Chandan Sen, the dramatist, shows concern in his new plays about growing fascistic trends. He turns to 20th-century history in Europe and Africa to demonstrate its vicious effects on humanity, hopefully warning Indians not to get lured into its clutches.
In Pirandello o Puppeteer, produced by Aneek, he presents the troubled life of one of the great modernists – a brave step for Aneek because Bengali theatre tends to stay away from foreign biography, and prejudges Pirandello as tainted by his association with the Fascist Party in Italy. Sen and director Arup Roy paint a sensitive picture of a man committed to art, taken in by Mussolini’s vows to restore patriotic pride, to support culture and to fund a national theatre. Once in charge, of course, Mussolini reneged on everything except military nationalism. Coopting artists and intellectuals is a tested political tactic even in our own time.
Commendably drawing on recent research, Aneek redeem Pirandello’s personal reputation as well. Rumour mills talked about his “affair” with leading actress Marta Abba and her “seduction” of him into fascism, but their correspondence proves a platonic bonding and her misgivings about Mussolini. Pirandello’s conviction about the split personality in all of us justifies Roy’s casting of three actors as him at different ages (Krishnendu Chakraborty, Dilip Majumder and Roy himself), while Aparna Dutta’s depiction of his wife’s slide into neurosis makes us understand Pirandello’s focus on human changeability. Tapati Bhattacherji portrays Marta with depth.
Contrasted to fact, Sen fictionalizes autocracy in Ekanāyaker Sesh Rāt for his own group, Hajabarala. The naming of the Tutsis, upon whom “General Banhita” has waged genocide, connects the play to the recent past of Rwanda and Burundi, but Sen obviously attacks dictatorship anywhere, and suggests that whoever succeeds Banhita, even in an ostensible democracy, could succumb to the temptation of power – personified by three professors caricaturing the intelligentsia.
However, Sen unnecessarily elicits our sympathy for the general as he reminisces before facing execution, and directs Banhita’s former mistress to express affection for him despite his cruelty to her. These attempts to complicate their characterizations by Debshankar Haldar and Chalantika Gangopadhyay respectively fail, by rebounding on Sen’s intent. The ragtag rebels holding the general captive do not appear physically very capable, either.
(From The Times of India, 3 May 2019)