After Nil-darpan inaugurated Banga Natya Samhati’s celebrations of the founding of Bengali professional theatre, Dwijendra Lal Roy’s Nur Jāhān (1908) became the second play to be revived for the year-long festival. Debasish Ray, the director of Theatre Platform, says he selected it as a challenge, to edit this “marathon” drama into a suitable contemporary script. Compressing five acts and 40-odd scenes into two hours means to fall back on the basic plot, thereby sacrificing most of the rhetorical poetic prose in Roy’s extensive speeches, as well as the numerous songs (a pity, given Nur Jahan’s reputed love of lyrics and the performing arts).
These concessions we can still allow if the heroine’s tragedy somehow remains intact. However, after the initial vulnerability, Rayati Bhattacharya simply cannot attain the heights of imperial grandeur or depths of villainy demanded of the role—the larger-than-life portrayal that must rise above ordinary realism. She seems singularly unmotivated. Debasish himself achieves success as the more manageably alcoholic and opiated Jahangir, most at home in courtly entertainments.
None of the other characters gets enough time to leave an impression. Debasish justifies modern assault rifles instead of muskets for relevance, but everyone and their mother opt for this cliché nowadays (we saw one even in Shikhandi’s hands just a week before, in Chetana’s solo show). One aspect I did appreciate, though: the musical accompaniment of banjo, mandolin, sarod and violin. Few groups use such an all-strings instrumentation, even though reprising what Debasish himself did for Samstab’s Uranta Tārāder Chhāyā.