A few of the more active Bengali groups have not only rebooted the paused run of their pre-lockdown plays but mounted brand-new productions already. One of them, Kathakriti, shows director Sanjib Roy’s continuing interest in reviving tried-and-tested drama, whether modern (Nayan Kabirer Pālā) or classical (Adhunā Antigone).
He revived Nayan Kabirer Pālā to mark the 50th year of Nabhendu Sen’s unusual two-hander, written at a time when Bengali theatre could not conceive of full-length scripts containing just two characters. Blending absurdism with metatheatre, it depicts a pair of sidelined clowns conversing existentially after the conclusion of a main act—not unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, except that Stoppard uses a regular large cast.
Nayan and Kabir improvise scenes for nonexistent spectators, which go nowhere but reveal their own sorry lives a la Chaplin’s tramps, as well as footsoldiers without whom the great heroes on stage cannot do their thing. Prasenjit Bardhan and Debraj Bhattacharya succeed in expressing their angst with a detached naturalism, ironically supported by their utter inability to copy the melodramatic style affected by the stars—a blight in Bengali theatre that has still not faded, therefore a stylistic critique that retains validity today.
Roy acknowledges that he does not expect Nayan Kabirer Pālā to draw sizeable houses or become popular. He should bear in mind that Nakshatra’s original production clicked in the intimate ambience of the small, trailblazing Theatre Centre in Bhawanipur, where viewers felt physically close to the duo. Consequently, he should seek similar venues this time round.
Kolkata audiences are quite familiar with Sophocles’ Antigone, yet it has not had a recent staging in its entirety, so Roy’s choice of this prototype of humanistic rebellion against tyrannical autocracy is timely. The adjective Adhunā, however, seems forced in order to underline contemporary relevance and justify the inclusion of poems by Birendra Chattopadhyay, Nirendranath Chakravarty, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Suvo Dasgupta and Subodh Sarkar interspersed throughout, though not at all necessary. An “Interlocutor” Sutradhar also figures for the same reason, as if Sophocles’ Chorus doesn’t do its job adequately.
My main objections arise from dramaturgical inaccuracies; as my readers know, I advocate thorough research into a text. First, despite etymological uncertainties, Antigone’s name does not mean “rebel”, nor does it have any connection to “antagonist”, even if it sounds similar. Second, we should pronounce names according to one system, preferably ancient Greek here, not mixed with English haphazardly; this methodological inconsistency could have stemmed from Sisir Kumar Das’s translation. Finally, Creon does not kill himself at the end; he just prays for an early death.
On the other hand, the actors measure up to the task of projecting their classic roles, particularly the fiery Himi Sharma in the title part and Laboni Sarkar as her sister Ismene, stronger than usual. As Creon, Subhabrata Basu occasionally looks rather nonplussed as to what to do with his intractable niece. A doubt niggles my mind about Haemon’s reference to a single God, obviously anachronistic in the Greek pantheon.