Matilāl Pādri

Group: Mangolik

Source: Kamal Kumar Majumdar

Dramatist: Sekhar Samaddar

Director: Samir Biswas



Lanthan Sāheber Bānglo

Group: Nandimukh

Source: Sunil Gangopadhyay

Dramatist: Sounava Basu

Director: Ashoke Chattopadhyay


The rising intolerance toward religious minorities in India has become a matter of grave concern not just within the country but also internationally. In the Christmas season, we must appreciate two recent Bengali productions against that background. Both have Christian protagonists who do good for their local rural residents. I believe it necessary to put on record that Bengal has a long history of interaction with Christian benevolence. In fact, my book, Indian Drama in English: The Beginnings, rediscovers three 19th-century plays written in Calcutta that demonstrate the positive impact of Christianity, which brought modernity to educated Calcuttans beset by rigid Hinduism.

Both Matilāl Pādri by Mangolik and Lanthan Sāheber Bānglo by Nandimukh come from well-known short stories by Kamal Kumar Majumdar and Sunil Gangopadhyay, dramatized by Sekhar Samaddar and Sounava Basu respectively. Naturally, the brief compass of their original literary genre makes the plays comparatively simple and direct, conveying their desired message so succinctly summarized by Nandimukh: “any place can be your mother land and any people of any religion can be your companion.”

Mangolik had actually first staged Matilāl Pādri in 1977, but obviously felt the need to revive it after 40 years. Majumdar had placed it in the Santal region, his hero the kindly priest in a village church, himself belonging to the native community, and facing a crisis that could spiral when a traumatized woman asks him for shelter and delivers a male child there. The epiphany for Matilal suggests a connection with the baby Jesus. The director, Samir Biswas (photo, kneeling), performs Matilal with his customary naturalistic restraint, which most other actors would have melodramatized.

Gangopadhyay’s fictional history set in the early 1800s imagines an ex-East India Company officer, Charles Hamilton, settling in Bengal with his wife but refusing to leave even after she dies and the Company sells the property to a zamindar. He lets the locals start a bazaar there and tends charitably to their medical requirements. Otherwise he drinks and talks to the spirit of his wife. When the Company comes to evict him, he fights with the villagers’ assistance until Dwarkanath Tagore becomes his benefactor, allowing him to live on the land, where he founds a hospital. Asit Basu stars in the lead, with the rest of the cast in character, especially Taniya Sarkar (the cook), and director Ashoke Chattopadhyay (the zamindar’s agent trying to impress Hamilton with his poor English) injecting some humour.