Group: Swapna-sandhani

Director: Koushik Sen

Dramatist: Utpal Dutt


Gandhiji’s sesquicentenary has galvanized several Bengali groups to mount productions about him, the latest being Swapna-sandhani’s interpretation of Utpal Dutt’s Eklā Chalo Re. Swapna-sandhani had staged another biographical drama immediately preceding this one, Tārāy Tārāy, on Van Gogh, about whom, too, a few plays had already appeared, though none in Bengali. Director Koushik Sen clearly has a keen interest in visionary revolutionaries of the 20th century, whether in art or in politics. The connection does not stop there, for both lives ended tragically through gunshots, one self-inflicted, the other an assassin’s.


Sen’s decision to begin with the assassination and then go into flashback repeats a technique employed in earlier Gandhiji productions, therefore amounting to a theatrical cliché now, which he can safely discard for the better. But the rest of Eklā Chalo Re, mainly covering Gandhiji’s tumultuous last six months, forms a powerful testament to a man whose greatness inspired so many followers and movements across the world that even a dyed-in-the-red Communist like Dutt broke the party line on him and paid obeisance with this play exactly 30 years ago, towards the end of his own life. Dutt showed that Gandhiji had an integrity that shone in contrast to those Dutt depicted around him – Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel and Jinnah – implicating Patel in particular for preventing police from apprehending Godse and his co-conspirators before they committed the deed.


Ultimately, the artistic success of such works depends largely on the portrayers of the protagonists. Sen makes an excellent choice in casting Ashok Mukhopadhyay, like he had with Anjan Dutt as Van Gogh. Mukhopadhyay essays the performance of his lifetime, conveying the strength of and conflict in Gandhiji’s mind just by soft voice and meaningful pauses. Reshmi Sen supports him as Kasturba (in photo) with dignity and sensitivity. Debshankar Halder (Patel), Surajit Banerjee (Nehru), Loknath Dey (Jinnah) and Sen himself (Mountbatten) concentrate on expressing the narrow motives that Dutt blamed each one for. Sanchayan Ghosh has designed a functional constructivist set, but it could do without the graffiti adorning the proscenium frame stating the obvious. The costumes are the biggest weak link: the junior policemen’s uniforms do not fit them, and Lady Edwina would not have been caught dead in a skirt with hemline above the knees, whatever we may construe of her personal character.


(From The Times of India, 4 October 2019)