The Bengali group Curtain Call has existed for a few years, but I hadn’t seen their work until recently. On the basis of two productions, we can state that they have a creditable penchant for out-of-the-ordinary plays, unusual in choice of either the community or location depicted.
Mahesh Dattani’s corpus has established itself in Bengali theatre, yet nobody had attempted Seven Steps around the Fire so far, to the best of my knowledge. Although written way back in 1999, its subject of hijras no doubt made groups avoid it. Dattani had also composed it as a one-act radio drama, doubly difficult to adapt in terms of form and duration, but Curtain Call has taken up the challenge in Ekti Asāmājik Premer Galpa. Piyali Chattopadhyay converts it into a full-length stage script, padded with some songs and academic discourse from the protagonist’s mouth, both evidently extraneous. The original emphasis on dialogue and economy of means gives way to the visual canvas of theatre, with some gains (Saswata Chattopadhyay’s design of frames implicating our gaze on the hijras inside) at the cost of some losses (the succinct and suggestive nature of audio).
The problem is that despite Dattani’s pioneering look at the stigmatization of hijras, Seven Steps shifts into the conventional genre of murder mystery. We cannot fault director Tirthankar Chattopadhyay for this built-in shortcoming. On the contrary, we compliment him for highlighting the atrocities they face in thana lockups placed alongside male criminals, and his own enactment of the suave villain of the piece, as well as Monalisa Chatterjee in the lead, Aninda Roy as the arrested hijra whom she interviews, Piyali Chattopadhyay (the matriarch), Atanu Chatterjee (the corrupt police superintendent) and Tarun Kundu (the anxious constable).
Curtain Call’s previous production, Kālsuddhi: The Metempsychosis, comes from the pen of the accomplished Indian-American dramatist Sudipta Bhawmik. It, too, is a short play, going back to 2004, when Bhawmik had begun to earn a name in the Bengali-American theatre circuit. He selected that topic close to the political Bengali’s heart, the Naxal uprising, and with his characteristic sensitivity to all shades of opinion, examined it through a father-son rediscovery. A successful Bengali-origin executive in the US and his son sort out his books and papers before a change of residence. Bhawmik’s rare literary creation, a bilingual text as in the title, mirrored realistically the conversation these two Americans would have naturally had, and director Saswata Chattopadhyay keeps this flavour, not translating it entirely into Bengali just to cater to audience tastes in Kolkata.
Suddenly, the son chances upon a diary covering 1967 to 1971, starts reading it and gets engrossed in its first-hand account of a Naxal cell. However, the plot thickens as a ghost from the past enters physically to haunt the father’s mind, and Bhawmik analyses the intellectual disagreements within the party, police brutality, and the betrayal of the cause. Rather than the romantic nostalgia that overwhelms most Bengali recollections of that movement, Kālsuddhi makes us think about it, helped by the mature performances of the three men: Tirthankar Chattopadhyay, Gambhira Bhattacharya and Saswata Chattopadhyay. I trust that Bhawmik does not really hope for the metempsychosis he hints at in the storyline.