RAVAN RELOADED | CHAKRANTA

Rāvan Reloaded

Producer: Kolkata Centre for Creativity Arts Lab

Scenarist-director: Debasish

Highly recommended: ★★★★★

 

 

Chakrānta

Group: Paramik (Barrackpore)

Source: Max Frisch

Director: Suvojit Bandopadhyay

Review:

The most phenomenal designers of present-day non-proscenium theatre in Kolkata both significantly come from outside the city: Debasish Ray in Khardah and Suvojit Bandopadhyay in Dankuni. I say this because conventional Bengali groups here have grown so habituated to our ossified halls that they cannot think out of the box, whereas suburban directors may not have that obsolete hangup. So, Debasish made triumphant theatre inside Kolkata Centre for Creativity, a venue not meant for drama and which defeated all productions until he moulded it for Rāvan Reloaded. I refer to the gallery that KCC calls an amphitheatre (by definition semi-circular, which the gallery is not) and they labelled as “site specific” (which also it is not, since site-specific theatre occupies found space or a non-arts building, the audience often moving from room to room). Another obstacle is that actors get stumped by its nonexistent acoustics; but Debasish coached his team thoroughly to overcome this handicap.

He creates an auto repair garage on the floor, dominated by a mobike in front and the hull of a Maruti 800 behind (taking me back 45 years ago when my group pushed an Ambassador body onto the Kala Mandir Basement for Arrabal’s Car Cemetery). The owner of this shop, in the north Indian hamlet of Barabhutni, performs as Ravan in the village Ramlila, while his son, addicted to Hindi films, parrots their entire conversations and every mannerism, repeats them impeccably and wants to go to Mumbai to join Bollywood. His father dismisses these efforts as mimicry, not the generations-old discipline that he follows in Ramlila. A provoking dialogue ensues on theatre vs cinema and whether profits certify artistic success, the father saying he doesn’t do it for money but for tradition. The debate on acting could have touched on both the actor entering the character as well as the character possessing the actor. The son leaves, cannot break into movies (the casting directors all demand bribes) but ultimately rises to the top of the drug mafia. With a script improvised by the cast based on Debasish’s scenario, the trajectory is commonplace, in fact much like a B-grade Hindi film itself, even the obligatory car-chasing-mobike scene.

What bowls us over actually is the level of performances. Eleven actors made the cut from KCC Arts Lab’s call for auditions and workshopped the production together. Invited to see it towards the end of its run, I caught them at their peak, portrayals honed to perfection. In the lead Bhaskar Mukherjee, an old comrade of Debasish, role-played with extraordinary facial malleability several parts across genders, singing (even falsetto during female impersonation), dancing—a veritable one-man dynamo. I must name all the others, who contribute equally, and notably in Hindi, not their mother tongue: Monjima Chattopadhyay, Abhyuday Dey, Subhrajit Sengupta, Aphrodite Ray, Sourav Barik, Shramana Chakraborty, Paulami Kundu, Binoy Dolui, Anuran Sengupta, Sayantan Maitra. The completely live music and sound effects, and Subhankar Dey’s lighting (including car headlamps, of course) bolster the impact, only the laser pointers and V for Vendetta masks lowering the originality index.

 

In the smallest of Kolkata’s intimate theatres, the Tripti Mitra Natyagriha, where master miniaturist Suvojit Bandopadhyay had presented Postmaster, he directed Paramik’s Chakrānta. One walks into what looks like the kill room in Dexter: polythene sheets as walls (why not behind the spectators, too, implicating them in the proceedings?), with police sirens flashing and yellow bands crisscrossed everywhere stating “Crime Scene: Do Not Cross”. Inspired by the classic absurdist parable, Max Frisch’s Mr Biedermann and the Fire Raisers in German (now translated as The Arsonists), Asish Goswami had Indianized it as Asamāpan to comment on the troubled Naxalite period. Suvojit compresses this text a bit too much into just over an hour, simplifying Frisch’s subtle ambiguities so important for our times.

Frisch depicts an atmosphere of urban terror where arsonists shelter in homes and set them ablaze; Biedermann, a bourgeois householder, hears them out hospitably and even helps them until inevitable disaster. Critics read it as a warning against fascism similar to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, and sometimes even against Communist takeovers. But in Chakrānta, Suvojit stresses the host himself as a corrupt capitalist, the crux of evil rather than just an unknowing enabler complacent that nothing can happen to him. Thus the argument gets turned on its head, away from Frisch’s intended critique of the insidious threat to destabilize society. Who really are the greater incendiaries that endanger us today: the supremacist right or the extremist left? In Suvojit’s place, I would have targeted the former.

His direction paints a cross-section of grotesque dramatis personae in comicbook style (except the women, oddly enough), but they deserve fleshing out by restoring the time given to each of them by Frisch. Santanu Panda and Swagata Sengupta as the married couple represent polar opposites, he frenetic, exaggerated (see photo) and she normal, realistic. As the main fugitive, Debobrata Paul does not change his countenance much from his part in Paramik’s Phāns.