Mohit Chattopadhyaya, the quiet, self-effacing teacher, would have smiled enigmatically. Six years after his death, Bengali theatre has launched a rediscovery of his dramatic works with three new productions of early plays. That makes as many as seven currently running shows of his original drama – alongside Rangroop’s Nil Ranger Ghorā, Ekush Shatak’s Nishād, Mangalik’s Mallabhumi and Rangapat’s Tathāgata, not even counting his adaptations – a phenomenon unprecedented in group theatre, but unnoticed so far.
The new trio zero in on his contemporary political relevance. Most writers on Mohit-da generalize that his 1960s period featured poetic, surreal, absurdist plays difficult to comprehend and therefore almost impossible to stage. While the poetry and surrealism are true, his politics exists in good measure as early as Singhāsaner Kshayrog in 1967, which Nandimukh has revived.
Echoes of Tagore’s Rakta-karabi reverberate here, the monarch of a fort propped up by a coterie in power – a general, a councillor, a scientist, a press baron – all under the thumb of a commander-in-chief. They decide to dispose of the greenery around, causing the commoners to rebel. We find equivalents of Nandini and Kishor, and a painter who brings in the fresh air of art. Ashoke Chattopadhyay directs respectfully with a simple approach, but his own acting as the commander stays quite tentative. It is Alokparna Guha who dominates proceedings as a fiery queen.
On the flip side, youthful energy and spectacle characterize Ichchhemato’s Captain Hurrah. In 1970 Mohit-da drew this symbolic picture of a bizarre hotel like a ship sailing towards a socialist utopia, the eccentric denizens all searching for a map to guide them there. But I have never understood why he dreamed of that promised land bearing gold underground (as in Rakta-karabi’s materialistic Yakshapuri). Nor do I understand now why the director, Saurabh Palodhi, calls it an absurd drama when Mohit-da repeated ad nauseam that he felt no affinities with the pessimism of the absurdists.
However, Palodhi scores brilliantly in the startling choice of Turna Das as the Captain – then you think, why not, she is the group’s best actor, after all – and in the cluttered mise-en-scene, though its colourfulness contradicts the emphasis on blue in the script. He should get the adept cast to engage with the set organically rather than avoid it as just ornamentation. Debdip Mukherjee’s unusual acoustic music and Saumen Chakrabarti’s lighting palette contribute to the disjointedly pleasing aesthetic.
The radicalism of Kshayrog and idealism of Hurrah merged into Mohit-da’s first masterpiece, Rājrakta, in 1971. Bibhash Chakraborty, who directed it as Theatre Workshop’s first success then, revives it for Anya Theatre (photograph) in a union of perfect text and perfect direction. He brings his full experience to bear in pacing the dramatic dialogue that Mohit-da had sharpened here, and creating deep insight with subtle artistry, no need for superficial razzle-dazzle. A lot like Genet’s constant role-playing of powerful vs powerless, Rājrakta targets autocrats in every sphere: geopolitics, administration, business, technology, education, family. They always indoctrinate, punish and even eliminate their underlings, whose repression fuels revolution.
Chakraborty drops their original victorious red finale, for reality has taught his generation that power corrupts regardless of colour. Instead, he forms a cyclical structure for our times that wheels back where it began, as the actors amicably rotate their parts: the more things change, etc. The young cast – Pratik Dutta, Tathagata Chowdhury, Chiranjib Nath, Susmita Hati – keep switching marvellously from one character to the next in their protean quartet of identical equations. Dutta’s vocal variety is notable. Chakraborty restores the innovative old soundscape of pop and jazz tunes that he had used, while Sudip Sanyal’s lights are striking in their appropriately schematic repetition.
(From The Times of India, 2 November 2018)