Naye Natua is among those Bengali groups partial to classics, and like Kathakriti, revived dramatic masterpieces both before and after the lockdown, maintaining a high level of activity. But with a difference: both their new plays come from the classical age, Sanskrit and Greek respectively.
Mātir Gāri Mrichchhakatik, adapted from Sudraka’s Mricchakatika by Goutam Halder, is one of the best productions of this drama I have ever seen. He has kept most of the complex plot yet never allowed the momentum to drop. Following Sudraka’s use of several colloquial Prakrits, he infuses English, Hindi and even Odia idiolects into his demotic Bengali translation. True to Nātyasāstrik style, he makes the cast conjure up the locales through collective blocking, even such important devices as the two oxcarts recreated into “mobile sets”. He employs fully live music and singing, a most difficult proposition.
Although he directs with a pronounced comic, sometimes slapstick, manner, it does not harm the theme of virtue rewarded over wealth, which stays intact in the characters of Charudatta (Niraj Kumar Mandal) and Vasantasena (Dyuti Ghosh Halder, photo left). Dyuti in particular excels, singing and dancing effortlessly—the latter in Kathak, anachronistic but appropriate for a courtesan. Goutam tries to solve the sexist problem in the text, of Charudatta already having a virtuous wife but adding Vasantasena as Bibi No. 2 at the end, by glossing over it. However, using a doll for Charudatta’s son is nowhere as satisfying as a child’s enactment of the part.
Goutam’s drunk and vile Samsthanaka (photo right) is a class act, right down to his inability to enunciate more than one sibilant (hence his alias Sha-kara). At other times leading the chorus upstage, he may want to put on a different voice from Samsthanaka’s as lead vocalist. Among other actors, Santanu Ghosh takes the cake as Maitreya, sleep-talking to give away the jewel box secure in his arms, while the two cops’ squabbling turns into the farcical zenith. Dyuti merits further ovations for her group choreography and vibrant costume design. Keeping everyone on stage throughout, engaged in various duties, makes the performance all the more attractive.
Dyuti debuts as director in Naye Natua’s latest, Creon o Antigone, the second recent edition of Antigone in Bengali. Whereas Kathakriti’s Adhunā Antigone adopts Sophocles’ original, only making cosmetic contemporary additions, Creon o Antigone is handicapped by Hara Bhattacharya’s script, which forces the play into topicality, where Polyneices and Eteocles belong to rival political parties and die in street battles, Creon declares Polyneices an antinational and jails Antigone. Given his choice of culture, Bhattacharya makes the cardinal omission of not identifying Creon as Antigone’s maternal uncle—a byword for affection in Bengali society. Also, like most versions of the tragedy, it descends into a simple heroine vs villain conflict rather than debate between the rights of family and state. And while Bhattacharya scores in composing rhymed verse, he too gets stuck in pronouncing names inconsistently: some in Greek, others in English.
Dyuti behaves too highly strung as Antigone, who should have a dignified internalized power from determination of conviction. As Creon, Parthib Roy surrenders an individualistic approach by sounding like his mentor, Goutam Halder. Dyuti’s direction of the crowd scenes resorts to standard movements, and the Chorus of IT workers in the party office appears too static, looking fixedly at their monitors most of the time. All these form part of a debutante director’s learning curve, no cause for immediate concern.