Phalsi Charār Upākhyān

Group: Rasikata

Dramatist and director: Avigyan Bhattacharya

Recommended: 4 stars


Pahlā Satyāgrahi

Group: National School of Drama Repertory Company

Director: Suresh Sharma

Dramatist: Ravindra Tripathy


Although Nandikar’s 36th National Festival noticed a significant depletion in entries from outside Kolkata, the few new productions displayed some merit, besides Parvathy Baul’s electrifying 90-minute nonstop solo singing in Ekathara Kalari’s Rādhā-bhāb, of traditional Krishna lore learnt from Sanatan Das Baul.


My first exposure to Rasikata (Khardah) arouses lots of hope for the youthful exuberance of this troupe in that suburb known for theatre. In Phalsi Charār Upākhyān, dramatist-director Avigyan Bhattacharya presents a Sundarban tale in which a tiger, turned man-eater due to old age, terrorizes the villagers. The trouble lies in an unacceptably backward finale which Bhattacharya must rewrite in deference to growing awareness about endangered species. Since the tiger is not at fault for wanting to survive in its own world, Bhattacharya should use his hero’s dexterity over the flute imaginatively for a transformative, transcendent ending. We do not need more violence; we need coexistence, in which art plays a part.


But the team has much to boast of. Their agile performances (see photograph) reveal months of training and discipline. We foresee Sumit Ray as the next big choreographer of Bengali theatre, for his novel, rigorous patterns based on local dance and physical culture. Bhattacharya teaches an object lesson in unmiked songs and music (composed by Indranil Majumdar) to which everyone lends their voices.


The National School of Drama Repertory Company made its annual sojourn with Pahlā Satyāgrahi, its Gandhiji play commissioned for his sesquicentenary. For Kolkata theatregoers inspired by a glut of excellent recent Bengali productions on the Mahatma, Ravindra Tripathy’s script does not compare favourably. Under two hours, it cannot do justice to Gandhiji’s epochal achievements, and only serves to introduce a few key events to those who know nothing about him – a Gandhiji’s Greatest Hits, if you please. Still, the scenes of British taxation policy and Harijan prejudice resonate today. Creditably, his South African career gets some time, but one Delhi critic says that Tripathy relies overmuch on Attenborough’s film, to which I agree.


As the Indian Mahatma, Raju Roy affects a more comical aspect (admittedly one side of Gandhiji) after he decides to dress permanently like the poor oppressed in Champaran, and certainly overdoes the famous pout. In a play highlighting satyagraha, the death of Kasturba (whom Roy addresses as “Kastur” more often than “Ba”) seems gratuitous. Suresh Sharma directs everyone to move so speedily all the time (granted, Gandhiji walked fast) that we thought they had to catch the night train back to Delhi.


(From The Times of India, 27 December 2019)