★★★


Anya Theatre’s twin post-pandemic productions on our freedom fight have firmly established Debasish Ray as Bengali theatre’s newest dramatist-director to watch out for. He has worked with his own group, Theatre Platform of Khardah, for two decades, carving out a niche for himself especially in intimate settings, but now he has hit the proscenium big-time.

To memorialize the centenary of the Chauri Chaura clashes, he wrote Dhulomākhā Ruti on the son of a fictive policeman, who had perished along with others in the thana there when Non-Cooperation Movement protestors burnt it to the ground. The play tracks this child’s life, under his grandmother’s care, then growing up with ambitions of becoming a shāyar, getting married, and facing the horror of his daughter’s brutal murder. As his personal story takes precedence, the Chauri Chaura events and nationalist agitations move into the background, surfacing once in a while to boost Debasish’s spotlighting of Hindu–Muslim enmity and retribution that contradicted Gandhiji’s ahimsa.

His narrative gets progressively more sensational (not to deny that bloody, macabre incidents do happen in reality), devastating and wiping out the family but in a plot-driven way, the kind of shock-and-suffering graph that much ordinary Bengali drama has drawn since Independence. Debasish’s originality in writing lies in his use of sādhu-bhāshā Bengali to convey the sense of Bhojpuri speech. His inventive stagecraft erects bamboo poles all over, where stagehands hang temporary curtains that double up as screens for backlit shadow action. Three actors (Aphrodite Ray, Bhaskar Mukherjee, Partha Sinha) share the lead role at different ages, sometimes appearing together, while Krishna Dutta performs his loving grandmother impeccably.


For the next production, Pratham Rājnaitik Hatyā, Debasish goes back to the shooting in 1908 of Narendranath Goswami by Satyendranath Bose and Kanailal Dutta during the Alipore Bomb Case. Here too he tells two tales, the historical one sandwiched within the frame story of a modern-day revolutionary possessed by the visitation of their spirits. This works better by not letting the present interfere much and distract from the main plot. However, Debasish exposes some carelessness in details. The title misleads—though he himself qualifies it accurately in the text as Bengal’s first political murder—because the Chapekar brothers had carried out India’s first assassination against the British Raj in 1897. But unpardonably, the character in the frame narrative keeps referring to “Orisis”, which I realized later is the playwright’s metathetic error for Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead.

Other than these slips, Pratham Rājnaitik Hatyā fires on all cylinders (to pun in the spirit of ordnance). Virtually the same team of Dhulomākhā Ruti has matured theatrically into a potent action force (photo), everyone doing everything, the sum more than the parts. Bhaskar Mukherjee portrays an intellectual Kanai Dutta and also contributes a surprising range of human and non-human vocal noises. Raju Dhar creates an asthmatic but leonine, long-haired Satyen. Aphrodite Ray (as the boy Sushil) makes us jump out of our skins when she emerges from inside the fridge in the opening scene, breaking the chronological wall along with Kanai. Debasish’s set of tattered fabric on ropes suggesting contemporary poverty rolls up to resemble a ship’s canvas rigging for 1908. The music (by Chiranjib Nath, Monjima Chattopadhyay, Abhyuday Dey and Bhaskar) even utilizing the now-rare esrāj, the songs in rousing chorus and the sound effects—all three audio aspects performed live—electrify despite being all-acoustic, and the front spotlights strung up on struts in the apron innovate.

At the end, unlike the common Bengali emotion of self-pride, our young rebel, unable to emulate his heroes’ deed of killing the traitor, admits that Bengalis today don’t have the same bravery. Including such icons as Aurobindo and Khudiram as secondary characters, and prioritizing the lesser-known figures, Pratham Rājnaitik Hatyā should last the test of time as an influential turning point in historical drama.


31 December 2022